Michael Harriot, The Root | 5/25/2017, 11:45 a.m.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The following first appeared on TheRoot.com. It has been edited for print in The New Tri-State Defender and on TSDMemphis.com.
In another example of how the American justice system treats black bodies, we take a look at Ramad Chatman, a 24-year-old man who was found not guilty by a jury of his peers but will serve seven years in prison because ...
Come on, you know why.
According to The Independent (a UK newspaper covering a story originally reported by 11Alive in Atlanta), in 2012 Chatman was convicted of breaking and entering for stealing a television worth $120. It was his first offense, but because he was — again, you know why — Chatman was sentenced to five years’ probation.
You read that right. He was 19, and a judge thought it necessary to make him property of the state for half a decade.
During his probation period, court papers show that he paid his restitution, attended every meeting, finished his community service and even kept himself employed.
Unbeknownst to Chatman, he was identified as a suspect in a convenience store robbery in 2014. Although he was on probation, which means that he was required to submit his whereabouts to law-enforcement officials monthly, Chatman was never arrested for the robbery. In fact, according to him, he had no idea that he was a suspect.
In 2015 Chatman learned that he had been accused of the crime, so, like most thug gangsters who need to be removed from society for the safety of the good citizens, Chatman did what any criminal would do after evading law-enforcement officers for a year: He turned himself in. Chatman said that he only turned himself in for the crime because he knew he was innocent.
But Judge Jack Niedrach wanted to send Chatman to jail.
That’s not just hyperbole. When he was arrested, Chatman offered to plead guilty to assault in exchange for having the armed robbery charge dropped, but the judge rejected the deal. Chatman wanted to enter an “Alford plea,” which means the defendant pleads guilty but maintains his innocence, but the judge wasn’t having that.
So Chatman went to trial. It turns out that during the trial, the police had no evidence for the case. They didn’t find a weapon. They didn’t recover any money. There was no video. In fact, the clerk who identified Chatman ID’d him on Facebook over a year after the robbery. So the jury found Chatman not guilty of all charges.
But the judge wanted to send him to jail, so he did.
Niedrach still thought Chatman was guilty, so he revoked Chatman’s probation and sent him to jail. Now Chatman must sit in prison until 2022.
To be clear, Chatman’s original probation would have been finished five years after he was sentenced on July 6, 2012. Although that initial punishment seems harsh, Chatman complied with every requirement of the court. Even when faced with other criminal accusations, he turned himself in. By all accounts, he was a model citizen.