Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders
Palais des Nations
Petition Protesting the Continued Persecution of Mr. Lorenzo Komboa Ervin. Urgent Action Requested.
Dear Spec. Rapporteur Sakaggya:
Lorenzo Ervin is a native of Chattanooga, Tennessee currently residing in the capitol city of Nashville, Tennessee. He is currently the Vice President of Power to the People, a multi-issue social justice and human rights organization which serves the African-American population of Tennessee. [NOTE: I am the wife of Mr. Ervin and the current acting President of Power to the People].
Mr. Ervin is a longtime activist in Tennessee, but he is also a longtime victim of police and government harassment and repression because of his activism. In the 1960′s, Lorenzo Ervin was involved in the Civil Rights and Black Power movements of that period, as a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Black Panther party, when those groups merged in 1967. He was ultimately subjected to persecution by the local police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation through a series of “Black Power” grand juries designed to harass himself and other activists on false charges, and also the FBI’s Counter Intelligence Program against “Black militants” which resulted in the deaths and improper criminal prosecution of activists, and spying on and ultimate destruction of Black organizations.
Because of this government repression, a subsequent false charge were proffered against Mr. Ervin for conspiracy to “incite a riot”, and engaging in “treasonous behavior” by the Attorney General’s office, and he had to literally run for his life due to “shoot to kill” orders by the Chattanooga police. In April 1968, when a racist assassin shot Black leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, in the city of Memphis, TN. , and riots broke out all over the state and numerous cities of the USA, Mr. Ervin was driven out of the country, and asked for asylum in Cuba. He was captured and imprisoned as a political prisoner for 15 years by U.S.A. governmental authorities.
When he was released from prison in 1983, he resumed his activism. In 1985, as Chairperson of the Concerned Citizens for Justice, based in Chattanooga, he joined with Ms. Maxine Cousin, fighting for justice in the murder of her father, Mr. Wadie Suttles, by racist jailers at the Chattanooga city jail in December 1983. Even though the guilt of the jailers was clear, the local city government administration and the U.S. government’s Department of Justice refused to take action to punish these jailers. Accordingly, Mr. Ervin as President of the CCJ, MS. Cousin, and a coalition of Black and White citizens waged a 15 year protest campaign against police brutality. [NOTE: Over 58 persons have been discovered to have been killed in the custody of local police during this period]. They also waged a campaign against the Ku Klux Klan, a white terrorist organization that had shot and injured a number of Black citizens since the 1970′s. Mr. Ervin and the CCJ held a number of public demonstrations against racist bombings, beatings, and murder in Chattanooga and the surrounding region, and exposed the links between the KKK and local police.
Mr. Ervin has been continually persecuted by local authorities for his leadership against racism and police brutality. In 1993, Mr. Ervin and seven other activists were indicted for a sidewalk protest against the murder of two Black men in separate incidents by local police. They were put on trial for “disruption”, “incitement to riot”, and other bogus charges; six were acquitted, but Ervin and another activist were convicted and sentenced to six-12 months at hard labor [sentences were later suspended]. In 1998, Mr. Ervin and two other activists were similarly indicted for protesting the deaths of other Black citizens by local police, when they sought to speak at a City Council meeting to demand criminal prosecution of officers. This occurred after he and other community activists had been approved in advance, and was then spurned at the last minute. Again, Mr. Ervin was put on trial before an all-White citizen jury for “disruption” of a government meeting, then railroaded to a criminal trial, and given a six months sentence at hard labor, [also suspended]. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution calls for free speech, the right to peacefully assemble, and to petition the government with grievances, but the white officials in Chattanooga ran roughshod over the rights of Mr. Ervin. All of these prosecutions were politically motivated frame-ups designed to punish these activists for speaking out, not for commission of an actual crime. Mr. Ervin and the activists in Chattanooga were the only one ever prosecuted under this unjust statute.
Because of such persecution, in 1999, Mr. Ervin moved out of the State of Tennessee, and only after a seven year absence returned to live in Nashville. Shortly after returning, he was a co-founder of Power to the People [“PTTP”] in 2006, and through it brought complaints to local government officials about their inaction in the choking deaths of two youth and the brutal beating os several others in a local juvenile holding facility. When PTTP sought permission to hold a political demonstration at the state capitol, they were told that they would have to report to police and that it would cost them a $1,000,000 insurance bond, plus they would have to “hire” State Troopers to police the event at $50-100 per hour. In preparation for the event, they were harassed by State Police throughout their time at the march assembly point.
This came on the heels of the Nashville Metro Police calling Mr. Ervin, telling him that he and the group was under surveillance by the police on behalf of the federal Homeland Security Division in Atlanta. The police demanded to know all details of the march, demanded over $1,000,000 in insurance fees before they would allow a march on the streets of the city, and threatened to arrest everyone. The demonstration was held without incident however, although local police continue to keep Mr. Ervin under surveillance, tapping his phones and shadowing him with officers and informers on the streets, whenever there is a protest or political event held by the group. We have incessantly complained to police officials, the Mayor, and Governor’s office about this harassment, but have been ignored.
