“It happened only blocks from our headquarters,” the CEO of the Minnesota-based retail giant told the Economic Club of Chicago on Tuesday. “My first reaction watching on TV was that could have been one of my Target team members.”
In the conversation with Mary Dillon, CEO of Ulta Beauty and incoming chair of the club, Cornell discussed the steps the company has taken to address the issues raised by Floyd’s death, including law enforcement’s treatment of Black Americans and racial inequity.
“For so many of us, we saw that verdict as a sign of progress, a sign of accountability, but also a recognition that the work is just starting and there’s much more work that we have to do,” Cornell said.
Target has since gathered a special committee focused on supporting Black employees and expanding business with Black-owned vendor partners.
Earlier in April, the company announced it would spend more than $2 billion on black-owned businesses by 2025 by purchasing goods from more than 500 Black-owned businesses and contracting with Black-owned services from marketing to construction.
Cornell says addressing these challenges should not be delegated to someone else in the C-suite.
“As CEOs we have to be the company’s head of diversity and inclusion,” he said. “We’ve got to make sure that we represent our company principles, our values, our company purpose on the issues that are important to our teams.”
The $93 billion company now has more than 1900 stores, and more than a third are led by people of color, Cornell said. His executive leadership team and board are similarly diverse, he said.
Target instituted a $15 hourly starting wage in 2017.
“There were a lot of naysayers. In fact, many people didn’t actually expect that target would be here today but those investments have proved incredibly beneficial.” A forthcoming distribution center in Chicago will have a starting wage of $18 per hour and provide over 2,000 jobs, he added.
Students at The Ohio State University have a reputation for flipping cars over.
When the football team loses against top-ranked opponents, cars will be flipped over on campus. Even when the football team wins against top-ranked opponents, cars are liable to be flipped over. Block parties like “Chitt Fest” are attended by thousands of wasted students and can lead to, you guessed it, cars being flipped over.
Chitt Fests – named after Chittenden Avenue, where I lived in 2013 – are usually rowdy, but not extensive-property-damage rowdy. This year’s rager, though, was less of a party and more of a riot.
One student found her 2016 Chevy Cruz being flipped over in real time. Others reported beer bottles being thrown through the windows of houses and apartments, as well as electric scooters being thrown into trees. In total, seven cars were flipped over, leading some to ask: where the hell were the police?
Columbus, Ohio, where The Ohio State University is located, is a great city. It’s ranked fifth in the world when it comes to quality of life, and its broad acceptance of immigrants brought my parents there in the early 1990s. Although I’ve been living in New York City for six years, Columbus still feels like my home.
But operating menacingly beneath these accolades is the city’s haunting law enforcement, which will remain a stain on Columbus’ image for the foreseeable future. The police in Columbus, Ohio are a great example of the worst kind of policing, and its behavior towards those it’s meant to protect should serve as a national reminder: the police have the power, and they’re not afraid to abuse it.
An OSU student told the Columbus Dispatch that when she called 9-1-1 on the night of this year’s Chitt Fest, the operator told her that police “have other things to worry about.” Those “other things” contribute to the Columbus Police Department’s absolutely abysmal reputation with its community and a record of violence against citizens that is one of the worst in the country.
The latest and most notorious example of this rot came on Tuesday, when 16-year-old Ma’khia Bryant called Columbus police because she was worried about her safety. When police arrived, they witnessed a fight between Ma’khia and two other girls. Ma’khia had a knife in her hand.
It’s at this point in the timeline of the altercation that we have to understand the way police are trained. Considering her age, police could have physically restrained Ma’khia, who was, based on the fact that she was the one who called them, presumably defending herself. By my own review of the body cam footage, police outnumbered Ma’khia four to one, and it isn’t unreasonable to think that they could have simply overpowered her.
But let’s say physical restraint is out of the question. Another option would be to use a taser, as former Brooklyn Center cop Kim Potter is alleged to have intended before she shot and killed Daunte Wright just last week.
