Mississippi ACLU Holds Community Justice Town Hall Meeting

Cedric Willis, 31, cooperated with Jackson Police when they were investigating a murder 12 years ago.

"I told them, 'Put me in a line up,'" says Willis.

He says that was a mistake that cost him the next 12 years of his life.

"DNA proved that I wasn't the guy, twice," says Willis.

That DNA wasn't admitted into evidence by the court. He says it was just one of several miscarriages of justice that he now warns others about as a newly freed man.

"When they arrested me, I thought I was doing the right thing by cooperating with these people, because I knew I didn't do anything."

Willis, now an advocate for the incarcerated, was the keynote speaker at a meeting sponsored by the ACLU of Mississippi and other organizations. He's dedicated to the fight for social justice.

"We're doing a series of Town Hall meetings across the state of Mississippi to talk about what's going on in the criminal justice system," says Nsombi Lambright, the Executive Director of the ACLU of Mississippi.

The ACLU is collecting information on such issues as racial profiling and prisoner abuse. And they're working to educate community members on how to combat these issues.

Harrison County Public Defender Glenn Rishel found an example in studying overcrowding in the Harrison County Jail.

"Quite frankly, there were a lot of people in jail that it was difficult to find out why they were there," Rishel tells the crowd.

Organizers hope to establish police monitoring groups here and elsewhere in the state. They say local awareness and well informed action is the best way to keep the guilty in jail and the innocent, like Cedric Willis, out.

"They might have the wrong guy," says Willis. "The police make mistakes too."

The Mississippi ACLU will hold their next meeting in Columbus, followed by meetings in the Delta, Jackson and Hattiesburg.