The Militant (logo)  
   Vol. 68/No. 12           March 29, 2004  
NAACP protests racist
mandatory sentences in Georgia
ATLANTA—More than 1,000 people rallied at the Georgia State Capitol here March 1 to demand the state Supreme Court release Marcus Dixon, 19, from prison, where he is serving a 10-year term without the possibility of parole. “We call out to the Supreme Court of Georgia to do the right thing and set Marcus free,” said Kweisi Mfume, the president of the NAACP, which organized the protest. “Mandatory minimums—they are wrong and they are evil.”

The court still has to rule on the January 21 appeal against the sentence by Dixon, a Black high school student from Rome, Georgia. In May of last year Dixon, then 18, was convicted of statutory rape, a misdemeanor, and “aggravated child molestation,” which carries a mandatory 10-year sentence, for having sex with a 15-year-old classmate. Dixon, who said the relationship was consensual, was acquitted on several other counts, including rape, false imprisonment, aggravated assault, and sexual battery.

Members of Dixon’s family also addressed the rally, as did Atlanta mayor Shirley Franklin and students from his high school and from the Atlanta University Center. Participants came from cities across the state. They included many college and high school students.

Dixon’s sentencing and the protests it has sparked have shone a spotlight on Georgia’s barbaric and racist mandatory sentencing laws. The sentence stands despite the fact that the jury found Dixon not guilty on all charges involving the use of force.

Aggravated child molestation is one of the so-called seven deadly sins listed under Georgia Senate Bill 441. The others are murder, rape, armed robbery, aggravated sodomy, aggravated sexual battery, and voluntary manslaughter. All carry the 10-year minimum.

Bill 441 has often been combined with Bill 440, another draconian Georgia sentencing law requiring children of 13-17 years of age to be prosecuted as adults if they are charged with committing one of the “deadly sins.”

Ninety percent of children sentenced under these two measures are Black, and serve their time in adult, not juvenile prisons.

On hearing of the sentence, several members of the mostly white jury said they would not have convicted Dixon if they had known he would spend so much time in jail. “I think the law, this charge, was misapplied to Marcus,” said juror Kathy Tippett, according to the Associated Press, referring to the fact that the aggravated child molestation charge is presented as a measure against so-called teenage predators who prey on children. “I mean, it’s not meant for an 18-year-old having consensual sex. They misapplied it in this case, and I don’t think it’s right,” she said.

Robert Williamson, another juror, echoed Tippet’s sentiments. “We knew it wasn’t rape,” he told CBS News. “The pictures and her testimony, nothing added up to rape, forcible rape.

“I can honestly say, and talk for the other 10 jurors, that we had no intention of sending him to prison for 10 years,” Williamson added. “We were sure he would go home that day.”

The flagrant injustice of the sentencing has prompted protests from many quarters. State Rep. Tyrone Brooks and state Sen. Vincent Fort have spoken against it. The case was also featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show and HBO Real Sports hosted by Bryant Gumbel.

The Associated Press reported that 70 people gathered at the state Supreme Court January 20, the day before the court held a hearing on Dixon’s appeal. “If Marcus Dixon were white, would we be here? If the young lady were black, would we be here?” the Rev. Joseph Lowery, president emeritus of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, asked the crowd.

Several participants in the 1,000-strong March 1 rally spoke to Militant reporters about other cases of abuse by the police and the courts. Juanita Carter Taylor from the Waycross-Ware County branch of the NAACP said that her chapter was taking on cases of abuse in the local jail. “It’s like there are two justice systems, one for the privileged and one for Blacks and the poor,” she said.  
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home