Interview with Alan Bean, September 21, 2011

Material Information

Interview with Alan Bean, September 21, 2011
Bean, Alan
Mississippi Freedom Project (MFP)
Publication Date:
Physical Description:
Oral history interview


Subjects / Keywords:
African Americans ( fast )
Mississippi Delta Freedom Project ( local )
Oral histories ( lcgft )
Spatial Coverage:
United States of America -- Florida -- Alachua

Record Information

Source Institution:
UF Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
Holding Location:
UF Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
Rights Management:
Made available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 4.0 International license:
Resource Identifier:
MFP 071B ( SPOHP )


This item is only available as the following downloads:

Full Text
xml version 1.0 encoding UTF-8
REPORT xmlns http:www.fcla.edudlsmddaitss xmlns:xsi http:www.w3.org2001XMLSchema-instance xsi:schemaLocation http:www.fcla.edudlsmddaitssdaitssReport.xsd
INGEST IEID EYY2OHI3Q_BQ9UXV INGEST_TIME 2015-01-16T18:09:32Z PACKAGE AA00021397_00001


The Foundation for The Gator Nation An Equal Opportunity Institution Samuel Proctor Oral History Program College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Program Director : Dr. Paul Ortiz 241 Pugh Hall Technology Coordinator : Deborah Hendrix PO Box 115215 Gainesville, FL 32611 352 392 7168 352 846 1983 Fax The Samuel Proctor O ral History Program (SPOHP) was founded by Dr. Samuel Proctor at the University of Florida in 1967. Its original projects were collections centered around Florida history with the purpose of preserving eyewitness accounts of economic, social, political, re ligious and intellectual life in Florida and the South. In the 45 years since its inception, SPOHP has collected over 5,000 interviews in its archives. Transcribed interviews are available through SPOHP for use by research scholars, students, journalists and other interested groups. Material is frequently used for theses, dissertations, articles, books, documentaries, museum displays, and a variety of other public uses. As standard oral history practice dictates, SPOHP recommends that researchers refer t o both the transcript and audio of an interview when conducting their work. A selection of interviews are available online here through the UF Digital Collections and the UF Smathers Library system. Oral history interview t ranscripts available on the UF D igital Collections may be in draft or final format. SPOHP transcribers create interview transcripts by listen ing to the ori ginal oral history interview recording and typing a verbatim d ocument of it. The transcript is written with careful attention to refl ect original grammar and word choice of each interviewee; s ubjective or editorial changes are not made to their speech. The draft trans cript can also later undergo a later final edit to ensure accuracy in spelling and format I nterviewees can also provide their own spelli ng corrections SPOHP transcribers refer to the Merriam program specific transcribing style guide, accessible For more information about SPOHP, visit http://oral.histor or call the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program office at 352 392 7168. October 2013


MFP 071B Interviewee: Alan Bean Interviewer: Sarah Blanc Date of Interview: September 21, 2011 BL: Reverend Alan Bean and its part two of our interview. Reverend Bean, would you like to begin by telling us about your narrative approach to advocacy in your organization? BE: the criminal justice system has b een based on chan ging laws. W basically what the goal is, is to try to establish a legal precedent. Or just to draw attention to a certain area of abuse by filing a civil rights lawsuit on behalf of a more and more difficult to file that kind of case. The bar has been raised consistently over the la st few years and themselves to what works in the co urtroom. [ Telephone rings] BL: Continue. BE: legal strategy that has been used in the past, I do feel that the criminal justice reform movement has put all its eggs in the legal basket; that most reform organizations are somewhat top heavy with lawyers, and that increasingly over the years, the effectiveness of the legal strategy has been eroded considerably. So, there needs to be a narrative or storytelling piece that is added to the


