April 6th, 2000

Column 25

Over the last few months there was a controversy about an advertising campaign by an Italian clothing manufacturer called Benneton (the url to their site is: http://www.benetton.com) and their using Death Row Inmates in an advertising campaign to bring awareness of the death penalty and an attempt to humanize the prisoners on Death Row. There was a large outcry by the pro death penalty groups with members demonstrating outside some of the stores, which carried Benneton clothing. As a result, one of the stores (Sears) pulled all the Benneton clothes from their stores. I was asked by a number of people if I thought Benneton was exploiting prisoners on death row with this campaign. Benneton has a history of using socially sensitive issues in their advertising campaigns to draw attention to that issue and I never felt they exploited anyone in their previous advertising campaigns. As for using the death penalty in their latest campaign, I think they were very brave to do that and sensitive in the way they did it. They didn't defend the prisoners, instead they tried to put a face to the people on death row to make people understand they are killing human beings. I admire them for what they did. You wouldn't see an American company with the courage to do that sort of thing. It brought attention to the topic of the Death Penalty and made people think about it, so how could that be wrong? It's too bad American companies don't try and make a positive difference like that.

Another topic I have been asked about is the case about the corruption in the Los Angeles Police Department. For those of you who haven't heard about it, the LAPD has been under investigation (for some time) over corruption in their police department. So far there have been around 29 Police Officers who have been fired or placed on suspension and the Los Angeles County Prosecutors have been reviewing over 3,000 cases of people who were convicted to see if they were convicted falsely. The FBI has gotten involved in the investigation, supposedly to insure there is a complete investigation, instead of even more of a cover-up. The investigation is focused on how the Police were falsely convicting and sending people to prison. They would plant evidence, lie in court, even evidence the Police murdered people they've stopped, then planted a gun on the person and claimed the person had pointed the gun at them. The latest controversy in the case is how the Head of the District Attorney's office (chief Prosecutor) is saying the police department is not cooperating with the investigation.

There are a couple of things about this case I wanted to comment on. First of all, people in prison have known about the Los Angeles Police Department doing this sort of thing for years, but it wasn't until a Police Officer was arrested and talked about doing this sort of thing and how other Police Officers did it as well, that the news media paid attention. Now the Media is trying to make you think this sort of thing has only been going on for a few years and how shocked they are about it. The fact of the matter is, the Media (in Los Angeles) has heard about these sorts of things for years before this former Police Officer talked about it. The people in prison have known about this going on, not only in Los Angeles County, but in other counties as well.

The other thing that bothers me is the hypocrisy of the Los Angeles District Attorneys Office (the Prosecutors). Investigating the false convictions has barely scratched the surface, yet there have already been around 100 innocent people released from prison after being set up by the police. Where I find the hypocrisy is how the prosecutors are acting like they are shocked and don't know how this sort of thing could have happened. I think that is a lie. There is no way the Police could have made all these false convictions without the Prosecutors knowledge that the evidence wasn't legitimate. Instead, I suspect that the Prosecutors preferred to turn their backs on what had to be suspect evidence, in order to get a conviction. After all, they love to tell the public they are tough on crime, so the more convictions the better. It is good politics to send as many people to prison as possible and why should they care if innocent people are sent to prison as well. In my opinion, the Prosecutors are as much to blame as the corrupt Police Officers. This couldn't have gone on without the Prosecutors being aware of it, or even cooperating. I doubt if the FBI will do much, but if they are serious about this investigation, I think they should also investigate the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office to see how so many innocent people could be prosecuted, convicted and sent to prison on manufactured evidence. The Prosecutor's used this evidence and testimony to send innocent people to prison and it seems impossible they didn't know.

One last observation on this topic. I wonder why all the 'Victim's Rights Groups' weren't there to protest and demand justice for the victims of the LAPD and the Los Angeles Prosecutors. Maybe they were busy protesting the Benneton Advertisements. More likely, they wanted to keep a low profile in this sort of thing in case someone points out it is in large part due to the 'Victims Rights Groups', this sort of thing can happen now. Because of their efforts, the protection's for innocent people have been diluted and it is relatively easy for innocent people to go to prison or end up on death row.

I was reading an article from a newspaper the other day. The article talked about how there are now over 2 million people in American prisons. The article went on to say that in the entire world there are a total of 8 million people in prison (including the USA). I thought that was very interesting. There are 6 Billion people on this planet, only 270 million are in the USA. Yet the USA has 25% of the worlds prison population. In just one state (California) there are more people in prison than there are in France, Germany, Great Britain, Japan, Singapore and The Netherlands combined. I'm not great at math, but to me this is a incredible statistic. I can't help but wonder when the USA will wise up. It reminds me of a question I was asked by someone who wrote me. They asked, 'What is this strange obsession America has with wanting to punish everyone'. I didn't know what answer to give because I don't know either. I thought about that question quite a bit, but still don't have a answer. America is supposed to be the country of truth and justice and freedom, but it is one of the most restricted and law filled countries in the western world. So if anyone has a answer to that question. I would be curious to hear it. Personally, I suspect that there isn't any answer.