Darryl Hunt…you will be missed……

Darryl Hunt


As a writer, I tend to process difficult things by writing about them….and so I turn to this outlet as a way to process the death of a dear friend who died much to soon…..

 Earl and I first saw Darryl Hunt shortly after Christmas in 2003, not long after he was released from prison, at the Winston-Salem WalMart. We recognized him from the news accounts. What struck us was his demeanor, he appeared to us to be mesmerized and perhaps overwhelmed by the incredible variety and sheer volume of items stocking the WalMart shelves. We were curious about the experiences of someone who is incarcerated, confined in a cage, for decades, for a crime they did not commit. And, we wanted to know how we could help.

We reached out to Mark Rabil (our daughters participated at the same gym) and soon we were having lunch at the LightHouse Café in downtown Winston-Salem. Mark offered to introduce us to Darryl and our decade long collaboration began soon thereafter

 Anyone who has met Darryl, even once, is captivated by him. He is the most humble person, remarkable for someone who was so severely mistreated by the criminal justice system, and really by much of the Winston-Salem community for so long.   He has a way of pulling you in. You want to be around him. He has an aura about him.

How could we not get involved in the social justice work that Darryl committed his life to?

  • We served on the board of the Darryl Hunt Project for Freedom and Justice
  • We attended galas and holiday parties and the premiere of the HBO documentary: The Trials of Darryl Hunt
  • Every Thanksgiving we donated a couple of dozen turkeys so that the associates would have something to contribute to their holiday celebrations
  • We brought Darryl to our classes and invited him to give lectures as far away as Colgate University in upstate New York when we were on sabbatical leave
  • Our sociology students were the first to work on the innocence part of Darryl’s project—not much publicized–, opening and reading letters from prisoners who sought Darryl’s help and support as they proclaimed their innocence

But after being involved in many different ways, we soon realized that as professors—teachers and scholars—the best way we could help Darryl was to understand Darryl’s experience in the broader context.


Many other people helped Darryl tell his story.


We set out to tell the story of Darryl.


  • Why did so many exonorees look like Darryl? (46%, or half of all the people exonerated are Black men.)
  • Why did so many exonerations involve the rape and/or murder of a white women by a black man? (A crime that occurs only 10% of the time, but accounts for nearly 70% of the exonerations?)
  •  Why are exonerations disproportionately present in a relatively small number of jurisdictions? (Cook County, Illinois—Chicago, accounts for nearly 10% of all exonerations nationwide along with does Dallas County, Texas and New York City)

And, what we learned, and what we have shared in public lectures, in our classes, and in many publications is that there are indeed patterns to exonerations because there are patterns to wrongful convictions.

As in all other areas of the criminal justice system, black men are mistreated. They are lied to, they are manipulated, they are railroaded into confessing crimes they did not commit. Prosecutors withhold evidence just to get a conviction. And, these are not just random events. They are clustered. They occur in patterns. They are not just a set of unconnected mistakes; they are in fact the deliberate miscarriages of justice.

 And, as a result, hundreds of black men, (and white and Hispanic men), have spent nearly 20,000 combined years in prison for crimes they did not commit.



And equally tragic, when law enforcement and prosecutors collude to lock up any black man instead of the real perpetrator, the real perpetrator often goes on to commit other crimes. We know now that Deborah Sykes was not the only women brutalized by Willard Brown. The Innocence Project in New York City projects for the crimes of rape and murder that every time a perpetrator is free—and the wrong man is incarcerated—the real perpetrator commits, on average 3 more rapes and/or 2 more murders.


When we fail to get it right, everyone loses.


The more we learned about exoneration, the more we learned about the prison industrial complex, mass incarceration, and the process of re-entry. We worked with Darryl to research the impact of his re-entry program on associates who participated.

 Our research revealed that associates who committed to Darryl’s re-entry strategies and programming were more successful than others in making the transition to life in the free world.


We could not have been more pleased when Darryl agreed to endorse our book which came out of the research we conducted with his associates

 Prisoner re entry book 

So, how do we continue to tell the story of Darryl Hunt?


We will continue to teach about exonerations in our classes and continue to show The Trials of Darryl Hunt. We will continue to do empirical research on exonerations and other aspects of the Prison Industrial Complex.