MFP 071B; Bean; Page 2 process. That goes beyond just trying to get some journalist somewhere to write about it, which is a narrative strategy. The narrative strategy that Friends of Justice has embraced evolved out of our experience in Tulia, Texas, which I believe I discu ssed in some detail in the first interview. But, just to touch on that briefly, we were up against a major drug sting. Forty seven people were being prosecuted on the uncorroborated word of a single undercover agent. So, the thing that really concerned me is that all of the jury seemed perfectly willing to had been arrested by . a neighboring county on theft charges in the middle of the undercover operation, and that he had b een fired from every police job he had ever held, pretty much. The guy was a walking train wreck, with all kinds of evidence that he was not trustworthy and could not really be believed. BL: BE: stion is, what do you do? The news media, local and regional news media, was totally unsympathetic. They would cover the story only in adul atory terms of cleaning up the drug problem in this little t own? Big bust, little town, once that was done, that kind of coverage was done, there was nothing else to do. So, we realized that none of the lawyers under the defense a ttorneys who had a reputation for being effective civil rights attorneys were interested in taking these cases, because they considered them as losers. The reason they were losers is that the juries were going to be unsympathetic. These were


MFP 071B; Bean; Page 3 b ooked as Afri can American males, in most cases, who were presumed guilty simply because of their station in life and their race and their age, no questions asked. These were experienced attorneys; they knew that they were going to at that point, a legal strategy. You had to change the narrative. So, what we did in Tulia was, we reached out to an independent news magazine, the Texas Observer which has been in existence probably since the early [19]50s. They were really the only ind ependent voice at that time in Texas journalism. They only had a circulation of about ten thousand, but they sent a reporter up there. We sent them down some materials. We kind of tried to get ahold of the narrative and think about what a reporter might do with this. We were just flying without instruments because we had never done this before. But we got that one story, and it was a very good story. A young man who had just graduated from Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, just north of Austin, and he was a very gifted young man, but he was untried. So he had sort of signed on with the Texas Observer ny investigative reporting, had signaled interest in doing that and they sent him up th ere to see what he could do. He wr ote this sixteen page story. That got picked up by the Austin Chronicle which was an independent sort of publicatio n that had a bigger circulation. That came to the attention of Will Harrel, who had just taken over as the head of the ACLU, the director of the Texas ACLU. Then he got interested, and we had been trying to bring the NAACP of Amarillo onboard, but they had very mixed feelings about it. Some of their senior leadership was wanting to get involved and others were not, but once the ACLU got involv ed, then they got a


MFP 071B; Bean; Page 4 little more courage. So, you realize that these cases become credible one person at a time. You add another layer of credibility every time you get a n organization involved. Then, at one point, we reached out to the Center for Constitut ional Rights in New York City. There was a woman who had grown up in Tulia a lot of this is just serendipity, you know. You kind of have to follow your nose. H er name was Marilyn Clement. She had worked for Dr. King during the civil rights movement and then had eventually ended up being the executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which was Bill Chancellor the famous civil rights attorney who argued the case of the Chicago Seven in Chicago at the 1968 Democratic Convention was sort of one of their leading lights. He had worked a lot with Dr. King back in the day, as well. So, she had eventually retired and gone to do other kinds of other advocacy work, but we met we met her at a picnic in Tulia. She said, oh, you need to write them. a civil rights lawsuit because nobody had been exonerated. You have to have a prove they have a judgement, you know, i n their favor. ; wrongfully incarcerated, abused, beaten up by the cop, whatever the grievance is, that they can prove that they have grounds for making the complaint. When people have simply been accused like the Tulia sting victims have been, nobody had grounds for filing a civil rights lawsuit. As the case got bigger, there were a lot of lawyers who were kind of ready for that. Until we got to that point, it


MFP 071B; Bean; Page 5 was clear to me that nobody had a strategy. The letter we sent to the Center for Constitutional Rights happened to fall into the hands of a kind of off the wall organizer who used to w ork for Bill Kuntsler in followed him around until Kuntsler died. He created this organization called the who had been very young when he was an old man were just gradu ating from college. One of them had studied documentary filmmaking, and they were wanting to do a documentary. So, they came out and did this little twenty minute documentary, and they interviewed us and they interviewed a lot of the defendants, and we sor t of helped them put the story together. We kind of worked out how to present the story to get control of the narrative. It was that little documentary that really had an impact, because they took that to they showed it to the Legal Defense Fund, and they just had a young woman who had joined the Legal Defense Fund She had just graduated from law school and she had a justice fellowship, so she She was on her own nickel. So she said she wanted to go out, she had seen this video and she wanted to go investigate. They said, go ahead. So she went out and investigated. Then she came back and she used that video to bring a lot of corporate law firms I mea n big, international corporate law firms into the fight on a pro bono basis. A lot of these lawyers, they went to law school, one, to make the world a better place, but then they graduated and realized they had all ke any money doing public interest law,


