Thursday, 11 October 2012

Too much doubt; I am Reggie Clemons.

Ever since I was about fourteen and learned that there were these amazing things called 'human rights' that I get to enjoy every day and some people don't, I've been a passionate supporter of the work of Amnesty International. Mostly however, my human rights interest was limited to signing petitions online, reading about when they were violated and occasionally sneaking in a cheeky blog post (cue exhibits a and b). However now I've entered the life of a student' and whilst I was being mobbed by too many clubs at once at the societies fayre I spotted the Amnesty International stand and joined the world of protests and petitioning.

Today we were protesting about a man in Missouri, USA called Reggie Clemons who was sentenced to death in 1991, personally I find this a strange concept; he's been on death row for longer than I've been alive which is surreal. The next few months could also determine whether or not he lives or dies, death is something that's been hanging over his head constantly for the past twenty years, a thought which is somewhat unnerving. Yet, whilst I am personally against the death penalty, this protest was about several key issues from when he was prosecuted. 

The biggest issue was that there was never any confirmed physical evidence to connect him to the crime, which I think speaks for itself.

When Clemons arrived in court for the first time, witnesses confirm that his face was swollen. He claims that he 'confessed' to rape after being beaten up by police, his face was in such a bad way that the judge sent him to the emergency room. Surely police thuggery shouldn't be acceptable in modern America? Clemons claims he felt like he was going to be battered to death by them and it's widely accepted that when you're being beaten up, you'll say anything.

Clemons' legal representation was pretty abismal, to the point that his lawyer was later suspended from practicing, his co-counsel had a full time job in a different state at the time she was supposed to be represented Clemons. A lawyer hired by his mother before the trial later commented that their predecessors had not done the necessary preparation beforehand.When he was first arrested (despite it being on the charge of double murder) his mother was even dissuaded from seeking legal advice by the police leaving him vulnerable at the very start of his case. 

The USA is infamous for the impact race has on the outcome of a court case, for example, although they only make up twelve percent of the general population, they make up forty two percent of those on death row. There have also been suggestions that black people were 'dis proportionally dismissed during jury selection', leading to a jury which was racially unrepresentative of the considerable black population in St Louis. 

Finally, there have been allegations of a'stacked' jury. Amnesty International said: 'In 2002, a U.S. District Court judge ruled that Clemons’ death sentence should not stand because six prospective jurors had been improperly excluded  at jury selection.'

In all honesty? This isn't about ending the death penalty. Nor is it about Reggie Clemons being released, or even about whether or not he did The fact is that he has not had a fair trial, his human rights have been ignored and he's been treated by the justice system in a primitive manner that we all had America had grown out of. On that level, surely it's only right for him to have a retrial before he's punished. It seems ridiculous to me that someone could be executed on such tenuous grounds; if he's guilty of the heinous crime of rape and murder then let him have the appropriate punishment, but certainty is recquired before such a conclusion is reached and justice should be served all round.

for more information I found this fact sheet gave some pretty good background as well as this basic about page. YOU can get involved too by checking out the Amnesty International petition.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

9K? No way

Now, I know I've prattled on about the rise in tuition fees before and hey, it cheekily shot up a few months before I was set to start university myself so I think it I had every right to be annoyed and start escapades like this:

photo courtesy of the immensely talented Catherine Bialley

Anyhow, I have since started at the University of Sheffield and have been reading my own body weight in philosophy books (see if you can guess what I'm studying) and I absolutely love everything about it. I've wanted to go to university ever since I was knee high and I freely admit (how am I such a nerd?) that I loved every stage of my education. In particular A levels got me interested in philosophy and history at a level I'd never even thought about previously and I relished the challenge that they presented.

I've barely been at Sheffield but already, I've loved everything. I've loved the social aspect, I've made new friends (I know right, who'd have seen that one coming!), I've started climbing again and I've got involved with the love of my life/Amnesty International (more on this coming very soon). And, of course, the academic side is incredible. I absolutely love my course and the excuse to read about philosophy all the time and find out more about something which truly fascinates me is pretty much a dream come true. I even managed to throw in a couple of additional history modules so I get to learn about Europe from the Romans until today and our library not only has more books than I could even imagine to be possible in one place, but it also has showers.

So the idea of the trebling of fees (cheers once again for that one Cleggy <3) putting off potential students makes me really sad. The idea of so many talented people (young and old) put off attending university and the opportunities it brings because of the immense amount of debt it also brings is really a tragedy for us as a nation and such a waste of potential. Of course many people will go on to establish successful careers for themselves and will prosper without ever even entertaining the idea of attending university which is fair play and, some people were seeing university as a way of dossing about for another three years before starting out in the real world. But what about the people who were put off from even inquiring further?

University applications dropped by around 15, 000 this year, as fees were raised which scared the average person after being put forward by a man who had the finest education money could buy (here's looking at you Cameron). Thankfully, the NUS have not stopped fighting for educational equality, hence Demo 2012 a nation wide protest aimed at making the voices of students heard and forcing the government to listen.

Educate, Employ, Empower

You can find out more about the campaign on their official website here and check out the movement of #demo2012 on twitter.