We will turn our research to the final question of Darryl’s life: How many years of life does wrongful incarceration, locking innocent men (and women) in cages, often for decades, innocent of any crime, rob from them after they are released? What is the impact of decades of incarceration and the stress of knowing you are innocent on the health and well-being of exonorees?


How many men (and women) like Darryl will die decades too early because of the accumulation of their mistreatment?


Darryl used to often say: “If it can happen to me it can happen to anybody.”


We say back: But why did it have to happen to you?


Today we grieve the loss of our friend. As Mark Rabil said: “He finally got the death penalty.

It isn’t fair.


MISSING BLACK MEN (part 2): Homicide

homicide police line


This post is not about the politically charged term “Black-On-Black-Crime.”

Rather, it is about the early life death –or YEARS OF LIFE LOST (ILL)–of young black men between the ages of 15 and 34.  Most of whom are killed by other black men. The mortality risk for young black men is increasingly high as more and more guns are finding their way into the culture of the American inner city, space where hundreds of thousands of black Americans live.

What We know

We know that homicide is an intra-gender & intra-race crime.

Epidemiologists (Wintemute 2015) have long noted the public health epidemic of firearm violence in the US, noting:

During the ten years from 2003 to 2012, the most recent year for which data are available, 313,045 persons died from firearm-related injuries in the United States. These deaths outnumber US combat fatalities in World War II; they outnumber the combined count of combat fatalities in all other wars in the nation’s history. The total societal costs of firearm injuries were estimated to be $174.1 billion in 2010.

Epidemiologists have also noted this trend among young black males, beginning most notably directly after the end of the Vietnam war up through the present. We learn that firearm violence (homicide) is among the leading cause of death for young black men ages 15–34 in 2012.

The concentration of mortality from firearm homicide is highest among young black males–moreso than among black females and / or white males–solely because this group is highest for engaging in risky behavior. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta tracks these risky behaviors and notes that for the age group being killed there are six.  These are:

  1. Behaviors that contribute to unintentional injuries and violence
    2. Sexual behaviors that contribute to unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV infection
    3. Alcohol and other drug use
    4. Tobacco use
    5. Unhealthy dietary behaviors
    6. Inadequate physical activity

While not conclusive this list of six risky behaviors gives us an indicator to rely on especially indicator #1 and helps us to understand the following CDC table;

causes of death

To illustrate, I have chosen the cities of Chicago and Baltimore where the number of homicides have escalated in recent years.

Since homicide is the leading cause of death for young black men–they are approximately 10 times more likely to die of murder than whites of the same age group–it stands to reason that we should know why these early deaths are happening?

A recent headline suggested that in the city of Chicago 75% of those persons murdered are Black and that 71% of the known murderers are Black (http://bit.ly/20yQ90w). One chart from the same newspaper shows the homicide victims by their age and we can see that for age cohorts between 17 and 35 is where most of the deaths take place.


The following chart shows the homicide victims by their race.  This is interesting in that the only double digit percentages are for both Hispanics and blacks.


In the news across 2015 and 2016 there was constant reminder of how dangerous it is for young black men in the city of Baltimore, home of the Netflix TV series The Wire. In Baltimore there was for 2015 a homicide rate of 47 per 100,000 people. In 2015 Baltimore had over 340 homicides with Freddie Gray being #88 after a fatal ride in the back of a police van in April.

Out of a tally of the 100 most recent homicides for 2015-2016 – 89 of the 100 were black victims. And, with 90% of the homicides being black young men we also know that the perpetrators are also young black men.

When looking for the reasons why this is happening we get the usual answers: geography; poverty; lack of schooling; single family home; no fathers involved in parenting etc.  Yet, this can’t be all there is to the story?

What We Don’t Know

One thing is definite: we don’t know why these young men are killing each other (Hattery and Smith 2012).  Sociologically, then, the question becomes why do young black men kill one another at such alarming rates?

