Collin Greenland, Contributor
Today is Marcus Garvey's birthday. The long-standing debate on whether Jamaica's first (and greatest) national hero, the Right Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey, should be pardoned and/or exonerated resurfaces annually around this time of year when many disingenuously celebrate his birthday (August 17) but do little to address the travesty of justice perpetrated against one of the greatest men of colour ever to walk this Earth.
An examination of the facts surrounding Garvey's incarceration suggests that he was innocent. Innocent persons wrongly convicted should be exonerated and their conviction records expunged! Many countries would be proud to claim Garvey as their own and would have moved for his exoneration long ago.
I cannot think of a better birthday gift that we as a people could offer this great man when his birthday comes around again in August next year than to secure his exoneration since he is still recorded in the records of the United States (US) Department of Justice and the Federal Courts as "ex-convict number 19359".
Before discussing the issue of exoneration, one must acknowledge that some proponents - many of whom do not think exoneration is either possible or necessary (or both) - argue simply for Marcus Garvey to be pardoned. 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. Examination of the facts surrounding Garvey's incarceration suggests that 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 edify themselves by revisiting not only the historical setting at the time, but even 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 United States, documents that can be retrieved even today reveal 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 of international proportions.
2 Garvey, along with three other executives of his Black Star Line shipping company, in the promotion of the Black Star Line and UNIA, was indicted for using the mail system to defraud. 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 mail, 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 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 part of an organisation in which some members were opposed to the UNIA, which Garvey headed. The judge admitted his connection to the organisation but denied bias. Garvey's motion was denied on the grounds that the affidavit did not comply with the statute.
5 The prosecutor, Assistant US Prosecutor, Mr Mattuck, also overtly displayed his hostility and contempt for Garvey throughout the proceedings. For example, his focus and bias against Garvey were 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.6 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 for evidence. Garvey was given the maximum punishment under the law - five years in the Atlanta Penitentiary, $1,000, and ordered to pay the entire cost of the suit.
7 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.
8 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 a perversion of justice.
9 Many legal scholars at the time, and since then, have dismissed the trial as a travesty of justice. For example, noted legal scholar at the time, Professor W. H. Hart of the Howard University Law School, on March 18, 1925, commented in the New York Amsterdam News that Garvey was wrongly incarcerated.
10 Every legal system has some mechanism to have a look at new evidence or a new look at old evidence in order to resolve a vexatious issue. The Jamaican Government could approach the US Government with a view to having this case revisited, all the facts researched and presented in any relevant fora, with the specific intention of exonerating the Right Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey.
It pains me that some of our brothers and sisters do not understand why Garvey must be exonerated. Some say, what does it matter 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? 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 are usually labelled by some form of stigma - rebel, revolutionary, terrorist, etc.
It does matter because a fraud conviction is a demarcation of a thief, cheat, deceiver and is 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 50 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 to St Thomas Aquinas, Nicholas Machiavelli, Karl Marx, etc.
Jamaica, when August comes around again, let us present Marcus with the gift of exoneration!
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