Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?

Our mission is to reverse the trend of mass incarceration in Colorado. We are a coalition of nearly 7,000 individual members and over 100 faith and community organizations who have united to stop perpetual prison expansion in Colorado through policy and sentence reform.

Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.

If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Black Teen Acquitted in Punch

An African-American teenage boy who broke the jaw of a white schoolmate who taunted him with racial slurs was acquitted Thursday of felony second-degree assault.

It took 40 minutes for the all- white jury in Steamboat Springs to reach a verdict.

Randall Nelson, now 15, says he was defending himself after the teenager threatened him, used the N-word and told Nelson that he was "going to make him his slave."

"(The teen) would make a whipping sound when he saw Randall in the hall and say things like 'Boy, come over here and shine my shoes,' " said Nelson's attorney, Kristopher Hammond.

Nelson was the only African-American kid at Steamboat Springs Middle School at the time of the February incident. Supporters testified that he was a good student and standout athlete and was well-liked.

The first two years of his life, Nelson lived in Denver with his biological parents. But from ages 2 to 6, he was in a foster home until he was adopted by Brad and Deb Nelson, a white couple.

The Nelsons moved to Steamboat Springs when he was in sixth grade.

The problems with racism on campus began two years ago when an older boy sucker-punched him in the school lunchroom. Nelson did not fight back.

The next year, that boy, who wasn't the one involved in the February incident, came from Steamboat Springs High School with his friends and tried to pick a fight. Nelson said he didn't want to fight.

The Routt County Sheriff's Office investigated that incident, and a deputy testified at trial that he told Nelson that he had the right to defend himself and that if he ever felt threatened to make a fist and punch the guy in the mouth.

In February, Nelson was in the school gym when the 14-year-old walked in with a buddy and asked, "Where is my slave boy?"

The buddy pushed Nelson and then the teen stepped toward him. Nelson threw the punch and broke the teen's jaw. Hammond says the teen, who has since moved away, was in the hospital for surgery on his jaw.

If he had been convicted, Nelson faced a year of out-of-home placement or juvenile detention.

Juror Janet Hawkinson was disgusted that the case even went to trial.

"Why did this case come this far?" she said. "And why did our DA prosecute this case, spend tax dollars and take a child to trial who is an A-B student, in sports and spoken highly of?"Jury took racial elements out

A prosecutor in the 14th Judicial district attorney's office declined to talk about the case.

"All the information would be in the court file," the prosecutor said. "We don't make comments on our cases."

During deliberations, Hawkinson said, the jury decided to take the racial elements out and think about whether anyone, regardless of color, would have felt threatened in Nelson's situation.

"You have two people walk across and come threaten you, it puts you in a defensive position," she said.

Nelson, now a high school freshman, said he was relieved when the verdict was announced because for the past year, he has felt the stress of the trial and watched it weigh on his family.

"I think the outcome was the right thing," he said.

Nelson, while uncomfortable with the attention his case has brought, wants other kids who may find themselves in the position he was in to stay strong.

"I would tell them everything is going to be fine," he said. "Just stick with it, and everything will work out the way things should work out."

The Denver Post