Instead, an officer responded to what he saw by immediately shooting and killing Ma’khia within seconds of his arrival. Reasonable people may think this was a mistake, but actually, it’s exactly how he was trained to respond.
A former police officer wrote in the Atlantic that officer training emphasizes the severity of the risks to their lives. Cadets are shown horrifying videos of police officers being beaten or killed, and are taught that the risk of making a “mistake” – like killing Ma’khia instead of subduing her – is far less than the risk of neutralizing a threat, no matter how much of a threat there actually is.
This type of training is why, on December 4, 2020, Franklin County sheriff’s deputy Jason Meade shot and killed 23-year-old Casey Goodman, who, according to his family, was holding a sandwich in one hand and a face mask in the other.
It’s also why, a couple of weeks later, Columbus police officer Adam Coy shot and killed Andre Hill, a 47-year-old Black man, within seconds of their encounter. On December 22, 2020, Officer Coy responded to a call about a man who committed the unconscionable crime of sitting in his car for a while. Coy approached Hill, who had a phone in his hand, and killed him on sight.
And of course, Black people in Columbus are particularly affected. A 2019 study commissioned by the city showed “significant disparity of use of force against minority residents,” citing that Black people were half of the cases of “use of force” incidents despite only making up 28% of the city’s population.
After Ma’khia Bryant was gunned down, a bystander in the body cam video can be heard rightfully saying “Are you serious? She’s a f—— kid, man!” Her entire life up to that point, and everything that would have followed, was reduced to an encounter that lasted just seconds, thanks to a system that values its officers’ lives more than those they’re supposed to protect and serve. This system doesn’t just teach officers that everyone is a threat, it also perpetuates a culture where this behavior is glorified.
This is made clear by the Columbus Police Department’s callous behavior in the last few weeks. Officers who responded to the Ma’khia Bryant scene were heard chanting “Blue Lives Matter” to bystanders. And on the heels of peaceful Black Lives Matter protests throughout Columbus, a CPD helicopter was caught on radar spelling out “CPD” – for Columbus Police Department – in the skies above Columbus.
Few lives are made better by this brand of policing. Few lives are made safer. Otherwise burgeoning cities are weighed down by bad-faith policing tactics, drastically slowing a town’s march towards progress.
The police are on top, and they aren’t afraid to showcase it. Until some form of reckoning shows up on the doorsteps of my treasured hometown, its residents have to live in fear.
Many said that the ruling was only the beginning of the fight against institutional racism, and urged more action.
The CEOs of Apple and Dell shared quotes by civil-rights activist Martin Luther King Jr., while Zoom CEO Eric Yuan urged his staff to take care of their mental health.
Chauvin, a Minneapolis police officer at the time, knelt on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes during an arrest. Chauvin was found guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and manslaughter.
Melinda Gates, chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Melinda Gates, who chairs the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation alongside husband Bill Gates, posted on LinkedIn that the verdict was “just the beginning.”
“As important as it was, this verdict was not justice,” she said. “If George Floyd had justice, he would be alive today.”
The Business Roundtable
The Business Roundtable, a group representing the CEOs of top US companies including Walmart, P&G, Dow, and PayPal, urged the country to “take steps to address its long history of racial inequity in law enforcement.”
“Though today’s verdict is a step toward justice in this case, unarmed Black men and women continue to die in encounters with the police,” it said.
General Motors CEO Mary Barra
General Motors CEO Mary Barra said that the verdict was a “step in the fight against bias and injustice,” but that “we must remain determined to drive meaningful, deliberate change on a broad scale.”
Walgreens Boots Alliance posted statement on its website, saying that law enforcement officials must protect “all of us, at all times.”
People need to “pledge to do everything within our power to ensure that long-overdue, much-needed reforms are enacted to prevent future injustices,” the company said.
