Guest Commentary by Mark Jones
Penal Code 182.5 penalizes alleged gang members for any crime the gang is accused of committing, regardless of whether the individual being accused had any knowledge or participation in the crime committed or not. Last Monday, March 16, 2015, this community was able to sample the sweet nectar of victory as members of the Lincoln Park community, like Aaron Harvey, Brandon Duncan and others had the unjust 182.5 charges dismissed from their cases. In the cases of Aaron Harvey and Brandon Duncan this meant that they no longer faced the threat of being incarcerated for the rest of their lives for crimes they did not commit. It was a battle hard fought by the community and we deserved to reap the spoils of its victory but one thing we did not do very well was prepare for the District Attorney’s retaliation.
Just one week later, March 24, 2015 the outlook is very different than what we saw last week. Two of the 18 men who have been incarcerated and charged with the 182.5 decided to accept a plea deal. One young man is only 19 years old and has never committed a crime in his life, and had no factual evidence that he should have even been involved in this case. Before he signed the plea the judge alluded to the fact that he shouldn’t have even been on this case. The District Attorney’s office chimed in with a very disillusioned brand of certification with the remark that this young man deserved to be let go because he had a soul. The judge told the young man that he could come back in a year to have the felony reduced to a misdemeanor and that if he remained a model citizen he would even consider expunging the felony from his record. The problem is a lot can happen in a year.
You might be asking yourself why this young man signed a plea deal when he could have just waited and possibly had his entire cased tossed from the court. The answer to the question can be found in understanding all that he had to deal with in the last year. You see this young man’s situation was far different than that of Aaron Harvey and Brandon Duncan. Both Harvey and Duncan had there million dollar bail reduced to an amount they could afford to get out of jail. So as they awaited for their cases to be considered for dismissal by the judge, they were able to do so with their freedom intact. The young man who signed the plea deal March 24th did not have that luxury. His bail was reduced to $500,000 an amount that he and his family were not able to afford. This forced him to stay in jail and wait while his lawyers went through over 10,000 documents relating to his case.
Jail time can be hard on anyone, but it can be especially hard on a young man that has never faced something like this before. Add on top of that the constant fear for your life, the threat of in jail fights that can double the amount of time you have to serve, the coercion of the District Attorney to get you to sign a plea deal or else face life in prison, and before long you have one very homesick young man that is willing to sign any plea deal that the will offer him a “get out of jail free” card. Aaron Harvey even stated that there were times that he spent during his 8 months in jail that he considered taking a deal just to get out.
The real problem is that there is no plea deal that comes with a “get out of jail free card.” In the cases of 182.5, they all come attached with a felony. This young man is now a convicted felon that has little to no rights and little possibility of obtaining a decent paying job. With the 182.5 conviction on his record, this young man also now faces the very real possibility of having federal RICO charges brought against him for the crime he just plead guilty to. YES he can be double tapped for this conviction and YES he could potentially serve twice if he is found guilty of the RICO charges. Last but not least he is not allowed to associate with anyone that is documented as a member of the gang. Now if there is anything we learned about this dubious documentation list from the Lincoln Park case, it is that it could include any number of community individuals. This young man’s saving grace might be that he is immediately moving out of state, but as we saw in the Harvey case even living out of state afforded very little protection.
The sad fact of the matter is that we are dealing with a District Attorney who is willing to go to great and unimaginable lengths to push this 182.5 agenda. She does not care who she hurts or how many families she uproots and destroys in the process. Again she purports that she is doing this because she cares and it will benefit the community but if she really believed that these 33 young men were actually the criminals she painted them out to be, why offer them plea deals at all? Why not just allow each case to go to trial so that you can get these so call “murderers” off the streets? The answer to that question is simple: Bonnie Dumanis is not doing this because she is concerned about the community and she has no evidence that she can use against most of these men that would stand up in trial. She is merely doing this to pad her conviction rates in some bid to run for re-election or another office in the coming years.
As a community we must realize this simple truth that the timeline for the 182.5 fight sped up exponentially the moment this community achieved that first victory on March 16th. We backed Bonnie into a corner and she came back swinging while we celebrated the March 16th victory. So while this community can accept that March 16th victory we must also accept the burden of the March 24th defeat. We must also accept the defeat of the many other innocent men who are attached to this case who did not actually commit any crimes but signed plea deals anyway. The dire predicament we are in does not afford us the luxury of making too many mistakes because there are more lives at stake. We must continue to steadfastly stand up against 182.5 until this unjust penal code is stricken from the legislature or else continue to watch innocent men pay the ultimate price. We must never relent because the same District Attorney’s office that had the gall to say that the young man who signed a plea deal March 24th has a soul actually have no souls themselves.
HOW TO STAY INVOLVED
There are a number of things you can do to get involved in the fight to protect the remaining young men who are affected by the 182.5 and to help have it stricken from the California legislature. The first of which is to get informed on what we are dealing with by attending the Voice and Viewpoints Town Hall on March 28th. The town hall will be held from 9am to 11am at the Fourth Districts Senior Resource Center: 570 S 65th St San Diego, California 92114. Next the Coalition Against Penal Code 182.5 is meeting April 6th at 6pm at City of Hope International. The point of this meeting it to strategize on what part you can play in the fight against the imminent threat of penal code 182.5. Lastly in-between now and those two meetings we urge you to contact your district attorney’s office and continue to voice your displeasure of her criminalization and malicious attack against black neighborhoods. You can contact the District Attorney’s office by dialing the following number: 619-531-3544
Ladies and Gentlemen if there was ever a time for this community to pull together and stand as one this is that time. The threat is too imminent and the repercussions too costly for us to stall on this for even one second. We must take action and continue this fight until we have nothing less than complete victory. I’ll see you out there on the battlefield. To learn more information about the 182.5 cases you can email Mark at email@example.com or call him directly at 619-382-7578.