Friends of Webster

Raised in the house, but field certified.

We Fight until We Win?

Look at one of the most recent comments. The title of this blog is a phrase that always used to fire me up for success. Now it just seems antiquated, even when my father relates it to my fight for vindication. sean-john-black-american-dream.jpgWho do you think of when you see this pictured t-shirt? Ali? President Obama? Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson?

The lead attorney for my appeal, Ron Machen, was officially tapped by President Obama to fill the role of D.C.’s U.S. Attorney. (See Here: Machen tapped U.S. Attorney for D.C.) The Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces is likely my last shot at vindication as Machen’s departure will leave one brilliant, knowledgeable and personable attorney, Daniel Volchok, as my lone representative from Wilmer Hale, L.L.P. 

It has been nearly a month and a half since I stood before the judges and I don’t expect any word any time soon.  I don’t get anxious and I surely don’t worry.  I have learned, in the past four years, that fighting for a particular goal, scratching and clawing to get there, isn’t always the best solution. I want to practice law. I want to envision and engineer the social landscape of the future.  At the same time, I know that I would much rather be a successful human being (Christian, father, husband, etc) than to kill myself trying to overcome a formidable obstacle (being licensed) and burning myself out.  In the end, social change is about influence and the employment of vast resources. 

Education is a key to unlocking the potential in an individual but it is just one possible ingredient for success.  In these four years, I have learned that resources, influence and well-being are just as important. In my post-collegiate career, I have worked alongside of two older, highly-educated black men.  Both had their Master’s degrees. Both felt that they could change the world with their education and neither are.  This beg’s the question, is education really important? Especially as a black man.  We live in a world of monster.com and craigslist.com and in this world, people really believe that they have a shot at meaningful employment and a path to greatness. Rather, the free enterprise isn’t so free.  Whether you are of an aristocratic pedigree or a beneficiary of affirmative action, it is more about interpersonal connections and circumstance than education.  I wonder if they learned this before or after they graduated with their master’s degrees?

I want my graduate education, and I plan on earning it, but it won’t change my life. I am aware of that. Highly-educated black men are like German-engineered super cars without the Autobahn to test their limits.  So the true question is, should we really fight until we win? Lose our minds, families and our optimism? More often than not, black men fight until they lose.

This may seem like a solemn message but I have been doing a lot of reading lately.  Malcolm Gladwell’s books (Outliers, Tipping Point, Blink), 50 Cent’s The 50th Law (which is rather genius) and other books of the sort. Some black men make it. Obama, Machen, Holder, Bob Johnson, Cornel West, and Jack White (See: On Being a Black Lawyer).  Education is metamorphosis.  It is possible that education does more harm than good for the ambitious black man and the people who look up to them. How deadening is it to see a highly-educated black man doing a job that anyone can do. It is the story of the 20th century and it hasnt gotten much better. I am just going to work hard, sleep little, practice much and carve my own path. Because many of the “German-engineered super cars” that I have known, never find their Autobahn. I rather take my own road.

December 28th, 2009 Posted by | Awaiting CAAF's Word | 2 comments

Like Landing on the Moon.

Just this afternoon, my wife sent me a series of text messages after viewing a story on CNN.

Go to CNN.com/Omg, it makes me want to cry/What did you say when the judge said you are a free man?/ “I felt like when they landed on the moon. We have touched down.”

I have always wanted to know how I would feel if, at age 26, I was vindicated. Legal experts say that it is too soon after the verdict. Soon, to those experts, is four years after the verdict. Four years seemed like 10-15 years for me and my family. I don’t really think about all of this stuff anymore. The anger is counter-productive and it is hard to focus on life when you are constantly thinking of the balance that it hangs in. Just yesterday, my boss asked me, “You should know soon, shouldn’t you?”

 I said, “About Lindsey’s Teach for America position? “About any acceptances to law schools?”

He said, “No Web, about your appeal to CAAF.” I couldn’t believe how far I had distanced myself from all of it. Until today, I have never thought of the sensation that I would feel after a moment like that. I had never even attempted to imagine what it felt like to win.  Today, it happened by accident because for some reason, I thought that she was talking about me. I thought that maybe, she knew something that I had yet to hear. Well, this is how it felt:

My tears welled up and my chest felt really tight. My ears warmed and for a second, I felt a taste of victory. I was speechless, happy, tired and just excited to be where I am in life, despite the setbacks that I have experienced.