MFP 071B; Bean; Page 6 that they had to work in the private sector and they had to work for people who had money. That meant major corporations, generally speaking. So, they were all in the corporate law world, but they still had these lon gings to use their skills and the people at the lower echelon. Some of the folks who had some clout and decision making ability in these organizations also felt that way. They lined up, they got onboard, and so eventually, there were so many layers of credibility that Bob Herbert, whom I had written he was a columnist, op ed columnist with the New York Times he got a hold of this video. He knew that the Legal Defense Fund w hich was a very credible organization, a long history, they had done Brown v. Board of Education, that was sort of their most celebrated case they were involved, and he knew that all these major law firms were involved, so that added credibility. So he get s involved, and he starts writing the story, but he established by that video and he broke it down into about ten different segments, and he wrote ten different columns of the Tul ia story. That got the attention of Hillary Clinton, Charles Schumer, the senators from New York, and they got all they started pushing pressure on Charles Ashcroft, the attorney general, and he conservative guy, He was a good friend of Rick Perry, the new Texas governor. So, Perry was under tremendous pressure, and he ended up pardoning these people; the Court of Criminal App eals issued an evidenciary hearing before the people. So, then the


MFP 071B; Bean; Page 7 legal strategy started kicking in. But, if you had asked the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to grant relief in an evidentiary hearing on the basis of, say, wri ts of habeas corpus that the defendants had written for themselves, or that we had written for them and we did write writs of habeas corpus but, when the real lawyers got involved, we just handed off the stuff to them. You know? BL: Right. BE: y did. But even though law firms, by t have been enough. T hey needed the added credibility. So, you sort of see how these things work, and you realize that the criminal justice system does not respond to legal argument and the weight of logic and evidence. conviction basis, is really hard. le out. So, that was sort of our first learning experience with the strategy. We realized that getting into the story was not something that you could expect journalists to do. Not just any jour nalist; only a good, investigat ive journalist. To do that, you h ad to frame the story. You had to take control of the narrative and to feed it to people. as being part of a strategy. They did what they knew, and we needed them to do what they knew. We had a role that nobody but a good lawyer and not just any lawyer, but lawyers with prestige and a very high degree of skill were thing until we had done ours.


MFP 071B; Bean; Page 8 BL: Right. Would it be accurate to say that this narrative strategy is the missing link defend them? BE: In many cases, yes. I mean, what has happened in the past is that a lot of th e advocacy groups have sort of been waiting around until they see a case where lawy er that has been able to, say, t o exonerate somebody on the basis of DNA evidence or there is a sig nificant witness recantation. You know, a key witness flips back and says, I lied at court. Or, sometimes, they are able to an attorney is able to find a narrative where, say, a corporate has done something discriminatory in the workplace or has been guilt y of violating ecological laws or environmental laws, or something like that. But, in the criminal justice system, say, for instance, if you want to expose the injustices related to the War on etails of a specific case. I think one of the things that really distinguishes Friends of Justice from other organizations that employ some variety of narrative strategy, is that we it, we work with are in the Deep South. So, we look at the racial history, the history of racial jus tice in a specific community. What happened in this community that kind of exemplifies how things used to be? Then the question is, well, how much have


MFP 071B; Bean; Page 9 there was a case of A nn Colon T hree of her sons in Church Point, Louisiana, had been accused of running a crack conspiracy out of their little FHA bungalow. It was completely bogus. But they had been able to tap into the federal prison system and had lined up thirty one guys who said they had bought or sold drugs to this family, and they were all trying to get their five year time cuts, because all lying. I did much more research in that case tha n the lawyers had, because these guys had credibility issues, and therefore that the government had not a jury. I just it never occurred to me that the federal government would take a case built only on that kind of testimony to trial. So, I got involved, and what we realized after a while was that only by telling the story and going back into the history of Church Point and talking about whe n David Duke, the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, was named as their Grand Marshall for the Mardi Gras there Gras black Catholic churc were excellent athletes and they attracted the attention of young women who this created all kinds of tension. And that, say, in 1995, a black student who was


