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A Political Prisoner Meets A Juridical Savior

Mayor Sharpe James, Cornelius Rick & Attorney Alton Maddox

Mayor Sharpe James, Cornelius Rick & Attorney Alton Maddox

On May 29, Sharpe James, former mayor of Newark met with Alton Maddox, the people’s attorney at the Harlem Branch Public Library to discuss James’ memoir, Political Prisoner. This historic political conjunction was organized by Cornelius Rick, the president and founder of Behind the Bench, and moderated by Leroy Baylor of WHCR Radio 90.3 FM.

As a political prisoner, James declares that in the United States of America “you can be indicted, arrested, convicted and sent to prison without committing a crime,” as clearly illustrated in the hideous “Central Park 7” case. Similarly to the “Central Park 7” case, in Political Prisoner, James maintains that he was “indicted, arrested, convicted and sent to prison without committing a crime.”

As such, James deduces that the government of the United States has it in for him and his ilk, African-American males. For four years, law enforcement officials were spying on James and trying to collect incriminating data on him. On April 16, 2008, James was convicted on several counts of fraud in connection to the sale of several lots in Newark to his inamorata.

In his book, James writes that while in the custody of FBI agents, “They fondled my penis” and “drove directly into an underground parking facility where both agents, without speaking, turned the engine off and exited the car. I was left handcuffed, wrist bleeding, in the back seat of the car with no air conditioning; the temperature quickly rose from 60 degrees to about 90 degrees. After a length of time alone in the car, I began suffocating from heat exhaustion. I was hot and thirsty, and started choking. I was bleeding from the wrist. They were treating me like a caged animal and there was no help around.”

Unfortunately, for James, “It was slavery time; a reenactment of the movie, Roots. If I thought being handcuffed was uncomfortable, now I was handcuffed and manacled with chains and leg irons. I felt as though I had just gotten off a slave ship, heading to the auction block. I was overwhelmed with feelings of being disrespected, mistreated, persecuted and helpless to do anything about it, even before I reached a courtroom.”  According to James, “There is nothing macho about going to prison” – being in prison is no fun.”

While James may be considered a political prisoner, Maddox is definitely a prisoner of the legislative and judicial system of the United States. In 1990, the New York State Supreme Court banned him from practicing law, despite his professionalism and impeccable record as the people’s attorney.

Although Maddox is a prisoner of the legislative and judicial system of the United States, he is best known as a juridical savior. For example, in 1990, Rev. Al Sharpton was acquitted of 67 counts of fraud and theft due to Maddox’s legal scholarship, political acumen, and pro bono legal representation. Moreover, Maddox represented Michael Briscoe, who was not indicted in the ill-fated, controversial “Central Park 7” case where several young men of color were ultimately “indicted, arrested, convicted and sent to prison without committing a crime.”

However, one major takeaway from James and Maddox’s meeting is that Black people’s only crime is our skin color and the punishment by a racist nation is to metamorphose a sovereign people to slaves and prisoners of a capitalist system that continues to deprive us of economic liberty while keeping us in political, cultural, and legal confinement.

That is why, among other reasons, Political Prisoner is a must-read and as the people’s attorney, Maddox must be reinstated.

Professor Patrick Delices is a Pan-African scholar who taught the history of Haiti, Caribbean Politics, African-American Politics, and African-Caribbean International Relations at Hunter College and served as a research fellow at Columbia University for the late, Pulitzer-Prize winning historian Manning Marable. Professor Delices can be reached at [email protected].



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