“Even with a verdict now handed down, we must never forget what this past year has taught us, and we must always keep alive the memory of George Floyd, and the countless victims who have suffered similar fates,” it said.
“The Centers for Disease Control has declared racism a public health threat, and for many African Americans and others in communities of color, it has definitely been life threatening,” it added.
Microsoft President Brad Smith
Microsoft President Brad Smith said that “our nation has a long journey ahead before it establishes the justice and equity that Black Americans deserve.”
He added that “no jury can bring him back to life or reverse the pain and trauma experienced by his family and still felt across the country and around the world,” but that the verdict was “a step forward in acknowledging painful truths.”
Salesforce tweeted that though the verdict was a “defining and important moment,” it “does not make up for so much loss and injustice experienced by the Black community.”
“George Floyd should be alive today,” it added.
Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson
In a letter to US partners, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson said that the verdict would “not soothe the intense grief, fatigue and frustration so many of our Black and African American partners are feeling.”
He said that, “while today’s verdict is a step forward in accountability, until we confront the ugly realities and root causes of what led us to this day, our people, our nation, will always fall short of their full potential.”
“We cannot sit on the sidelines as individuals nor as a company,” he added.
Zoom CEO Eric Yuan
Zoom CEO Eric Yuan said that Tuesday was “meaningful in the pursuit of justice, although Black communities continue to experience targeted acts of violence.”
In an note to staff, Zoom told employees to take care of their mental health and reach out to managers if they needed support.
Twitter urged people to “continue to deepen our solidarity and our commitment to combating racial injustice.”
That former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin is now a was convicted of murder, among other charges, serves as proof that the “system of justice has worked as it should,” according to the head of the country’s largest police union
In a statement following Tuesday’s verdict, in which Chauvin was convicted of killing George Floyd last summer, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police, Patrick Yoes, accepted the jury’s findings.
“The trial was fair and due process was served,” Yoes said.
The statement is consistent with what the organization said soon after the video of Floyd’s killing went viral last May. At the time, the group issued a statement distancing itself and the profession of law enforcement from Chauvin’s actions.
“Based on the bystander’s video from this incident, we witnessed a man in distress pleading for help,” it said. “The fact that he was a suspect in custody is immaterial – police officers should at all times render aid to those who need it.”
Local police in California also welcomed Tuesday’s news.
“Today’s guilty verdict against Derek Chauvin, unanimously reached by twelve jurors, was just,” police unions in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Jose said in a joint statement. “Although the verdict will not bring George Floyd back, this tragedy provides all of us in law enforcement an opportunity to improve how our nation is policed.”
Chauvin was filmed kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, ignoring his protests that he “could not breath.” The former cop, who was fired after the incident, now faces up to 40 years in prison for second-degree murder.
According to the ACLU, it is the first time a white police officer in Minnesota has ever been convicted of killing a Black man.
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Rep. Maxine Waters, a Democratic member of Congress from Los Angeles, attended a peaceful protest in Brooklyn Center, where a police officer this month killed an unarmed Black man during a traffic stop. While there, she addressed the crowd for about 10 minutes.
“I’m here from Washington, DC, because I could not sleep. I could not rest. I could not be satisfied that another young Black man has been killed by police. And Daunte Wright did not deserve to be killed,” Waters said.
“I’m here to say that I stand with you,” Waters said. And “there are many in Congress who feel like I do,” she said, assuring the crowd it had allies, of all colors, in the halls of power. “We’re going to stand for justice. We’re going to fight for justice.”
To this point, her remarks, posted online by the nonprofit media outlet Unicorn Riot (beginning at 2:12), were typical of a politician speaking to activists in the streets. If anything, they were palliative, serving as a reminder to those outraged by police killings that there are two tracks to criminal justice reform – that there are people who share the outrage of those in the streets who are working within the political system.
Rather than “defund the police,” Waters spoke of reimagining the role of law enforcement, questioning the utility of having cops respond to mental health calls, not challenging their existence.
