Friends of Webster

Raised in the house, but field certified.

GAO recommends that the Coast Guard Academy discloses sexual assault incidents

As reported by the Thomas Jackson Center for Equal Civil Rights, the Government Accountability Office has requested that the Department of Homeland Security hold the Coast Guard accountable for the numbers and the efforts to reduce those numbers.

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Why is that significant?

In pursuit of my civil rights matters that Terri Dickerson, dismissed without basis–it would have been clear to those evaluating and reporting on my justified claim that the dozens of sexual assaults at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy should have been handled fairly accross the board. Although the appeal of the findings in my case will be determined by three officers in D.C., the fact that I was court-martialed at all has gone without purge or impartial investigation. Remember, I was the first in 130 years to be court-martialed. So then, if I was not targeted and treated unfairly then how do you explain the trauma that Caitlin Stopper and another dear friend experienced in their first years of attending CGA? Both still fight in courts and before congress and one can affirm the facts below.

The Coast Guard Academy will never affirm what Judge London Steverson reported long ago and that is this:

Two cadets faced a similar charge in December of 2005. One was black and one was white. The black one plead his innocence and was eventually drummed out, court-martialed, and destroyed–albeit temporarily. The white one plead guilty to Article 125– Rape (after admittance of physical evidence), recieved an honorable discharge and went on to finish out his NCAA eligibility for a school in Lousiana. The media does not know his name and has not seen his face, nor do they know his height, weight, or position of the field. They allowed him to escape justice to make room on the platform for me. On December 16, 2005 I was sent to wait in purgatory and he was sent home to avoid embarassing the overwhelming majority of officers who happen to share one similarity.

I am afraid that government accountability and the answered call for justice, go hand in hand.

God Bless,

Webster M. Smith

February 20th, 2008 Posted by | News | 9 comments

Article by Former President of the NAACP LDF, Theodore Shaw

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An issue that is important for all of us; a cause that I would like to champion. Maybe since it is black history month, we will take a moment to reflect on its impact on our country.

-Webster Smith

Dream and Reality: Searching for Racial Justice in the United States
Fall 2007

From Lynch Mob to Death Penalty: A Continuum of American Racial Injustice

http://www.naacpldf.org/

Theodore M. Shaw, director-counsel and president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, highlights the connections between lynching and the disproportionate use of capital punishment against African Americans as enduring and extreme forms of racial injustice in the United States.

By Theodore M. Shaw

America’s painful history of racial discrimination—acted out most horrifically in the form of lynchings—is one that Americans as individuals, and as a country, should be eager to move beyond. Unfortunately, reminders of that history persist today in the racially disparate use of the death penalty and the concentration of black death-row inmates in parts of the country where lynching was most prevalent.

Beginning in the Reconstruction era and peaking during the first two decades of the 20th century, blacks were terrorized by the threat of the lynch mob. According to statistics compiled by the Tuskegee Institute, between 1882 and 1968, nearly 3,500 African Americans were lynched. Hundreds, and at times even thousands, of people gathered to witness these lynchings; white spectators would cheer as blacks were tortured, burned, and ultimately hanged to reinforce notions of white supremacy and to punish people—especially men—perceived as threats to the established order.

One of the overlooked facts about lynching violence is that the victim was often taken directly from the hands of the police or from a jail cell—frequently with official complicity. Sometimes, the death penalty was used to “avoid” the spectacle of lynching. Take, for instance, the 1923 case of Moore v. Dempsey, which became a landmark Supreme Court ruling for African Americans. Twelve black sharecroppers were accused of killing five white men after a riot broke out when a black church was attacked. During the trial, a lynch mob surrounded the courthouse, promising that the defendants would be lynched if they were not sentenced to death. An all-white jury took less than eight minutes to consider the case of each defendant before pronouncing a guilty verdict; the judge, before the cheering crowd, sentenced each of the men to death. The NAACP hired a team of black and white lawyers to appeal the case, which eventually rose all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The appeal was successful and the case was returned to a state court that freed all 12 men, while finding that trials overtly influenced by public mobs deprived citizens of the due process rights guaranteed to them by the 14th Amendment.

By the 1930s, legal and organizing efforts by the NAACP substantially reduced the number of lynchings, although violence against blacks did not entirely cease. Beginning in 1934, the number of lynchings significantly declined, and by the close of the civil rights movement in 1964, lynchings, according to Tuskegee Institute statistics, had ceased almost entirely.

