By William Fisher
So carried away with anticipation that they could no longer contain their enthusiasm, back in 2009 the Nobel Committee opted to award the Peace Prize to newly-elected President Barack Obama. For many who took in this news, it sullied the reputation of the Nobel awards almost beyond reclamation. But most of us forgave the Committee for being carried away by the stark contrast between Obama and the war-making George W. Bush.
The Nobel Committee said “Obama has as President created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. In fact, Obama had created next to nothing save hopeful rhetoric. He hadn’t had time.
Meanwhile, the Nobel folks were garnering a ton of publicity not normally achieved by the awards in medicine, economics and so forth, whose titles often cause the readers’ eyes to glaze over. So how about a Peace Prize award for something that’s actually happened. Think about this: Since 1989, The Innocence Project has freed a thousand men and women from their unlawful prison sentences. That’s one thousand human beings, many of whom were set free only after rotting in jail cells or on death row for 40 or 50 years .
Thanks largely to the development of DNA and the incredible motivation of co-founders Barry C. Scheck & Peter J. Neufeld and their students and staff at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University.
Thanks to these folks, there are now Innocence Projects all across the US. Just their research into widespread prosecutorial misconduct would more than justify a Nobel.
But by now we all know the blood-curdling stories of people sent to prison on the basis of faux, totally unscientific forensic “evidence.” We know about the police forced confessions from the innocent. We know about how law enforcement settles old scores with people they think should be in jail, whether or not they actually committed a crime. We know about our nation’s prisons using solitary confinement as a management tool, and people dying or losing their minds locked up in isolation for years on end. And we also know that of the thousand people exonerated more than half were black and male.
For reasons that are tough to understand, I suspect The Innocence Project won’t be a popular choice for the Peace Prize. It’s going to take a groundswell of grassroots support to get some momentum going.
This is my project for the year. And I need your help to make it happen.