It’s what she said after addressing the crowd, when speaking to a smaller group of reporters and citizen journalists, that went viral. Asked what protesters should do if Derek Chauvin is found not guilty of murder, Waters said: “Well, we gotta stay on the street. And we’ve got to get more active. We’ve got to get more confrontational. We’ve got to make sure that they know that we mean business,” Waters said.
That is the snippet being cast in the least charitable light as incitement to riot, among the conservative blogosphere, and on CNN as having “inflamed a very volatile situation.”
Waters’ Democratic colleagues don’t believe she even committed a faux pas, much less a crime or a reason to declare a mistrial in the Chauvin case. “I don’t think she meant violence, I’m convinced of that,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters on Monday. “She believes in her issues. And she speaks truth to power.”
But did protesters take it that way? The last time a politician was accused of inciting a riot, a violent mob stormed the US Capitol, attacking police officers with bear spray and fire extinguishers in an effort to thwart the peaceful transfer of power.
In a word: No. There was no riot in Minnesota after an elder stateswoman addressed a peaceful crowd of some 350 people. Many people left – her comments were just minutes before the city’s 11 p.m. curfew. “We are pleased to share that the city of Brooklyn Center had a quiet night on Saturday,” Reginald Edwards, the city’s acting city manager, said in a statement.
According to local media, protesters themselves made sure of that. Although assembled outside the local police station, “there was no attempt to breach the fences,” the Star Tribune reported; police likewise kept the calm, declining to escalate the situation with tear gas or flash-bang grenades. And when a few people shook the fence, later in the evening when the crowd had dwindled to less than 100, they “were dispersed by other protesters who argued for a more peaceful approach,” according to the paper.
According to Minnesota Public Radio, there was only one arrest on Saturday, and the crowd was “more subdued compared to Friday night,” when around 100 were arrested. MPR said that at times there was music and dancing and that even after curfew set in, “police did not advance on the crowd; instead, it dissipated on its own.”
If Maxine Waters sought to incite a riot, she plainly failed. But if she may have inspired someone to follow in her footsteps.
“I’m going to school to be in her shoes,” one young woman told Unicorn Riot after hearing Waters speak. “Seeing her, here right now, just makes me ready to be in her position,” she said, hardly able to contain her excitement. “So I’m running for president.”
The protests have been set against the backdrop of the trial against Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis officer who killed George Floyd by kneeling on his neck. The courthouse where the trial takes place is only miles away from where an officer shot and killed Wright last week.
At the protest, Waters said she and the crowd are “looking for a guilty verdict” for Chauvin.
“We’ve got to stay in the streets, and we’ve got to demand justice,” she said, according to a video posted on Twitter from the event.
“I am hopeful that we will get a verdict that says, ‘guilty, guilty, guilty,’ and if we don’t, we cannot go away,” she added. “We’ve got to get more confrontational.”
Cruz, a Republican from Texas, blasted those remarks from Waters.
“Democrats actively encouraging riots & violence,” he tweeted in response, along with a Daily Mail article reporting Waters’ comments.
After Wright was killed, protests erupted in the streets of Brooklyn Center and the surrounding Minneapolis area.
Starting from day one of the protests, officials called in the National Guard and imposed a curfew. Protesters have since broken that curfew to demonstrate against police brutality.
At some of these protests, police clashed with demonstrators and fired tear gas and nonlethal rounds to disperse the crowds. Among the protesters who were tear-gassed was Wright’s aunt, Kelly Bryant.
She told Insider she watched people throw garbage at the police.
“I have never seen anything like that in my life. I was tear-gassed,” she said. “It was not a pretty sight. I was watching people loot and break windows, stealing stuff out of stores, burning stuff. It was bad. It was really bad.”
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Minneapolis and other US cities are increasing security and policing ahead of the verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial, CNN reported.
Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer, was charged with the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, in May 2020. Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for several minutes as Floyd said he could not breathe.
