Chuck Turner's Trial Shows That America is Anything But "Post-Racial"

30 October 2010

By Jason Pramas

Whatever the outcome of Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner's trial in federal court over the next several days, I can say as sure as poor DJ Henry was executed in upstate New York by the Mount Pleasant 5-0 a few days ago for DWB (Driving While Black) that Turner was targeted for political elimination for being - first and foremost - an outspoken progressive black politician by former US Attorney (and Republican) Michael Sullivan. These kinds of events are the "exceptions" that prove the rule that we are not living in a "post-racial" society yet. Far from it.

The government's case against Turner is light on facts and heavy on weirdness. They had to pay their "star witness" Ron Wilburn $30,000 to attempt to entrap Turner - and also former State Senator Diane Wilkerson, who looks to really have done the deeds she's accused of doing ... having pleaded guilty to eight counts of attempted extortion in June. Both Turner and Wilkerson stood accused of malfeasance that still remains totally small potatoes next to the major league corruption that higher level (and significantly paler) politicians commit in here in the Commonwealth on a regular basis.

But unlike Turner, those white politicians never get dragged out of their homes by a zillion cops and feds at 5 a.m. and shuttled halfway across the state in cuffs to get booked by some judge that a US Attorney with an axe to grind considers safe. And this is one of the issues that apparently gave Wilburn pause after a fashion. He has since criticized the feds for not going after bigger (and whiter) fish, and stopping their operation after netting two of our state's small number of black politicians.

Anyhow, Wilburn may or may not have given money to Turner. The amount of money he may or may not have given may or may not have been as much as $1000 and may or may not have even been money. Turner may or may not have accepted the money he may or may not have been offered. And he may or may not have done something illegal with this apocryphal money. The videos and still photos the government is using against Turner have not yet proved to be conclusive evidence one way or the other. Nor has Wilburn's testimony.

And there are more questions. Did Wilburn provide Turner with a campaign donation as Wilburn and Turner had discussed? Did Turner turn it over to his staff? Did they record it properly? Did Turner have something in his hand before Wilburn reached over to shake his hand - which is when the feds say money was handed to Turner? What can be said for certain is that the government has succeeded in casting aspersions on Turner that have caused many in the press and public to doubt anything he has to say.

Wilburn for his part - is playing tug-of-war with himself and his government handlers - nearly pulling out of testifying earlier this week, and then attacking the FBI and U.S. Attorney's office for "hanging [him] out to dry in public." Which could all just be an act to convince the jury that he's a credible witness who is independent of the government despite being given $30,000 to attempt to entrap black politicians.

The rest of the Boston press corps seems confused by the whole spectacle, though many local news publications still seem to be hoping for some smoking gun that will nail Turner to some wall somewhere. Doesn't look like they're going to get their wish.

Wilburn's testimony shows conclusively that there was no extortion. Turner did not say, "Do X for me and I will do Y for you." More importantly, it was not even implied by Turner according to the government witnesses' testimony. This conforms to my own experience of asking Turner to help out with a number of social justice projects I worked on as a labor and community organizer over the years - especially his agreeing to welcome the thousands of people my friends and I brought to the Boston Social Forum in July 2004. And do so on behalf of the City of Boston. His participation doubtless helped convince many people in his council district to show up to the event. Basically, he could have easily blown me off and said he was too busy to help, but did not. He never asked me for anything in return for his help.

Person after person - many with no organic connection to his council district or his friendship network - has been testifying to Turner helping them out in a similar fashion over the years without any hint of desire for remuneration of any kind.

Given my personal experience with Turner, the many holes in the government case, and other obvious issues that have been much discussed elsewhere, the government's case against Turner just doesn't add up for me.

I think the smart thing for the current (Democratic) US Attorney to do would have been to drop all charges against Turner and chalk the whole mess up to a bad decision by a partisan predecessor. But I understand that Democratic politicians - and Democratic government prosecutors most of all - like to look "tough on crime" and all that rot these days. As long as the crime is allegedly committed by a politician like Turner that regularly criticizes US foreign and domestic policy - especially as it relates to poor and working class communities of color like Boston's District 7. And as long as said politician calls out racism when he sees it. And Boston still being Boston, Turner sees plenty of it. And he's hardly alone in that.

But there's still time for US District Court Judge Douglas Woodlock to stop this whole charade right now, drop the charges against Turner, and issue a legal smack upside the head to the government officials involved in concocting the whole affair.

Open Media Boston would therefore like to go on record enjoining Woodlock to do just that. Such an action may not result in the most perfect court decision ever handed down. But it would be - after a fashion - the most just one in this instance.

And it would also be some small evidence that progress can continue to be made on stopping racism in its tracks in the US. Even as the Tea Party and other less-than-thoughtful conservative forces are striving mightily to push us back into the old sinkhole of institutionalized racial barbarism.

But that's not going to happen.

Not if this publication has anything to say about it.

Jason Pramas is Editor/Publisher of Open Media Boston. He has worked with Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner on various social justice projects over the last dozen years - including the Boston Workers Alliance and the Boston Social Forum - and fully intends to continue doing so in the future where it does not conflict with his professional ethics as a working journalist.



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