It was seconds later that I acknowledged my misunderstanding and watched the corresponding video on CNN.com. I was so intrigued that a man with a 35 year fight for justice spoke so mercifully. He spoke without anger and with complete reverance toward God.

A co-worker saw those welled up tears and quickly shot me an email. She is one of the few people that can relate to my emotion. She sent me a verse out of PSALM 91:14-16:

14Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore will I deliver him; I will set him on high, because he knows and understands My name [has a personal knowledge of My mercy, love, and kindness--trusts and relies on Me, knowing I will never forsake him, no, never].

15He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him.

16With long life will I satisfy him and show him My salvation.

As much as I try to conceal the importance of this pending decision, it means everything to me. My life won’t be any different, with or without vindication, at this point. It means everything to me because I should not have lost.  I don’t want a proverbial free ride from CAAF, I just want to be free. And if you think that just because I am not behind concrete walls, I shouldn’t care so much, I will have to disagree with you. I look forward to articulating what life is like carrying an undue burden that everyone can see.

But not for long…I am so tired of preparing for another devastating disappointment. I am tired of making contigency plans and preparing for a mediocre life of settling and just existing. From here on out, I will prepare for a life of victory. Thanks to my wife’s text messages, I have felt the euphoria of victory. I am never going to let it go.

December 17th, 2009 Posted by | Awaiting CAAF's Word | 3 comments

There is a town named Vidor, Texas. Remember that Court-Martial?

Outside of the CGA/USCG bubble, people saw it for what it was. Far-Fetched.  In 130 years, and thousands of white officer-candidates, the Coast Guard Academy’s choice for the first ever General Court Martial was hand-picked out of the most difficult ethnic group to recruit. The academy’s C.O.C. and Superintendant called people down, one by one, to testify to CGIS after hearing word of a malicious rumor. Instead of: asking me once, gauging the look in my eyes, checking to see if I was confident in my innocence, reviewing my record, calling a panel to examine my phsyiological reaction to tough questions, the Academy acted first and thought second. Chuck Potter of the The Day, once called it ”racially protective instinct.” The perception of my guilt was rock solid when the Corps of Cadets awoke to find out that a Cadet was kicked out at 2 AM before seeing a lawyer, law enforcement agent or at least a friendly face. It was calcified rock once they found that the lead witness was the “most stand-up, intelligent, credible cadet” (regimental commander) at the academy. You just can’t beat a calvary like that, in court, as a defendant.

Recruiting efforts?  

Coast Guard HQ made such a spectacle of it that Congressman Robert Shays and Senator Joe Leiberman spoke of my case. The academy made sure that my face and car were on the front page of The Day several times. I was drummed out, 19th century Citadel/VMI style and threatened by local white supremacists (yes, I physically stood up for myself on one occassion ON THE NAVY BASE WHERE I LIVED). When I reported this to my then-company officer, he told me “not to sweat it.” After all of that, 22 charges were referred, many of which were said to be proposterous by the Article 32 Officer’s standards (grand jury hearing). Many were carried forward any way, just to present the “preponderance of evidence/pattern of behavior” card at trial. The most credible cadet at the Academy (regimental commander) left the witness stand less credible than a man on trial.  I lost on charges that, had I been able to testify without censor or cross-examine fully, I would have faired much better. “We were looking for more…” a jury member admitted to my wife (then-girlfriend of seven months) at the Mystic hotel where many of the trial participants and my family stayed.

No one had a publicly negative word to say about the Academy until that sad experience. No public task force investigations, newspaper columns, congressional investigations, public NAACP statement, no outspoken minority pioneering graduates, or anything of the such…until after the Summer of 2006.  The majority of the USCG articles that aren’t about drug busts are written to address a social malfeasance.

None of these facts were in the media (I was gagged by Commandant of Cadets’ order) but people read the writing on the wall. Guilty individuals don’t stand tall at a trial after turning down a plea offer for 1/30 of the proposed maximum sentence.

The result? 23 black graduates. But that isn’t the scary number, the number of applications has dwindled, dramatically. There is a town in Texas where blacks don’t stop for gas. Vidor, Texas has always had one or two black residents who say that life is just grand and nothing needs to be done. Even so, no one ever joins them.

FROM NAVY TIMES

WASHINGTON — Eight years after the Coast Guard and the NAACP signed a voluntary agreement to work together to boost the number of African-Americans at its 1,000-cadet service academy, the annual enrollment and graduation figures for blacks remain in single digits.