Floyd’s death sparked months of protests against racism and police brutality across the US and worldwide.
Razor wire has been put around a police building in downtown Minneapolis, CNN reported, and Minneapolis police spokesman John Elder told CNN that similar measures are being taken at other police precincts.
CNN also reported that National Guard troops are in some parts of downtown Minneapolis.
Public schools will also learn to remote learning from Wednesday in anticipation of the verdict, Superintendent Ed Graff said, according to CNN.
Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter.
Jury deliberations are due to start next week.
Minneapolis is already facing ongoing protests after police killed20-year-old Daunte Wright a few miles away from the courthouse where Chauvin’s trial is taking place.
Controversy has arisen in the UK after a much anticipated report investigating race and ethnic disparities apparently found no evidence of institutional racism in the country; instead heralding Britain as a model for other white majority nations.
The United Kingdom, much like the rest of the world, is having a moment of reckoning about racial injustice, further complicated by its colonialist past. In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 that followed the killing of George Floyd in America, the UK government established the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities to help address concerns about the racial inequalities that permeate British society even today. But the report’s failure to find evidence of systemic injustice should leave us all questioning its authors’ intention.
Due to the importance of such reports – which gain considerable media coverage and are often relied on by government officials, academics, and policy makers to inform their decision making – it is imperative that the members of the commission are impartial experts that have tremendous credibility. However, eyebrows were raised when this particular panel, which is meant to be independent, seemed to mostly consist of individuals whose ideology was in line with the Conservative government’s views and lacked expertise in many of the matters being investigated. Former Shadow Home Secretary and current Labour MP Diane Abbott – the first Black woman to be elected to Parliament – went as far as accusing the government of consciously packing it with people who did not believe in institutional racism. And others who took part in the report are now trying to distance themselves from its results.
Therefore, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise, then, that this report went against the findings of several other major inquiries in the past 20 years that had found evidence of systemic racism – including the landmark 2017 Lammy Review that found significant racial bias in the UK justice system. It has become apparent now that instead of taking the opportunity to truly explore the issues of racial inequality and discrimination, the report appeared to be tailored to fit a pre-determined narrative that suited the government and reaffirmed its skepticism of institutional racism.
There is plenty of evidence regarding systemic racism – in 2021, one would have to be willfully ignorant to deny it. But in keeping the discussion stuck at debating the existence of a deeply entrenched discriminatory phenomenon that clearly affects a significant percentage of the population negatively, the government has ensured that no progress whatsoever is made in addressing the resulting racial disparities – which was what we were led to believe the commission was set up to do in the first place.
While the report does acknowledge that racial disparities still exist, its authors argue that “geography, family influence, socio-economic background, and culture and religion” play a significant role. Ethnic minorities opposed to the findings of the report seemingly get painted as perpetual moaners who’ve absorbed “a fatalistic narrative that says the deck is permanently stacked against them” and can’t bring themselves to appreciate the incredible progress Britain has made transforming itself into “a beacon to the rest of Europe and the world”.
Thus, the discussion has devolved into a farcical debate on patriotism, where those criticising this ‘positive’ news about Britain face accusations of just having an irrational hatred for the country instead of legitimate grievances. It feeds directly to the biases of much of the Conservative vote base, many who are vocal about how they believe people of colour, anti-racism campaigners and experts want to make everything about race, and how those complaining of racism have a victimhood complex.
The backlash and condemnation of the report has been swift and comprehensive. Several academics have criticised it as a sloppy piece of work and accused it of distorting and misrepresenting research. Many of the experts thanked for their help with the report have publicly come out and denied their involvement with its contents. And as I mentioned before, some of the commissioners have now come out and distanced themselves from the final report; with allegations that it was the government – and not the 12 commissioners – that produced many of the controversial sections of the finished product. The government has been urged to withdraw the report, with many rights campaigners fearing that its continued circulation will “take us back to the ‘colour bar’ of the 1960s.”
