David and Me plays at the Manhattan Film Festival, wins best feature documentary

 

‘David & Me,’ a heartbreaking, urgent call for justice

David McCallum's family has wanted him to be released for 28 years, they think he was wrongfully convictedERNESTINE MCCALLUM (SECOND FROM LEFT) AND THE REST OF DAVID MCCALLUM’S FAMILY HAS BEEN FIGHTING FOR HIS RELEASE FOR 28 YEARS. PHOTO BY MATTHEW TAUB

Great film on a wrongfully convicted man

By Matthew Taub

Special to Brooklyn Daily Eagle from Brooklyn Brief

“I actually heard about this case two years ago,” the criminal defense attorney sitting behind me said. “But it’s only seeing it like this–seeing this film–that you understand the tragedy. I’m a grown man, and I was in tears.”

This reviewer was similarly aghast. I wish I could tell you my critical impression of the documentary ‘David & Me’ — that of it’s quality, direction, pacing and plot. But it concerns a matter too urgent for a traditional review.

You need to see this film now, and then do whatever you can to get this man out of prison.

Championed by the likes of the late Rubin “Hurricane” Carter and an unlikely alliance of father-son Canadian writer-filmmakers, defense attorneys, and other activists, ‘David & Me’ is a layered, intricate and extremely well-executed portrait of of a false 1985 confession from a teenage suspect, one David McCallum from Bushwick. Based on that coerced confession, and despite a lack of any physical evidence, ineffective assistance of counsel at trial, and the disregard of important evidence pointing to other suspects, McCallum was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison for a murder he quite clearly did not commit. He remains behind bars to this day.

Many reviews might naturally contrast the film (and the underlying case) to that of the Central Park Five. But that film championed the right of those wrongfully convicted Defendants for civil compensation–they had already been released from prison in 2002.

McCallum, by contrast, may die in jail.

“The Parole Board, unfortunately, has unfettered discretion,” said Laura Cohen, a law professor at Rutgers University, in a Q&A after the film’s screening at the Quad Cinema Friday evening. “They’re all seasoned political appointees, and David has to face them each time alone. It can be very intimidating.”

As relayed by it’s title, the film also contains a human interest story involving the filmmaker’s personal growth as a result of his relationship with McCallum. That relationship–as well as its peculiar origins, and charming development–is touching and unique. But with repetitive parole boards refusing to grant McCallum release, largely for his unwillingness to express remorse for a crime he didn’t commit, those appreciations must be reserved for another day.

“If the parole board came tonight, we’d buy them popcorn,” Cohen added. “We’d love for them to see this film.”

“I’ve asked the DA to review the conviction,” added Oscar Michelen, McCallum’s pro-bono criminal defense attorney, who appears in the film. Michelen noted, however, that he has received only a non-committal response.

In the meantime, you should see the film on these officials’ behalf, to help save David McCallum from a life in prison he doesn’t deserve.

 

Hynes’s Deepening Morass

Charles ‘Joe’ Hynes, former Brooklyn District Attorney, is now facing a variety of federal charges involving the misuse of funds from criminal activities, i.e. drug busts and auto confiscations. Much of the evidence is based on thousands of potentially incriminating e-mails. He really does face prison time, but his trial will demonstrate all the tricks of the trade that may allow one high placed perpetrator to go free while indigent and even innocent persons go behind bars.

This being said, Hynes’s behavior is more reprehensible on humanitarian grounds than on financial ones. It is more difficult to assign legal responsibility for wrongful convictions than for crimes of cupidity. Al Capone was locked up for tax evasion and not murder, after all. Hynes presided over scores of wrongful convictions and his office blocked all but a handful of efforts to free the wrongly convicted. Those are crimes against humanity, as Rubin Carter was wont to say.

One request they made of David McCallum was to produce a body for a body, in other words, find the actual murderer who owns up to the crime and we’ll let you go. Not an easy task after twenty-five years! More insidious was after they agreed to test evidence and they discovered DNA belonging to a felon inside the car–a fact completely inconsistent with the scenario presented at trial–they opposed any further evidence testing. The most pressing need in that office was always to burnish their reputations or enhance their chances for re-election. Hynes’s office practiced corruption of the lowest order–a willingness to sacrifice the lives of others, especially of young African Americans, to maintain power. I cannot think of someone more deserving of a prison sentence than the man who presided over such travesties: Charles “Joe” Hynes.

 

Hynes facing larceny charges

On June 3, The NY Times reported that Charles Hynes, former district attorney of Brooklyn, is facing charges of larceny. He apparently pilfered funds accrued from the proceeds of criminal activities, like drug busts, that are earmarked for law enforcement activities. It is alleged that Hynes directed these funds to his unsuccessful campaign for re-election. This turn of events has karma written all over it, since it was Hynes’s office that presided over and sustained close to one hundred wrongful convictions. That his office made David McCallum suffer for almost thirty years is bad enough. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t be expecting to see Hynes locked up any too soon, what with the raft of lawyers he’ll be able to retain. I can hear all the testimonials to his accomplishments as the chief law enforcement officer in Brooklyn. The lackeys and yes men, some of whom will also be implicated, must be looking over their shoulders.

This case points to the folly of allowing people to run offices for decades, until such time as they equate themselves with the good of the office. Hynes no doubt believed that without him the office would suffer. His campaign, maybe financed in part by the proceeds of crime, attempted to discredit Ken Thompson as being too inexperienced. Hynes probably told himself that the money he was taking would serve law enforcement. How disgusting and hypocritical! I’d like to see him spend thirty days in one of his beloved prisons, maybe a few months on Rikers Island as well.

Another issue presents itself here, irrespective of Charles ‘Joe’ Hynes. To allow funds garnered from crime to finance a public office is an invitation to corruption. Why should law enforcement be financed in this way? The New Yorker reported that in some southern states and in the midwest, police departments are so underfunded that they rely on both drug arrests and false arrests to sustain themselves. The underfunding of police departments, schools, hospitals, and public institutions in general is the result of the tax hatred that has been perpetrated by right wing political ‘think tanks’ in the USA and Canada. If taxes are seen as too high or unnecessary or ‘job killers’, so the thinking goes, there would be more for the rest of us if we got rid of them. The truth is that there is more for the wealthy and less for the rest of us. For example, when the public school system deteriorates, people spend large sums of money for private school education. Or when colleges and universities lack funding, tuition fees are extortionate. But the wealthy make so much from tax cuts that the increase in fees for these things are less than negligible for them. Hynes would never have had access to a slush fund if police departments were adequately supported. If he is guilty as charged, however, inadequate funding doesn’t make him less reprehensible.