JUSTICE DELAYED, JUSTICE DENIED: In 1980, the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit overturned the false convictions of the Wilmington Ten, a group of civil rights activists charged with firebombing a white-owned grocery store in North Carolina in 1971. But for the next few decades, they remained felons in the eyes of the state—until Governor Beverly Perdue pardoned all ten on January 2. The monumental decision came more than forty years after the young organizers were framed for the crime. Four of them—Jerry Jacobs, Ann Shepard, Connie Tindall and Joe Wright—died waiting for their names to be cleared and their access to educational and job opportunities restored.
Their conviction was overturned after three key witnesses admitted in 1977 that prosecutors bribed them to give false testimony against the defendants. But it was the notes of prosecutor Jay Stroud, discovered by historian Timothy Tyson last year, that led to the long-overdue pardon. Next to the names of potential jurors, Stroud had scribbled phrases like “Probably KKK!!” and “sensible; Uncle Tom type.” Governor Perdue said the evidence was proof “these convictions were tainted by naked racism.”
“The integrity of the court system was threatened by the Wilmington Ten,” said North Carolina NAACP president Reverend William Barber II. The pardon “is a fresh call for us to be vigilant and keep fighting for…equal protection under the law.” Especially since the pardon system itself shows a pattern of racial inequality: a recent study by ProPublica found that with presidential pardons, white applicants were nearly four times more likely to receive one than people of color. CHRISTIE THOMPSON
AL JAZEERA’S NEW PROJECT: The news came out of nowhere shortly after New Year’s Day: Al Jazeera, which has long sought a bigger footprint in this country, would buy—and shut down—struggling Current TV, founded in 2005 by Al Gore and partners, and launch its own major cable operation in the United States, reaching a potential 40 million new viewers. The price was reportedly half a billion dollars, with Gore netting 20 percent, and the new channel will be called Al Jazeera America. Both Al Jazeera and Al Jazeera English have had enormous difficulties getting picked up by cable systems here, and their offerings are viewed by Americans almost completely online.
Questions arose immediately concerning Al Jazeera’s independence (it is financed by the government of Qatar) and supposed anti-Americanism. Charges that the network has terrorist links have continued despite the increasing respect it has won around the globe in media and official circles for its coverage of the Arab Spring and other issues.
Time Warner Cable responded to the sale by dropping Current TV (and suggesting it might reject Al Jazeera America), but after an outcry—MSNBC host (and Nation editor at large) Chris Hayes called the move “cowardly and offensive”—said it was “open” to carrying the new channel. However, Al Jazeera might have to go the route set by Rupert Murdoch when he was trying to get Fox News off the ground: charging cable companies little or nothing—or even paying them—to get a foothold in their lineup. GREG MITCHELL