But whether a Prime Minister who has conducted an obvious attempt at whitewashing racism listens to such concerns remains to be seen. The hypocrisy of a government investigating itself by appointing ‘yes people’ to exonerate it and further its agenda – even allegedly rewriting their report to ensure the desired outcome – is galling.
The repercussions of this cynical act will continue to be felt, with the credibility of such ‘independent’ government commissions severely damaged. What is crystal clear, however, is that we cannot look to this administration for any meaningful action to address racial disparities. Our struggle for racial equality continues, it is just a shame that the government continues to actively make things worse for the marginalised communities it is also meant to serve.
Mohammad Zaheer is a journalist and political commentator.
A US Army non-commissioned officer who was filmed shoving a Black man in his South Carolina neighborhood earlier this week has been charged with third-degree assault, according to the Associated Press.
Jonathan Pentland, a 42-year-old sergeant first class, was arrested Wednesday and taken to the Richland County jail. It appears he has since posted bail.
Pentland did not immediately respond to Insider’s email for comment.
On Monday, a woman posted footage on Facebook showing a heated confrontation involving Pentland and a Black man in his neighborhood outside Columbia, South Carolina.
Pentland is seen yelling at the man, getting in his face, and telling him to get out of his neighborhood.
“You either walk away or I’m going to carry your a– out of here,” Pentland said at one point in the video.
It’s not clear from the video what prompted the confrontation, but near the end of the three-minute clip, Pentland’s wife accused the Black man of having “picked a fight with” one of their female neighbors.
In the video, Pentland repeatedly asked what the man was doing in his neighborhood. The Black man said he was just walking and that he lives in the area.
“I didn’t do anything to you,” the Black man said.
“I’m about to do something to you,” Pentland responded.
When the Black man tried to address Pentland’s wife, Pentland shoved him, causing the man to almost fall, the video showed.
“You’re in the wrong neighborhood motherf—er,” Pentland is heard saying. “Get out.”
Shirell Johnson, the woman who posted the video to Facebook, wrote that she stayed with the man until an officer arrived at the scene. She said the officer charged Pentland at the scene with malicious injury to property for slapping the Black man’s cellphone to the ground, which happened after the video stopped rolling.
Johnson said she was out walking with her best friend when they came across the two men arguing and stayed to make sure the Black man was not hurt.
“We circled back to get him out of that situation because we refused to see [him] go to jail or lying there dead simply because he was Black,” she wrote. “The only thing he did was be Black while walking!!!”
In announcing Pentland’s arrest on Wednesday, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott confirmed that there were two other incidents involving the Black man leading up to the confrontation, but he said it “doesn’t justify” Pentland’s behavior.
“There was some other things that occurred that really doesn’t justify the actions of [Pentland],” Lott said. “None of them justified the assault that occurred.”
“It was terrible, it was unnecessary, it was a bad video. The young man was a victim, the individual that was arrested was the aggressor, and he’s been dealt with accordingly.”
Lott added that the Black man had “an underlying medical condition that may explain the behavior exhibited in the alleged incidents.”
Social media accounts associated with Pentland show he works as a drill sergeant at the Fort Jackson garrison, according to the AP.
The commanding general of the installation condemned the video on Wednesday, and said that the Department of Justice is looking into the matter.
“The leaders at Fort Jackson in no way condone the behavior depicted in the video posted recently,” Fort Jackson Commander Brig. Gen. Milford Beagle Jr. said in a statement.
“I remain deeply concerned for the members of our Army family, the young man and his family, and the tensions that activities like this amplify over time; please be patient as facts are determined.”
Protesters gathered outside the Pentland family home Wednesday night. Pentland’s family was evacuated from the home when protesters started to vandalize the house, the sheriff’s department said.
A former prosecutor campaigning to be Philadelphia’s next district attorney has downplayed his role in a murder case against a man who was exonerated by DNA evidence after spending some 25 years in prison.
