Editorial: Darryl Hunt’s death reveals need for targeted help

Editorial: Darryl Hunt’s death reveals need for targeted help
March 17
00:00 2016

The Winston-Salem community is mourning the death of Darryl Hunt, the hometown black man who was accused of murder but was eventually released and cleared after spending 19 years in prison. His murder conviction was vacated in February 2004.

In fact, Hunt touched the hearts of people in North Carolina and across the nation. He formed an organization that helped other people fight for their freedom in the courts, including in Atlanta, and helped those who were released from prison find jobs.

The state of North Carolina awarded him $300,000 and the city of Winston-Salem awarded him $1.6 million in settlements after he was released.

Early on, The Chronicle led the way in question-ing Hunt’s guilt. Others followed. Right-minded government officials did the right thing, and Hunt was freed.

However, as people celebrated Hunt’s victories, it appears there wasn’t a strong system in place to help him mentally. It appears no one realized what the deep effect of 19 years in prison for a crime he did not commit had on Hunt. People close to Hunt said he was depressed. This man, who appeared to be quiet and unassuming, did not scream out for help. He might not have realized himself that he needed help. Many people took from Hunt, a man who concentrated on giving, but it appears not many gave back in return.

Black people have been through hundreds of years of turmoil since we came to the United States, mostly by force. We were separated from our natural families and forced to adopt the families of white people. Kunta Kinte, whose story is told in the TV series “Roots,” seems to be one of the few black people in America who knows just where he came from. Generations after generations of black people can only trace their roots back to their slave masters.

So black people have had to survive the atrocities the American justice system has used to keep the children of former slaves in place without those children having a real sense of who they are. This can affect people’s minds.

In Darryl Hunt we had a black man who, before he was arrested, was adrift in his life. After gaining freedom, did he somehow gain the footing to anchor himself for the future he faced? It appears that was a struggle if there were efforts to help him gain that footing.

There are other stories of black men who emerged from prison and helped people. One such person is Shaka Senghor, a black man who has writ-ten a new book titled “Writing My Wrongs: Life, Death, and Redemption in an American Prison.” He went to prison in 1991 for second-degree murder at age 19. While in prison, he says, “I spent my time reading and writing, using books to free my mind and expand my thinking.” He says that he did not allow his past or what others thought about him to define him or deter him. He was released at age 38.

Did Darryl Hunt have a background like this, reading and writing while he was in prison, freeing his mind and expanding his thinking for 19 years?

There should be targeted help for black men in prison and when they come out. Senghor says it will always be a struggle for him out of prison. There is a battle for his mind. As people who are not been in prison, we know how hard it is to keep focused. Imagine the struggles for those who have spent years in prison for crimes they committed, let alone for those they did not commit.

Kalvin Michael Smith – the 44-year-old black man from Winston-Salem who has been in prison for 19 years of a 29-year sentence after being convicted of a December 1995 brutal beating – has gained sup-port from people in the community for a new trial. Supporters have shown that there is evidence he was not at the scene of the crime.

There also should be targeted help for Smith while in prison and when he gets out. The community should find ways to help Kalvin Michael Smith and others like him free their minds and expand their thinking so that they can become focused citizens in the community when they return to the community.  Black lives matter in prison and out.

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