Collin Greenland, GUEST COLUMNIST
While we celebrated Jamaica's first (and greatest) national hero, Marcus Mosiah Garvey's birthday, last Friday, the United States Department of Justice and the Federal Courts still record him as 'ex-convict number 19359'. One of the most fitting gifts we could honour him with during our 50th Jubilee year of celebration is his long-overdue exoneration. Examination of the facts surrounding Garvey's incarceration strongly suggests that he was innocent. Many countries would be proud to claim Garvey as their own and would have moved for his exoneration long ago.
Before discussing the issue of exoneration, one must acknowledge that some proponents argue simply for Marcus Garvey to be pardoned, many of whom do not think exoneration is either possible or necessary (or both).
Notwithstanding the technical and legal distinctions between exoneration and a pardon, the moral consideration is far more compelling. You do not pardon an innocent person, only a guilty one. The facts surrounding Garvey's incarceration suggest he was innocent. Innocent persons, wrongly convicted, should be exonerated and their conviction records expunged!
I implore all parties concerned (especially the US and Jamaican governments) to revisit not only the historical setting at the time, but, more important, the facts of the case. Ten of the most salient facts to consider are as follows:
1 From the inception of his sojourn in the US, documents that can be retrieved even today revealed that various governmental, police, quasi-official and corporate agencies determined that Garvey was a dangerous character and subjected him and his Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) to constant surveillance.
2 Garvey, along with three other executives of his Black Star Line shipping company, was indicted for using the mail system to defraud, in the promotion of the Black Star Line and the UNIA. They were tried on two indictments, each of which contained counts charging conspiracy to commit the substantive charge. There was not a scintilla of evidence, competent or otherwise, that Garvey placed or caused to be placed in the mails the circular or letter described or referred to in his indictment.
3 Examination of the actions of the judge, prosecutor and overall proceedings pointed to Garvey's conviction as contrived and engineered by officialdom at the time and conducted in a kangaroo court ideally suited for his crucifixion. There were, for example, 94 errors contained in the Bill of Exceptions filed on Garvey's behalf after the trial. Many of them could have been sufficient to declare a mistrial, retrial or dismissal of the case.
4 The judge, Julian W. Mack, for example, was openly and constantly hostile to Garvey. The situation was also exacerbated by Garvey's application to the trial judge to declare himself disqualified to try the indictments since he was a part of an organisation of which some members were opposed to the UNIA, of which Garvey was the head. The judge admitted his connection to the organisation but denied bias.
5 Garvey's motion was denied on the grounds that the affidavit did not comply with the statute.
6 Assistant US Prosecutor Mattuck also overtly displayed his hostility and contempt for Garvey throughout the proceedings. For example, his focus and bias against Garvey was highlighted when he asked the jury, "GENTLEMEN, WILL YOU LET THE TIGER LOOSE?" This was despite the fact that there were FOUR defendants, not ONE.
7 The jury itself, which by no stretch of the imagination could be considered 'peers' of Garvey, was also compromised. During the trial, there was open fraternisation between one member of the jury and the judge. The verdict of the jury appeared induced by passion and prejudice, with disregard to evidence. Garvey was given the maximum punishment under the law - five years in the Atlanta Penitentiary, US$1,000, and ordered to pay the entire cost of the suit.
8 Another shocking revelation was that it was brought to the court's attention that the judge, prosecutor and jury were threatened that harm would be done to them unless Garvey was convicted.
9 Even sections of the white-owned and -controlled press, such as The New York Evening Bulletin and The Buffalo Evening Times that resisted Garvey's policies, found the trial a mockery and perversion of justice.
10 Many legal scholars at the time, and since then, have dismissed the trial as a travesty of justice. Noted legal scholar at the time, for example, Professor W.H. Hart of the Howard University Law School on March 18, 1925, commented in the New York Amsterdam News that Garvey was wrongfully incarcerated.
Every legal system has some mechanism to have a look at new evidence or offer a new look on old evidence in order to resolve a vexatious issue. The Jamaican Government can approach the US government with a view to have this case revisited, all the facts researched and presented in any relevant fora, with the specific intention of exonerating Marcus Mosiah Garvey.
It pains me that some of our brothers and sisters do not understand why Garvey must be exonerated. Some say it matters not if the US or others have him recorded as a fraudster; if we love him and revere him as a great man, national hero and even prophet to some, that's enough, they say.
It has even been preposterously postulated that his US conviction is actually a 'badge of honour', as many great men in history persecuted by officialdom were labelled with stigma - rebel, revolutionary, terrorist, etc.
It does matter because a fraud conviction is a demarcation of a thief, cheat, deceiver and characterised by dishonesty. How do we explain to our children that our first and greatest hero is not a cheat, thief and dishonest person? In fact, while we debate, procrastinate and vacillate, the world is doing our job.
In 2003, Ian Adams, honorary fellow of the University of Durham, and his colleague R.W. Dyson, director of the Centre for the History of Political Thought, jointly prepared and published 'Fifty Major Political Thinkers'. This publication listed Garvey among colossal giant thinkers and well-known philosophers over a 2,000-year span, starting with Plato, Aristotle and continuing through St Thomas Aquinas, Nicholas Machiavelli, Karl Marx, etc.
Jamaica, wouldn't it be nice when August 17, Marcus Garvey Day, comes around next year that we could present Marcus with a birthday gift of exoneration in our 51st year of Independence?
Collin A. A. Greenland is a forensic accountant. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.