MFP 071B; Bean; Page 10 head of the debating society and the best academic student, the best woman athlete in the high school, probably the best looking student they had had in doctor in Baton Rouge so she was smart and capable there was, I mean, no ma tter what criteria you use, she was going to be homecoming queen. Since the football players were making the selection, and a sort of there were more African American football players every year, and it started to reach critical mass where you had a lot of black football players and an overwhelmingly qualified black homecoming queen candidate, they selected her. When that was announced, there was a riot in the stands. Fistfights between blacks and whites the whole town went nuts. The next year, another Afri can American student was selected homecoming queen, so ever since then, they selected a homecoming queen. I mean, when you realize that this is the kind of you tell the story and it starts to make sense that the local police would try to use the War on Drugs to bring these guys but y tem. You plead guilty to a felony, so you have a record. dead, and you have no recourse. So, you have to spell all of this out for people. You go to the media and you tell them these stories, and they start to get interested, little bit by little bit. Then, the narrative gets established. Then, when blogging came along, then you start to blog on it. This is before you get any


MFP 071B; Bean; Page 11 media attention whatsoever. So, what happened in that case was it went to trial, and it caught me flat footed, b ecause I never thought it would I just had to shop my narrative around to all of these local newspapers, all the way from New go and hand hard copies of these things to journalists in Lafayette, which was the town was taking place in it was a federal case. Eventually, a reporter showed up in the courtroom, and then they started publishing my blog posts in the paper. That created a lot of conversation; most of it, to be honest, people disagreed with me. They thought it was well, we need to go after the drug dealers, a lot of your rational arguments. But I was obviously getting under their skin, way it worked. So, we sort of provide a thick description of the case, going back as far as we have to go. Eventually, I wrote a book about Tulia, where I went right back to the days when the Comanche Indians controlled the land and just told the story of how the town evolved. So, that has never been part of the Michelle Alexander in an excellent book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness uses the terminology old Jim Crow and new Jim Crow. Well, we ha d been using that terminology for a decade by the time she wrote the book s o I was really glad to see that. I think that the kinds of oppressive strategies that were used by t he state during the Jim Crow period in the South have been augmented, supplemented, reworked and reapplied to a new set of circumstances and a new kind of social control. So,


MFP 071B; Bean; Page 12 different way of applying the old strategy. So, you have to find a way of telling courtroo BL: also sharing that story with the masses, with the people reading these newspapers, and what can they do? BE: Right. Well, I think the case of Gina is probably the best example there. We employ the same strategy at Gina that we employed at Tulia, only we knew what we were doing. I plotted it all out, you know, right beforehand. I knew what the narrative would be. I tried to get control of the narrative as much as possible, and ultimately, we brought in people like Al Sharpton, Jessie Jackson, Michael Bayston. We did not invite them in. They came in wit h the story, got enough credibility that they thought they could further their ends by getting involved. The over it now, whereas really, it was Amnesty International and other or ganizations that have been doing the hard, s ledding cache with the media as Al does. So we knew that there were those dynamics that were going to play out, but the fact of the matter is, we brought thirty thousand peopl the narrative foundation. We did the initial organizing. We got the ACLU involved, we got Color of Change involved, we got the Southern Poverty Law Center


MFP 071B; Bean; Page 13 involved. Then we were able to get a legal strategy involved. We were able to organize the really our strong suit, to organize a legal fight. We just wanted there to be one. So we had the same caliber of legal talent in G ina that we had in Tulia. Once that happens, and thirty thousand people have shown up, that puts tremendous pressure on the criminal justice system. So, after everybody had sort of forgotten about all of this and Barack Obama had been elected, then, very q uietly and surreptitiously, all the charges against the Gina defendants were brokered down to some of them had already served half a year of prison. One guy served eight months, Deosh a W e were just visiting with him a couple days ago. But, so, they had suffered. Even those who were actually in the beat down had suffered enough to, I think, atone and learn their lesson. They had all had their chains yanked really hard, but their lives were not destroyed. They had been able to have all of the charges, or the conviction, dropped. I think, most importantly, this was kind of an opportunity to show what can happen in the criminal justice syst em when young lives are destroyed. We kind of lost control of the narrative, though, in Gina. A lot of the people who had been much more high profile and charge the kids who hung the nooses from the tree at the high school with a hate crime, so why are they so gung ho in trying to prosecute our boys? It was almost the unspoken message sounded like, nobody came right out and said this, well, if you lock our kids up you better lock up theirs, too. That was


