If anyone needs an explanation of how it is possible that the wrongful prosecutions of the young people I have been writing about can be happening in America, you must view a Frontline program I just streamed last night: ”The Confessions,” the story about the so-called “Norfolk Four”—young Navy men who were coerced by Norfolk VA police into making false confessions implicating themselves in a 1997 rape/murder with which they had nothing to do and for which a sexual predator—unknown and unrelated to them and linked to the crime by DNA—confessed.
It is the ultimate story of the police dreaming up a crime scenario and then twisting the truth and coercing malleable people to get the answers they wanted, regardless of the physical evidence or rational common sense. It is the ultimate example of a prosecutor pursuing a conviction for its own sake, and by any means necessary, without any respect for truth or regard for the lives and welfare of the innocent people who stood in the way of his winning in the adversarial arena of the courtroom.
Here’s the link: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/the-confessions/. It is worth your time and attention.
There are two obvious villains in this story:
Former Norfolk VA police detective Robert Glenn Ford, who extorted the false confessions and has since been found guilty by a US District Court of extorting money from defendants in exchange for getting them favorable treatment. Sentencing is scheduled for a week from today.
Former Norfolk Commonwealth Prosecutor D.J. Hansen, who joined the Chesapeake Commonwealth’s Attorney Office in 2001, where he continues to lead the state’s wrongful prosecution of the Norfolk Four case despite overwhelming evidence that his original prosecution was an egregious error. Some guys are simply too small to admit they could be wrong, and have too little moral backbone to be true to what’s right rather than who’s right.
Yet there is a third “villain,” too—and I hope you will not accuse me of grinding an unrelated axe. My question is this: how is it possible that detective Ford, who by all accounts was a skilled and aggressive interrogator whose methods drew heavily on proven torture techniques (the threat of the death penalty, sleep deprivation, intimidation, etc.), could have succeeded in gaining multiple false confessions from four sailors who had nothing to do with the crime?
The answer is: The young men’s schooling.
The young men had been conditioned by their schooling to be compliant to authority, and this compliance and malleability had been used and reinforced in their military service. One of the innocent men was so passive and mentally slow that he eventually believed he did have something to do with the crime. In every case, the coerced confession carried more weight in court than objective evidence—who in the world, the question was asked repeatedly, would ever confess to a rape and murder if one weren’t guilty?
The answer is: Victims of operant conditioning such as is delivered in our schools!
As I watched this Frontline episode and its interviews of these unfortunate young men who had bought themselves up to eleven years of wrongful imprisonment by caving in to the demands of their interrogator, I kept saying to myself that I would not have been capable of making the same mistake. But then, I have always been a “failed” product of American schooling. (The only time I was ever suspended from school was for insubordination—and I’m still proud I stood my ground!) I have always had a problem with authority, which is one of the main reasons why I live in this desert mountain “no man’s land” outside the grasp of almost all authority.
In the coming weeks I will be writing about a phenomenon in America that some are calling the “School-to-Prison Pipeline,” a disturbing national trend wherein children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. Many of these children have learning disabilities or histories of poverty, abuse or neglect, and would benefit from appropriate educational and counseling services. Instead, they are isolated, punished, and pushed out. “Zero-tolerance” policies criminalize minor infractions of school rules, while high-stakes testing programs encourage school administrators to push out low-performing students to improve their schools’ overall test scores.
To this point, the main focus on the Pipeline has come from civil libertarians who view the phenomenon as mainly impacting Black and Hispanic and “Special Education” kids—but this identifies only the tip of the problem.
The vast majority of young people who are damaged by the School-to-Prison Pipeline—a strategic design continuum—are normal whitebread kids who never get in trouble, who tow the line and maybe even become obedient sailors and soldiers or schoolteachers.
As this Frontline episode makes so clear, the most effective means of imprisonment is mental. We are becoming a nation of slaves with invisible shackles and chains which are forged in the schools.
We’re only slaves if we agree to be.
And I say “No Way!”
Groove of the Day
Please go to the comments to today’s post to see a just-received message about Jordan Brown from a man who needs to be told a thing or two–then do what you will.