But as lynching declined across the country, there were pockets of the South where the practice was continued and combined with the death penalty to act as symbols and instruments of white dominance and intimidation of African Americans. Mississippi, Georgia, Texas, Louisiana, and Alabama were the leading lynching states between 1930 and 1967, accounting for nearly half of the 174 victims nationwide. During this same period, these states were also leaders in the number of executions, with Georgia conducting 369 executions in this period, followed by Texas (305), Mississippi (272), Alabama (139), and Louisiana (135).

A recent statistical study found that the number of death sentences since 1970 has been higher in states with a history of lynchings, and that this connection was even stronger when only African American death sentences were analyzed. Indeed, since 1976, blacks—who comprise just 13 percent of the populationhave been 34 percent of those executed. Nearly 60 percent of these blacks were executed for cases involving white victims.

Despite evidence that the past continues to affect the disparate ways in which whites and blacks are treated by the criminal justice system, the U.S. Supreme Court has erected a bar to defendants’ claims of race discrimination that has had devastating effects on the lives of black defendants today.

In the 1987 case of McCleskey v. Kemp, the NAC P Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) presented the U.S. Supreme Court with statistical evidence showing that race played a pivotal role in Georgia’s capital punishment system, a system that has executed record numbers of people in a state that also witnessed the second-highest number of lynchings of black Americans. In McCleskey, LDF introduced the landmark Baldus Study, which showed that black defendants were at disproportionate risk of receiving the death penalty, and blacks accused of killing white victims were more at risk of death than anyone else. Nevertheless, the Court disregarded evidence that discrimination infected the system as a whole, found no constitutional error, and demanded that a defendant show proof of discrimination in each particular case.

The death penalty remains an example of the extreme inequality in the U.S. justice system. In 2000, then governor George Ryan imposed a moratorium on the death penalty in Illinois, citing concerns over the fact that more death row inmates had been exonerated than executed since Illinois reinstated the death penalty in 1977. When Governor Ryan made his decision, 62 percent of those on death row were black, in a state with a black population of 15 percent. Of the 18 persons who had been exonerated from Illinois’ death row as of February 2007, 12 were black. A 2003 Maryland study ordered by Governor Parris Glendening concluded that defendants accused of killing white victims were significantly more likely to face the death penalty than those accused of killing black victims; this effect was even further exacerbated when the defendant was black. The study also detected racial bias in prosecutors’ decisions to seek the death penalty.

Similar death penalty studies in 2001 in North Carolina and New Jersey also found that the race of the victim had a significant effect on whether a defendant would be sentenced to death. A study of the death penalty in Pennsylvania, released in 1998, found that controlling for case differences, black defendants in Philadelphia were 3.9 times more likely to receive the death penalty than non-black defendants. The racial combination most likely to result in a death sentence was a black defendant charged with killing a white victim.

Although the days of lynching may be behind us, the criminal justice system provides a constant reminder that our recent past continues to play out in the present in both subtle and overt ways. The death penalty stands out as the starkest example of the racial inequalities that course through the criminal justice system. In her memorable requiem to lynching victims, Billie Holiday sang that, “Southern trees bear strange fruit.” Racial disparity in the application of the death penalty is the cruel harvest of the history of lynching in the United States. This legacy of injustice indeed is a strange and bitter crop.

Published in Open Society News, Dream and Reality: Searching for Racial Justice in the United States (Fall 2007)

February 16th, 2008 Posted by | News | no comments

Excerpt from Webster’s book, “The Magnitude of My Request”

unedited manuscript.

[.......
There is a scene from one of the most relevant movies of my lifetime and it is entitled 'Rosewood.' It stars Ving Rhames, Don Cheadle, Jon Voight and with a talented supporting cast, it reveals a story of 1920's Rosewood, Florida. In this scene, a mob of white men are avenging the false allegation of a less-than honorable white woman and they approach a hapless, rather large and imposing, soft spoken black man that went by the name of 'Mann.' They were looking for the first black person that they could find. Now, this story is no different than any other story that we may have heard about the Jim Crow era but back to the scene. Ving Rhames' character, 'Mann', is apprehended with both arms tightly tied behind him. They sit him on his high horse, which may have been a method of figurative depiction. They lynch him and he hangs. There is in-fighting between the men of the mob, who themselves feel that maybe the white woman is lying because she has a history of doing so. Mann's strong neck withstands the pressures of the noose for nearly a minute and he cuts himself down from the noose. He then flees to help the black and white sympathizers of Rosewood who are in danger of facing the same fate.

