It has been called the longest criminal trial in the history of the state of Georgia, and today it ended with the sentencing of 10 Atlanta educators. Despite calls for justice tempered with mercy and compassion, Judge Jerry Baxter sentenced teachers under RICO provisions as if they were mobsters.
For some the judge gave out 20 year sentences like he was passing out candy, and it was a shock to all in attendance. Just the day before when he was listening to the heartfelt testimony of character witnesses and some defendants, Judge Baxter stated that sentencing the teachers to jail would not be justice but retribution. Judge Baxter’s sentencing showed that he could deal out retribution on a scale unheard of as he sentenced many educators to years above what the prosecutor was asking. The previous day he warned those convicted to make a take a last-minute plea deal offered by Fulton DA Paul Howard. Howard demanded justice be served and stated that the teachers had to agree to a deal in which they would have to admit guilt and apologize for the crimes of which they were convicted in order to get a lighter sentence. Despite the warning, only two educators took a deal, the rest took their chances with the controversial judge and paid the price.
This is exactly what community and civil rights activists Michael Langford and the Rev. Timothy McDonald, pastor at First Iconium Baptist Church, feared when they spoke to rolling out before sentencing.
“One of the reasons we have been protesting is to request alternative sentencing and that justice be tempered with mercy. What does alternative sentencing look like? It means taking these teachers and possibly having them serve the community by teaching over at the jail or facilities that have children with literacy issues. For example, 80 percent of the inmates at the Fulton County Jail read at an eighth grade level, so there is definitely a chance for the teachers to redeem themselves. Sending them to jail is overkill and should not happen. By no means do we condone cheating or erasing of answers, but obviously something happened with the Atlanta public school system. But for these accused teachers, most of them have lost their credentials and certifications, they have lost their jobs and income. Losing certification for a teacher is devastating; imagine something that you have studied and based your life on is gone. It becomes life sentence. They suffered enough by serving 13 days in jail; they have been humiliated across this nation by the pictures of them in handcuffs and being taken to jail. We think that the punishment should fit the crime and that the time they have served is enough and alternative sentencing as first time offenders should be taken into consideration. We delivered a petition with 35,000 signatures to the judge asking for leniency.”
Rev. Timothy Mc Donald:
“Other defendants were offered first time offender privileges, which means that at some point their records could be expunged. These defendants, because they chose their constitutional rights of a trial by jury for the same offenses, the same time periods, should have been granted that same first offender rights privileges. This is so at some point their records could be expunged.”