But according to that man’s legal team, Democrat Carlos Vega – who is seeking to unseat the liberal incumbent – played a far bigger role than he now claims.
“I was brought in at the eleventh hour, two weeks before trial, just to question three witnesses,” he told the paper.
“My only participation in that case was calling civilian witnesses and I think the crime scene personnel,” he said in an interview with The Intercept earlier this year. “With respect to the rest of the case, I was not involved at all. It was not my case.”
But that’s not true, according to the Innocence Project, which represented Wright at his 2016 retrial. The group said in a statement on Wednesday that Vega was in fact one of two prosecutors assigned to “jointly handle” the case, noting her served as co-counsel for the full three weeks of the trial. And while he did question three witnesses, he also questioned Wright himself “at great length,” challenging the exonerated defendant’s “integrity, veracity, and his claims of innocence.”
Vega’s statements suggesting otherwise, the group said, “are false.”
“Mr. Vega has not apologized to Mr. Wright for the role he played in seeking his return to prison on a second life sentence, nor publicly acknowledged Mr. Wright’s innocence,” the Innocence Project added.
Vega did not immediately respond to a message from Insider requesting comment.
Anthony Wright’s wrongful imprisonment
Wright, then 20 years old, was arrested in the fall of 1991 and charged with raping and murdering a 77-year-old woman in North Philadelphia. He was convicted two years later after a jury was convinced by a confession that Wright said was coerced by police threats of abuse, the testimony of purported acquaintances who said he’d told them of the crime, and blood-stained clothing that law enforcement said he had been wearing the night of the incident.
The case, detailed by The National Registry of Exonerations, began to fall apart in 2013. That year, DNA testing revealed a rape kit linked the crime to a since-deceased dealer of crack cocaine, not Wright. Testing also showed that the clothing presented at Wright’s trial had been worn by the victim, not him, as police claimed.
Previous state witnesses also recanted their testimony, saying they had been pressured by detectives.
But instead of releasing him, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office took Wright to trial again and presented a new theory: that he had been an accomplice. Jurors were not only unconvinced, but angered by the evidence they were presented with – “The city should never have brought this case,” the jury forewoman said afterward – taking less than an hour to acquit him.
Wright went on to sue the city, settling for just under $10 million.
Vega was fired in 2018, along with the other prosecutor in the Wright case, by a new Philadelphia DA, Larry Krasner, a former defense attorney who took office promising an end to business as usual in the criminal justice system. But Krasner, one of the country’s foremost “progressive prosecutors,” has been battered by claims his light touch has allowed criminals dodge consequences for serious crimes.
There is no question violence has gotten worse, in Philadelphia as elsewhere during the pandemic.
In 2020, just under 500 people were killed in Philadelphia, the highest death toll in 30 years. And 2021 is not looking any better, with the city already suffering 142 homicides, up from 107 by this time last year.
Critics have pointed to a decline in the conviction rate for people accused of illegal gun possession. Krasner, in turn, has argued that police are presenting his office with weaker cases (arrests have tripled, but only 49% of those charged have been convicted during his tenure, down from 63% under the previous DA).
Vega has campaigned on putting a stop to a surge in violence, attributing it to the incumbent rather than a deadly virus and a national trend.
“He promised us justice that would make us safer,” Vega said in a press release last month. “But there is nothing just about turning a blind eye to illegal guns, and it certainly isn’t making us safer.”
Still, while promising more law and order, Vega – endorsed by Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police – has also sought to emphasize his working-class roots while promising to address “unfairness in our criminal justice system” in this overwhelmingly Democratic city.
But Vega’s role in what the city now concedes was a wrongful imprisonment – a “tragic case,” in the words of Mayor Jim Kenney – will make it more difficult for the former prosecutor, ahead of Philadelphia’s May 18 primary election, to pitch himself as equally committed to security and reform.