Seven blacks graduated from the academy based in New London, Conn., in the spring of 2001, the year the agreement was signed.

The same number graduated from the Class of 2006, the first class for which blacks were recruited under the agreement.

Subsequently, there were seven black graduates in 2007, five in 2008 and four in 2009.

That makes 23 graduates in four years under the agreement, including the academy’s first black female valedictorian. In the four previous years, the number was 33.

Continue Reading…

November 26th, 2009 Posted by | Awaiting CAAF's Word | no comments

A Loss by Technicality? Again? London Steverson Fears It.

My civil complaint was airtight. It generated so much heat that a Task Force was formed to question [RADM VS], shortly after. The complaint went up the chain from the Civil Rights office at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, to my appropriate district, to the Commandant’s office to the Civil Rights Department of the Department of Homeland Security. At that juncture, they ignored the complaint and cited that an appellant can not pursue civil remedy by questioning the findings of a Court-Martial. 

If they read the document, they would see that my complaint had little to do with a Court-Martial, but rather the Coast Guard’s disparate treatment of two CGA football teammates, one black and one white. In December 2005, two cadets faced the possibility of Court-Martial. In my case, they went all out, citing a volume of evidence sure to send me to a brig for life.  In the other cadet’s case, he admitted raping a friend of mine [KS] in a Captain’s Mast. He was given a general discharge and allowed to play football elsewhere. While under investigation, he finished the football season and his course work. While under investigation, I was cleaning decks and bilges.  The order to avoid contact and communication with any cadet, set in December 2005, coupled with my new course in seamanship and the precedent of a Cadet Court-Martial perpetuated Cadet Corps fear and the sense of my sure guilt. Three months into this unprecedented agenda, [SR] was called forward by the Corps’ Regimental Commander with the help of the only cadet who I told about my relationship with [SR] ([SR] was dating another cadet with whom she is now married.)

They were justified in treating me differently than Cadet MB because of the trumping up of convulluted, ill-conceived and far-fetched charges and then citing the sheer number of them as the reason for that treatment. That is why I filed the Civil Complaint, they knew that the multiplicious and unfounded (Source: Article 32 Officer) charges would not hold up in a court of law.

That volume of evidence that they cited was just a number of charges. They preferred and later referred 22. The testimony behind many of those charges were so preposterous that the media cut against the grain and cited “preposterous testimony.” I lost three sex-related charges,  stemming from one now-officer, each of which are under scrutiny by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces.

The Department of Homeland Security avoided ruling on the merits of my complaint by citing “that I was seeking relief for the result of the GCM.” Rather, I argued that the way the Coast Guard Academy approached the GCM, stacked the deck against the innocent until proven guilty legal precedent. I would have certainly appeared more innocent in pre-trial confinement. I was offered the choice between Munro Hall and Pre-Trial confinement at 2:00 AM on December 5, 2005 before I knew why my company officer, then-CDR Pulver and Coach Ray Laforte were in my room. I wouldn’t find out until the charge sheet was sent, via facsimile, two months later. 

I faced court-martial without the ability to seek witnesses, verbally defend myself or correct harmful misconceptions by seniors, peers and subordinates. I’ve outlasted a one-sided media gag-order and a pre-trial hearing where my exculpatory evidence was not admittable for trial because the only piece of evidence against me, the complaining witness’s credibility, could not be cross-examined. [SR] invoked her right to avoid incrimination during that pre-trial hearing, so that she would not have to admit to UCMJ violations related to a previous incident of false reporting.

All of this is to say, the Coast Guard Civil Rights department avoided addressing this damning evidence of pre-trial manipulation by citing a procedural technicality. The Government’s Counsel seeks the same out, in the CAAF appeal. According to the USCG, every single law-abiding court in America, with the exception of CAAF, has Congressional authority/jurisdiction to mandate Day 60′s fall on the next business day after a Sunday filing deadline.  After the breadth of legal experience that I have seen in the past four years, I’d be naive to dismiss the probability of the Government succeeding, once again.

Listen to the CAAF hearing to listen to the Government’s jurisdictional argument (Here)

Read London Steverson’s interpretation of the hearing (Here)

November 16th, 2009 Posted by | Awaiting CAAF's Word | no comments

Pennsylvania Ave?