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Getting The Story Right
6/1/2016 2:53:23 PM

By Barney Blakeney 

I hate when I don’t get it right. So a news article reporting murder and kidnapping charges against 16-year-old Marcus Spann were dropped didn’t help. Spann, along with 26-year-old Deandre Maybank, were charged in the March 16 robbery/murder of 42-year-old Draco Walker. Turns out North Charleston cops nabbed the wrong guys.

I wrote about the incident after seeing a picture of Spann at his bond hearing. My editorial was about young Black men victimized by a social/criminal justice system that entraps them, chews them up and swallows them. I remember seeing Spann’s face in a picture taken at his bond hearing- he looked as if he didn’t know what was happening. Turns out he didn’t! The subsequent news article I just read characterized the boy as a good student who works after school and never got into trouble with the law. I’m sure he didn’t know what was happening.

Thankfully, Spann’s fate won’t be the same as George Stinney’s, South Carolina’s youngest person executed by the state. Most folk now think Stinney also was wrongfully accused. In my earlier article, I lamented how things had not changed so much since Stinney’s 1944 execution. Considering how attorney Lauren Williams was able to get Spann out of jail after two months facing the murder/kidnap charges, maybe things have changed somewhat. Still, I’m sure Spann while awaiting an undeserved fate no less suffered as much as Stinney.

I felt bad reading about Spann’s release. I thought, had I gotten it right then, my story probably would have focused more on the kid’s possible innocence. After all, isn't that what American justice is supposed to be about - innocent until proven guilty?

There was another time the real story got away from me. It was a few years ago. I’ve lost the background on the story, but if memory serves me well, a Hollywood man was accused of a murder he didn’t commit. Some guy whose name I forget was advocating for him, alleging that the Charleston County sheriff deputies investigating the incident were off the mark and were too anxious to wrap up the case. Like Spann, that guy also had an alibi. A year later the charges against him were dropped.

I beat myself up about that story. It had required a lot of digging and investment of time and resources. None of which I could provide at the time. It’s one of the few things I regret about this gig, there’s never enough time or resources to give to a lot of stories. Some fall through the cracks.

What got to me more about the Hollywood guy’s story was after his release, I realized I may have been able to make a difference in whether or not that guy spent a year of his life submerged in those suffocating circumstances. It’s those kinds of stories that make me want to knuckle down and give them my everything. I tell folks all the time - this newspaper thing, it’s not just a job, often it’s about people’s lives. And that’s why initially, I set out to write this week’s column about the decision by three Charleston County School Board members to walk out of the May 23 board meeting to protest discrimination in Charleston County schools. I think that was a good move, but I’d like to ask them and our community, “What’s next?”

Too often we don’t get it right on the front end. Like the Marcus Spann and the Hollywood guy’s stories, what we do affects people’s lives. Hindsight is 20/20. Our community, including our elected school board members, have crippled three generations of students. What happened? We just woke up and decided we’ve had enough?

Where is this school board walkout going to lead? Does anybody actually believe that merely walking out on the school board will bring about change? Two weeks ago marked the 62nd anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Brown versus Topeka Board of Education, a case that had its roots right here in South Carolina’s Clarendon County. Sixty-two years later, we’re still walking out.

How do we handle this story so that in two months or two years from now we don’t look back and see that more Black boys and men have wrongfully been incarcerated in life-altering situations not of their own creation? How do we force those who police the institutions that affect our lives to do their jobs?

Thankfully not everyone waits on others to get it right. Some go into action and push until something moves. We can’t just wait for our school board to get it right. Our community also has to get it right. There are things we can do in addition to the board members’ action. The five P’s ya’ll - proper planning prevents poor performance. Now that the ball is rolling, let’s get it right in determining where it goes.

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