By Robert Gillens

What should social justice look like in an American democracy in this day and age?  One would at least expect there to be justice for all–no matter of race, religion, gender, age or sexual orientation.  Police brutality and mass incarceration in America, however, play critical roles in our need for social justice for all.
     The video footage of a group of white police officers beating unarmed motorist Rodney King with police batons on March 3, 1991, went viral as the world watched, horrified of men sworn to protect and serve, commit such heinous acts that were caught on tape by a concerned plumber named George Holiday.  To add injury to the unwarranted attack, after being charged criminally, an all white jury acquitted all the cops of any wrong doing that led to a Los Angeles riot and the city was soon after engulfed in flames and ultimately claimed more than 60 lives.
     Fast forward three decades later, after numerous unwarranted police killings and controversial deaths of blacks (Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, Kathryn Johnston, Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, Rekia Boyd, Mario Romero, Timothy Russell, Malissa Williams, Eric Garner, Laquan McDonald, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Mansur Ball-Bey, Mario Woods, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Breonna Taylor, along with so many others), a white Minneapolis Police Officer, Derek Chauvin was criminally charged with smothering an unarmed African-American, George Floyd to death with his knee pressed on Floyd’s neck.  Three other cops were criminally charged with aiding Chauvin.  The more than nine minute incident, captured on a cell phone recording, was Rodney King all over again–but on steroids.  The recording revealed, then police officer Chauvin nonchalantly snatching Floyd’s life away as he blatantly ignored Floyd’s cries of “I can’t breath” more than 20 times.  We also heard Floyd calling for his deceased mother.  This not only outraged millions of Americans of all races, but the world united like never seen before, to protest the killing in countries across the globe to say: this is wrong; this is unacceptable America!
    The fact remains, that we have never seen a group of Black or Latino Cops kill an unarmed white person.  Is it because they adhere to the rule of due process law?  Are they just more careful?  In order for us to achieve change, we must honestly recognize that police racial profiling and brutality is rooted in a place of institutionalized racism that traces back to the American slave trade.  The kidnappings, rapes, hangings, lynchings and other brutal crimes whites has committed against the African family.  Many often wonder what have people of color done to deserve such long-term hatred? Is it merely because of the color of their skin? After all, the creator chose to create man in a diverse manner of various colors, sizes and characteristics; and the audacity of anyone to question their own maker’s creation should be more than troublesome.
    Solution: because racism and an abuse of authority can be a deadly cocktail, particularly with poor police supervisory oversight, Americans should undergo ethical, race and discriminatory training, and thorough background checks before becoming police officers.  In addition, there must be accountability for officers who choose to violate these ethical regulations.  There must be sovereign immunity civil law amendments, and other laws put in place by Congress to end the shoot to kill, or choke to kill an unarmed American.

We have witnessed countless cases where white cops are clearly seen on tape killing unarmed blacks and if ever criminally charged, they are systematically acquitted by all white jurors.  But, American jurors play a vital role in Americans obtaining social justice through the criminal justice system that empowers them to be the voice of the voiceless.  When jurors, however, fail to convict those blatantly guilty of taking an unarmed American life unjustifiably, social justice too, is smothered to death.
     Mass Incarceration: America is coined the “land of opportunity”, so why does America lock up more of its citizens in prison than any other nation in the world?  Have we become an aggressive police nation obsessed with encaging our own people, shunning real rehabilitation to reform needed Americans into productive members of our society?  Truth be told, mass incarceration sweeps the nation’s poorest Americans into a spinning cycle of harsh prison sentences, superficial rehabilitation, excessive catch-22 supervised release, parole and probation terms and rules that lead to more imprisonment.
    President Joe Biden openly admitted that the 1986 Anti-Crime and 1994 Crime Bills that incorporated the “locked-up-throw-away-the-key approach” and crack and cocaine racial sentencing disparity laws, were among key factors that led to unwarranted and draconian prison sentences of many Americans, and contributed to the country’s mass incarceration problem.
    Many ask why does the federal government have over a 98% federal criminal conviction rate in prosecuting Americans? Any system so lopsided is evidence of unfair practices and the lack of social justice.  “Our current federal sentencing laws are out of date and often counter productive,” said Republican Congressman Mike Lee from Utah.  “We should do as, President Biden has suggested, seek the elimination of mandatory minimum [prison sentences]. We don’t have to seek highest possible offense with the highest possible sentence. Legislatively, we should look at equalizing what’s known as the crack powder ratio, which has had an enormously disproportionate impact on communities of color,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland at his February Attorney General confirmation hearing.   Mass incarceration in America will end and begin to decline when Congress re-examine and reduce the federal and state sentencing guidelines, end ghost drugs conspiracy charges (which is based on hearsay and other faulty factors), multiple sentencing enhancements for prior convictions (when prison terms have already been completed) and implement a more fair and transparent criminal justice system, where time actually fits the crime in America.  Then, and only then can social justice truly be effective, shine and sparkle across this nation.

How to clear your record step-by-step.

Disclaimer:  This is not legal advice. There is no guarantee a criminal record can be expunged. Each state has procedures on what type of charges can be expunged. However, all hope is not gone. Depending on the circumstances, you can apply for a pardon by your state governor or the president of the U.S. in Federal cases. These steps are based on my own personal experience when filing for expungement and a pardon ( which is still pending approval by Governor Andrew Cuomo) and other remedies through the state of New York.

A general rule for most states is that if a charge was dismissed you can have it expunged by filing a form with the court where the conviction or arrest was held. Here is a template you can use that you can fill in,  but before you do any thing, be sure to get a copy of your criminal record through your state records depository or have your fingerprints taken at your local Sheriff department.

Once obtained look for the cases where charges were dismissed or reduced. Here is an example:

My Criminal Record

Depending on your location from the courts, you can just go down there in person to the clerks office and request those cases that were dismissed be sealed under your state statute. In the example above you can see the state statute cited to seal that particular case. I recommend navigating through this website to see the laws on expungement, pardons and other relief in your state.

Another method I tried was filing a 440 motion to have the felonies that couldn’t be expunged vacated. Unfortunately, my attempt was denied. While I was waiting for a response from the courts and record depositories, I was applying for jobs and occupational licensing. I was denied a job with UPS, Correctional Officer, a full pardon, a gun permit and notary public. I know you are thinking that all hope is lost, but its not. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights act of 1964, it is illegal for an employer to discriminate against someone based on their criminal record. If you find yourself in this situation, you have 2 years to file a discrimination lawsuit. Unfortunately for me, I did not file a lawsuit in time and was barred due to statue of limitations.

I managed to obtain a Certificate of Good Conduct in 2016, but still it wasn’t good enough. I recently filed for a pardon again, but this time I had a petition signed by my community members. Its been almost 2 years and I still haven’t heard a response. I suspect many who are reading this is thinking: “this isn’t helpful.” but every case and circumstances is different. Take the time and research the information on this website as well. I do plan to file a petition with the district courts in order to obtain relief. I hope this information can help someone get a pardon or expungement.

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