I have always wondered how sad the story would have been if Mann would have asphyxiated with his neck in a noose, before they found reason to believe that the woman was lying.

Lynching doesn't happen too often anymore but when it does, it takes the form of frivilous prosecution with an agenda. I survived that prosecution while the mob was bickering but as with Mann's neck, the rope left scars on me that prepared me for the biggest realization of a lifetime. I can not do anything without God.

I was a Cadet once and I will forever be ashamed of that Cadet; not for any charge that I faced in trial or the tears that I cried when I was with my hands tied behind me while my life drained and my soul nearly died in four months and 20 days. There was no need for God when I was that Cadet. My life was just that, mine and I had complete control of my bright future. God has a funny way of showing people that He is in control and He did just that.

For the rest of my natural life, I will need God to get through my days. Nothing that I can do on my own, will progress me a step further than I was the day before. See, men in my current status do not get second chances at the beautiful life. There will always have to be someone, a God-Send, to see something in me and give me the chance to progress. In my months of freedom, miraculous things have happened to me to get me where I need to be.

On November 20th of 2006, while I was waiting for Lindsey to arrive at the gates and take me home, I prayed to God. I prayed to Him and asked Himto show me what I was supposed to do with my life. He answered my prayer.

God did not speak to me from a burning bush or words in a dream, I don't think that those things really happen. He just told me to think and reflect. I thought as far back as the spring of that year and my preparation for the trial. I thought about my time on the stand in June of 2006 and how effortless and refreshing it felt to reveal the truth. I thought about Omar, Julian, and the guys behind the gate and what I told them that I would do. And then I laughed.

I said, "God, there is no way that I can accomplish what you think you can." The magnitude of my prayer was so great that it was comical to me. I prayed for God's will and He said that I will be a lawyer. I didn't believe it at the time, either. How in the world can a guy like Webster be a lawyer after all of the shame his case has caused his beloved institution, his loved ones, and himself?

I had to pray for God to work his will in my life and so I did. I decided that I would honor God with the magnitude of my request. I asked for a lot and God has delivered it. From living arrangements, to marriage, amazing friends, steps closer to vindication, a loving daughter, transportation, and employment, God has shown me what He could do to get my life back in order.

See, I can not go to law school in the legal state that I am in. I can not go to law school without an incredible little reason to wake up in the mornings when times are tough. I will not go to law school without the emotional and spiritual support of a loving wife. I could not make it to law school without a person believing in me and lending me the opportunity to finish my education at the University of St. Thomas. I could not make it to law school without working to support my family until that time comes in the upcoming years. God has provided, He has raised people up to help me when helping me doesn't make much sense to others around them.

Every day I see His presence in my life. He challenged me to honor Him with the magnitude of my request and so I hold God to it because I no longer believe that any prayer is too big.

How many people, Christian and non-Christian, would see the work of God in my life and believe that anything was possible? Is it audacious to request vindication, joy, peace and a career as a civil rights attorney?
.......]

*This is an excerpt of a book about the culture of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, the biased court-martialing process, and how I work to fund my way to a Juris Doctorate from George Washington University or Howard University. Here is a glimpse at the magnitude of my request.

February 4th, 2008 Posted by | News | 3 comments

Cadet ‘fights for freedom’ after 2006 acquittal

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By. CARLISLE WEAVER, CONTRIBUTOR
Weaverc@stthom.edu

Lawyers for a UST student asked an appeals court on Jan. 16 to reverse his pending conviction for sexual misconduct. The three-judge panel from the U.S. Coast Guard Court of Criminal Appeals has not yet indicated when it will rule on the appeal. Although the student was found guilty, he has not been formally convicted of any charges.

UST senior and cadet at the Coast Guard Academy, Webster Smith, was acquitted of rape in a 2006 court-martial but still faces a potential conviction for extortion, sodomy and indecent assault due to the ongoing appeal process. He was also charged with failing to obey an order and abandoning watch. Smith’s defense team asked the court to overturn the two lesser charges as well.