Repression because of complaint to the UN Human Rights Council
In November 2009, Mr. Ervin, acting as the Legal Redress Chairperson of the PTTP, filed a Petition and Complaint to the United Nations Human Rights Council about the fatal police shootings in Chattanooga, and later that month, a human rights complaint concerning the deaths of two children at a Middle Tennessee juvenile facility, who were murdered by staff. [Re: G/SO 215/1 USA 126]. As a result of the said Chattanooga complaint,especially, in February 2010, Freeman Cooper, the Chattanooga Chief of Police, threatened on a radio broadcast to have Mr. Ervin arrested and taken into custody by police officers if he set foot in his hometown for any reason. Based on information and belief, they are also working with Nashville city police to keep Mr. Ervin under tabs in this city.
In 2006, Mr. Ervin had filed a lawsuit in Nashville against his former employer, the Nashville Peace and Justice Center, for racial discrimination and employer retaliation after he had filed a complaint to the Metro Nashville Human Rights Commission. Because the judge denied Mr. Ervin appointment of counsel after it was established he was an unemployed pauper financially, he was forced to represent himself for the three years of the case, until the court ordered a civil trial in an order of November 2009, which is to begin in June 2010. Mr. Ervin is not an attorney, and is not qualified to represent himself at the said trial, and explained that to the court. However, court officials refuse to appoint counsel, but they also refuse to provide him with any form of assistance to help him conduct such a trial. Most federal courts have a practice manual for a non-represented party to at least understand the court system and to have some idea how to prepare legal papers and conduct themselves at a legal proceeding, but not so for the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, where they are afforded no assistance whatsoever, but also subjected to harassment, intimidation, and punishment for the temerity of even bringing such a lawsuit, especially a so-called “race” case, or civil rights action. If a person is unrepresented, their case is treated as a less important matter by court officials, to be thrown into the court “ghetto”. They are almost totally denied access to justice, and if an unrepresented party does somehow manage to get a trial, as Mr. Ervin secured, he is denied counsel for purposes of conducting the civil trial. Because Mr. Ervin complained about this, he was intensely disliked by judicial authorities, so they wanted to hamstring him anyway they could.
A civil trial is a complicated endeavor, in and of itself, one must be proficient in direct examination and cross examination of witnesses, must know the laws of evidence, must know how to make an opening and closing statement, and other very complicated matters, whereby a person who has not been to law school will have no facility to learn at the last minute. So, it is absolutely impossible for a person to receive a fair trial before an impartial tribunal in such circumstances, yet they can be punish or have their cases dismissed without a full hearing.
Because this is a clear cut denial of access to justice, and American authorities are the only major industrial democratic country in the world to refuse to appoint attorneys for the poor, Mr. Ervin filed a complaint to the UN Human Rights Council concerning this matter on May 23, 2010. But more important to the issues raised in the complaint itself is that Ervin is in serious danger because he brought the federal civil rights lawsuit. Mr. Ervin had been requesting and demanding the appointment of counsel, and had filed an ethical compliant to the higher courts, against the trial judge. As a result, he had alienated the already biased court to the degree where the judge, Robert C. Echols, has a personal grievance against him. Yet he refuses to disqualify himself. Judge Echols seeks to use this trial to extract revenge against Lorenzo Ervin, and ensure that he has no chance of effectively presenting his case. He has ordered that Lorenzo Ervin report for trial on June 8, 2010, whether he can ably represent himself or not, to go to jail for contemp. They want to punish him for their own refusal to appoint him an attorney, when he has pointedly told them he is not qualified to conduct a trial, and the circumstances warrant it.
This is the most serious and current threat to Mr. Ervin, if he does not participate in the face of a trial where he is clearly being denied a fair tribunal before an impartial judge, then he will be fined heavily, and has been told that he can be confined in jail indefinitely for contempt of court. This entire matter is a form of persecution and retaliation by federal authorities in Nashville to silence a political critic and human rights defender, and it is this threat for which we are seeking your support. We are enclosing a copy of the Human Rights complaints for more background information.
Please contact the authorities of the United States of America and demand that they appoint legal counsel for Mr. Ervin, and end all forms of legal/police harassment and political persecution of him by state and federal authorities. We particularly beseech you to ask that the court officials drop all plans to fine or jail Mr. Ervin merely because of their refusal to appoint legal counsel on his behalf for the said trial, in violation of international law, when they are aware he cannot represent himself. In recent years, 13 persons have been jailed for minor violations in the Nashville Metro Detention Facility, and “mysteriously” found to be dead, due to maltreatment by jail guards. No one has been prosecuted for such cases. We cannot allow Mr. Ervin to be jailed, then beaten or killed in a local prison because of his activism and mere quest for justice, so we ask that you please do what you can under the protections of the UN Human Rights Defenders program to help him. Thank you.
You can contact us at the address below for more information:
Respectfully submitted this 26th day of May, 2010.
JoNina M. Abron [or Lorenzo Ervin]
Legal Redress Committee
Power to the People, Inc.
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