As stated above I don’t think it is all about concentrated poverty or concentrated geography or fatherlessness. One good starting point–never  mentioned in this research topic–is alienation.  Alienation has been defined by a lot of theologians and scholars and the term carries a lot of different meanings.  Here we go with the work of Emile Durkheim who saw alienation as having at minimum five features: (1) powerlessness, (2) meaninglessness, (3) normlessness, (4) isolation and (5) self-estrangement.

According to Durkheim, normlessness or what he calls ANOMIE takes place when acceptable social norms are no longer accessible. That is, when individuals become cut off from society (friends, family, social relationships) and have no real grounding they lose touch socially, psychologically, economically etc.  This detachment or alienation or anomie can and often does bring the individual to decision making that is irrational.

Irrational decision making with gun in hand can and often does lead to the violence of homicide.  As demonstrated here in Chicago and in Baltimore and many, many other major urban centers for 2015 and 2016 this means hundreds of thousands of young black men are dead.  For young black men this means for the above mentioned dates approximately 5000 young black males have been killed by another black male.




“If it’s not a public health problem, then why are all those people dying from it?”

–Dr. David Satcher, Centers for Disease Control


Knowing that young black men are killing other young black men is a conundrum. For the real question is what is to be done? How can interventions, predicting when/where this lethal violence will take place so that it can be thwarted?  I am not sure. I do know that the literature on the topic spells out (a) jobs, (b) better schooling opportunities, (c) m0re hands on parenting etc.  Yet, we do know by the time these young men are adults it is too late.  Whatever the strategies are they have to start early on and become a systematic part of the acculturation process.



  1.   It would be interesting to follow up on the research of Frank Sulloway in his massive book Born To Rebel: Birth Order, Family Dynamics, an Creative Lives to see where young black males who commit homicide are located in their family birth order. He says that it is typical for the youngest of siblings to follow a path of violence.




Durkheim, Emile. 1933. The Division of Labor in Society. NY: MacMillan Co.

Hattery, Angela and Earl Smith. 2012. {New edition 2016} The Social Dynamics of Family Violence.

Mydans, Seth. 1980. “Homicide Rate Up for Young Blacks.” New York Times  http://nyti.ms/244LV5j

Ollman, Bertell. 1977. Alienation. London: Cambridge University Press.

Sulloway, Frank. 1996. Born To Rebel: Birth Order, Family Dynamics, an Creative Lives. New York: Pantheon Books.

Wintemute, Garen. 2015. “The Epidemiology of Firearm Violence in the Twenty-First Century United States.”  Annual Review of Public Health 36:5-19.



A feminist votes for Hillary Clinton…Never in my lifetime

File Mar 01, 5 19 22 PM
So, a couple of weeks ago I wrote a blog that interrogated Hillary Clinton and posed some really difficult questions of Hillary Clinton.

I concluded several things in that blog:

1. Hillary Clinton is not my ideal woman candidate;
2. It is reasonable to demand that Hillary Clinton respond to critiques of some of previous positions, including her support of dismantling welfare and mass incarceration, both of which have been detrimental to the Black community
3. If not now, when?

Luke warm on Hillary Clinton I was surprised by the emotion I felt this morning when I opened up my Democratic ballot and saw her name there. I was surprised that it mattered so much to me to cast my vote for a woman. A woman who will undoubtedly be the Democratic nominee for President of the United States.

I grew up with stories about my grandmother, Goldie Secor Hattery, who was not able to vote until the passage of the 19th amendment.

Despite having Hillary Clinton on the primary ballot in 2008, I never actually believed I would see, in my lifetime, a woman make a serious run for President of the United States.

And, as I shared my elation with my kids, Travis and Emma, both of whom are in their 20s, I realized that they have grown up in a generation of young people who have never not seen women and Black people on the ballot.

I realize that for my children, a diverse slate of candidates, though obviously not diverse enough, is all they have ever known. It is par for the course. Perhaps they believe that the presidential slate will always be diverse, whereas I worry that for me, both Hillary Clinton’s candidacy and the election and subsequent election of Barak Obama, feel like an anomaly, a one time thing.

Despite my critique, I felt proud as a woman and a feminist to cast my ballot for Hillary Rodham Clinton. I felt proud for my grandmother.

My wish is that my children never need to feel this pride; for them a diverse slate of candidates will be the norm rather than an exception to the rule.