Supporters of Charles Wilhite will gather outside Springfield District Court at 6 a.m. tomorrow for a vigil, before moving into the courthouse for a hearing on a motion to dismiss murder charges he faces.
Wilhite was convicted of first-degree murder in 2010 for the shooting death of Alberto Rodriguez. Earlier this year, that conviction was overturned after a witness admitted that he was lying when he said he saw Wilhite at the scene. Wilhite’s family and supporters—who’ve organized a group called “Justice for Charles”—had hoped the court would overturn the conviction. Instead, Wilhite was granted a new trial. Tomorrow’s hearing will consider a motion filed by his attorney seeking to have the charges dismissed.
Wilhite’s case will be the focus of a panel discussion today at Western New England University’s School of law, called “Resisting the New Jim Crow in the Pioneer Valley and the Campaign to Free Charles Wilhite of Springfield.” The event, sponsored by the school’s Student Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, will also consider Michelle Alexander’s 2010 book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, in which she argues that racist discriminatory practices of old are still in place in our society, just repackaged.
“In the era of colorblindness, it is no longer socially permissible to use race, explicitly, as a justification for discrimination, exclusion, and social contempt. So we don’t,” Alexander writes in the book. “Rather than rely on race, we use our criminal justice system to label people of color ‘criminals’ and then engage in all the practices we supposedly left behind. Today it is perfectly legal to discriminate against criminals in nearly all the ways that it was once legal to discriminate against African Americans. Once you’re labeled a felon, the old forms of discrimination—employment discrimination, housing discrimination, denial of the right to vote, denial of educational opportunity, denial of food stamps and other public benefits, and exclusion from jury ser vice—are suddenly legal. … We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.”
The free event takes place from noon to 1 p.m. at WNEU’s Law School Commons, at 1215 Wilbraham Rd. in Springfield. Lunch will be provided.