MFP 071B; Bean; Page 14 not a reform message. That was a tit for tat, quid pro quo message, whereas what I was trying to say is, look, if the situation in Tulia had been handled appropriately, if the local authorities had faced up to the implications of the noose hanging, and the fact that it was definitely used as a terror tactic, as an intimidation tactic, by young men who knew exactly what they were doing and knew the implications of the noose and how that related to the racial history of we are no t going back there, let me tell you. They needed to really be adamant, evolved to the point where white officials could say, we are an egalitarian state ; what we did back then was w the consequences. So, there were bad actions taken by the white students, bad actions taken by the black students, but all of this happened in a context in which adults could not talk about race. So, that was the deeper narrative, and I think have a single organization with very small capacity like Fri ends of Justice trying to do more and more now to all of the advocacy groups in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, who are dealing with three discreet areas, which are juvenile justice, indigent defense, and immigrant rights, and talk to every single


MFP 071B; Bean; Page 15 with other people? What work s for you, what are you struggling with? Do you in the past, do you know of any stories that would be really compelling that we could build a coalition around? Would you be interested in building a coalition? do a lot of coalition building O you did that and you were able to get clear communication with three or four different stakeholders who came at the issue from different perspectives, and you could use a single case to demonstrate issues, for instance, that had to do with indigent defense and, say, juvenile justice, and you bring groups who have both of those concerns, and t h en you relate all of that to mass incarceration as a mechanism, as a social reality, as a systemic engine with many parts, part of the problem is that each little advocacy group has focused on one aspect of a si ngle problem. Nobody is looking at the big picture and saying, oh, why are we locking serendipit We can build the foundation from the get go. We can get the message straight, get a hold of the narrative, and have the capacity we need to build a really solid narrat ive campaign from the ground up w here everything is evolve, like they did in Tulia and like they did in Gina.


MFP 071B; Bean; Page 16 BL: Have you been involved in a case yet where, perhaps, an expert witness is called ant to the case and, if not, is that something you hope to see? BE: No, we have not. That kind of thing is considered irrelevant in the courtroom, f or the reason that, in the eyes of the law, jurors who represent the town you know, ng the community are considered to be individuals who jury system. So, you cannot bring to bear theories about the fact that this town is biased against a certain group and th at, therefore, the jury may be you can make claims about the jury selection process. You can say, this was an all white five percent African American. The defendant was African American, the alleged victim was white. Therefore, can sustain those objections, you sometimes can get a case overturned. But, as far as bringing somebody Flowers in Winona, Mississi ppi. In Winona, Curtis has faced all white juries o r almost all split right down the middle with all five African American jurors voting to a c quit, Miss issippi Supreme Court, usually on race related reasons, terms, three different times. He was convicted last summer and the case is currently back befo re the Mississippi Supreme Cour t. A nd I think there, the last trial the lawyer tried to bring in an expert on investigations. Now, he was not talking about the racial history of the town. He was asked to evaluate and he was not able to do