Unlike civilian trials, a court-martial is not complete until a military court has approved the findings of a convening authority upon appeal. That is, Smith’s case remains open until his appeal is either overturned or upheld, the cadet’s attorney Ronald Machen said.

Machen is limited in discussing the case because of its ongoing nature. “The process is ongoing and we think we have some strong arguments in our appeal,” he said.

After a military jury found Smith guilty of sexual misconduct, he was dismissed from the New London, Conn. academy, and sentenced to six months in jail at a military prison in Charleston, S.C. However, the cadet was released early for good behavior, serving four months and 20 days, according to press coverage.

Smith was the first student to be court martialed in the academy’s 130-year history. He was accused of rape, sodomy, extortion and assault by a former girlfriend and three other female cadets.

Smith took the stand in his own defense during his court-martial. He pleaded not guilty to all charges, testifying that three of the encounters with his accusers were consensual and one never occurred.

“I am proud of my decision to fight for my career and my freedom,” Smith stated during the trial. Under instructions from his attorney, the cadet said he is currently unable to comment on the case or pending appeal.

The case began when Smith’s former girlfriend accused him of rape in Dec. 2005 after a night of heavy drinking that had taken place at an off-campus party six months prior. The woman said she drank as much as two bottles of wine and passed out. With no recollection of the previous night’s events, the accuser said she learned the next morning she and the cadet had had sex, as stated in press coverage.

Smith and his accuser remained in contact and interacted socially for months after the alleged rape had occurred, the defense said in released court documents. An intermittent sexual relationship continued between the Smith and the woman until she brought formal rape allegations against the cadet in the fall of 2005.

Smith testified that the sex between them was consensual and that the accuser was not drunk and had far less to drink than the amount indicated in her testimony.

No physical evidence was presented at trial; however, jurors heard testimony from witnesses and experts. Jurors acquitted Smith of rape after eight hours of deliberation.

The pending charges of extortion, sodomy and indecent assault stem from allegations against Smith made by another female cadet who said he extorted her for sexual favors. The prosecution described a number of sexual encounters between her and the cadet that took place in her dorm room and one incident in a car.

Some media accounts suggest that the woman resisted while others state that she did not resist for fear that he would expose a secret that could jeopardize her Coast Guard career.

Smith’s defense maintained the encounter was consensual and that he never threatened to expose her secret.

The female cadet had confided in Smith that she had one had consensual sex with another Coast Guard enlisted man and accused him of sexual assault to avoid disciplinary action for fraternization, a writer for Connecticut newspaper, “The Day,” reported.

The accuser never disclosed the secret in trial and was shielded from answering questions about it during cross-examination. The court-martial judge precluded the jury from hearing testimony regarding the woman’s previous claim of being sexually assaulted, press reports said.

The inadmissible evidence prevented the defense from showing that the accuser had done to Smith precisely what she had done to another man: “falsely claiming that a consensual but prohibited sexual encounter was actually not consensual as to avoid responsibility for her actions,” the defense stated in its appeal. However, majority of the appeal’s details are sealed and have not been released.

The female cadet’s contact information is currently unavailable.

Smith was acquitted of some of the charges stemming from accusations made by the other female cadets while others were dismissed before trial.

Smith married his girlfriend of over two years last summer, Lindsey Smith, who gave birth to the couple’s first child last month. The two met before the original accusations were made in 2005. She testified in his defense at the cadet’s court-martial.

“He is my best friend so any way I could support him was important to me,” Lindsey Smith said.

“Webster is the most determined individual I’ve ever met,” she said. “He has a passion for wanting to be successful, for being a good husband and father and for wanting to help people in situations similar to his.”

Regardless of the outcome, he is not defined by the case, he is so much more, Lindsey Smith said of her husband. “We believe justice will prevail and we continue to have faith in God.”

Smith will graduate from UST this May with a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies and hopes to attend law school at George Washington University or Howard University. His case has inspired him to pursue civil rights law and defense litigation, he said.

Family, friends and supporters of Smith have set up a website that contains photos, press articles, links to the blogs of supporters and words of encouragement at www.friendsofwebster.com. The site also contains contact information and letters available for download to send to the Coast Guard, the House Subcommittee and Texas senators.

February 3rd, 2008 Posted by | News | no comments

Pennsylvania Ave?