MFP 071B; Bean; Page 17 this in front of the jury, they had a qualifying thing, and the jury was removed from the courtroom there was a hearing tha t lasted about three or four hours, where he was asked to evaluate the investigation that had been done in this case back in 1996. He basically provided a scathing indictment. He had been a police chief in three different jurisdictions, including Jackson, Mississippi. He knew his stuff, he knew what an investigation was supposed to look like. So, he talked about how it was done, but he did not say why those shortcomings were there. That was up to us, and so we went back to 1963 when Fannie Lou Hamer was bea ten up in the jailhouse. We talked about what life was like for African Americans, and for white people, during the civil rights period. We talked about the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission. We talked about the Greenwood Movement, what happened in Grenad a, all of these different issues. Eventually, we kind of put together a portrait that was quite compelling. So, when they trial actually came last summer, we had CNN there and I was able to talk about these things, a little bit, in the media. Yeah, when yo u can tell that historical story, courtroom very effectively. So, it has to be sort of an extra judicial kind of strategy to work effectively. BL: Can you update us more on the status of the Curtis Flowers case? BE: that jury selection process had spun itself out and the last time I talked was just in the wake of that conv i ction, last September since then, an appeal has been


MFP 071B; Bean; Page 18 seen and of waiting. Then, in the meantime, thinking about ways that we can address the investigation that was originally done. But one of the things that is very interesting was the key witness in this case, the woman whose testify established to the timeline and that they was convicted on tax evasion. She was working as a tax preparer and she had, at least, a dozen different clients. She had made completely extravagant and ungrounded claims. But I think s he was probably splitting the proceeds with her clients, but she was convicted in federal court. So, this demonstration of this woman is quite capable, variety of reas Now, whether was made during the sentencing h e aring that case, was that one of her defense attorneys had worked as a prosecu tor in the Curtis Flowers case. He said you know, this woman really helped us out in Winona, so you gotta go easy on her, she just lied to the federal government, why do y ou think she was telling you the truth? So, you know, that issue. Of course, the media did not hing with that until I called them up T he Clarion Ledger in Jackson and said, do you realize this and that and the other? Then, the next time they wrote a story about it, they did make the connection, but not in very compelling terms. You kind of have to gradually


MFP 071B; Bean; Page 19 need to do is really just go back and show why the investigation was bad Ther e also was a very similar crime in the Flowers murder, the murder that Curtis Flowers was accused of committing, was in 1996. Four people shot to death, execution style, in a furniture store in Winona, bullet to the back of the head in each case. On individual control a room, especially when two of the victims were males and one of them was a young athlete and another was a man of forty two, in the prime of his health? How could one person control a room so they could shoot each person, in turn, in the back of the head? Certainly, how could Curtis Flowers do off. There were a string of holdups in the Birmingham, Alabama region that happened at exactly the same time period, before and after the Winona thing; mostly before. The last two of these ende d up shootings, fatal shootings, that were caught on surveillance cameras, so we know exactly how it was done. It was precisely the scenario that I had posited in the Curtis Flowers case, and so talking about i s prosecutorial tunnel vision, where you just narrow your search down to the one person. We were able to demonstrate, during the course of the trial last year, that they had latched on to Curtis Flowers as their only real suspect. Within two hours of the d iscovery of the body, when all they had to go on was the fact that a check in his name was resting on the desk of the woman who owned the furniture store. Her daughter came in and found that check and


MFP 071B; Bean; Page 20 immediately knew that Curtis was the killer. Well, you totally unwarranted conclusions, but why were the authorities so inclined to agree with her, to embrace that theory? Because they knew that if the go. So, a lot of the cases where there are very ambiguous facts and yet you get a off a white victim and you have a low profile off a black defendant, and in those cases, who s low profile, then nobody not in this case. No way it was going to happen. So you have to understand the psychology of the prosecutor and not look at prosecutors like animals or vicious tremendous pressure. And they grow up, like us, in a certain culture. So, you ask the question Doug Evans, the prosecutor in this case, grew up in Grenada. What was happening in Grenada when he w as a boy? Well, they were tr ying to integrate the schools, and black people were being beaten to a pulp in the city square virtually every single night. The March Against Fear came through the town during that year, and you can demonstrate that, when he wa s a boy when he was in his formative years, right up until when he graduated from high school, he grew up in a segregated community where black people were considered to be less than human and second class citizens. Can this man be objective? Well,


MFP 071B; Bean; Page 21 maybe h that your project is looking at here in the Mississippi Delta. BL: Thank you. BE: Okay. [End of interview] Transcribed by: Diana Dombrowski, September 2013 Audit e dited by: Sarah Blanc, January 15, 2014 Final edited by: Diana Dombrowski, February 6, 2014