When children are exploited by the juvenile justice system in Alabama

Join the campaign for justice for the Gadsden 6 

#JusticefortheGadsden6 art by Melvin Ray

by Bennu Hannibal Ra-Sun (Melvin Ray), founder of Free Alabama Movement

Thirty-one years ago, on March 24, 1988, six Black children, all under the age of 17, Fred Brown, Archie Hamlet, Roland Martin, Melvin Ray, Curtis Richardson and Steve Stewart, were arrested by Gadsden police in the early morning hours, around 1:00 a.m., for a department store burglary. After their arrest, these six children were taken to the police station for a three-hour-long interrogation. The children were not represented by attorneys, and their parents were not present during their interrogation.

None of the children were represented in court by an attorney, and none of their parents were present. It was just the judge, police and the DA.

The interrogations were conducted by an all-white group of four to six detectives. When the interrogation was completed around 4:00 a.m., these children were charged with over 30 felony offenses. Just a few hours after this early-morning interrogation ended, police and the District Attorney’s Office marched these children into court for an initial appearance and detention hearing. 

None of the children were represented in court by an attorney, and none of their parents were present. It was just the judge, police and the DA.

At the hearing, which was orchestrated by the DA and police, the DA was allowed by the juvenile court judge to stipulate to probable cause on behalf of all six children to ALL 30-plus charges. This illegal stipulation would then be used to justify continued detention of these children and removal from their homes, parents and siblings.

Juvenile Court Judge Robert E. Lewis’ order states: “At detention hearing probable cause stipulated to and child ordered detained.”

Juvenile Court Judge Robert E. Lewis’ detention order for Melvin Ray 032488

As the above court record shows, attorneys were not appointed until April 6, 1988, two full weeks after the arrest and “probable cause” stipulations were made. Meanwhile, the Gadsden 6 remained in detention for over a month, until April 27, 1988, when the juvenile court judge granted the prosecutor’s motion to transfer these children to adult court. 

The juvenile court judge granted the day’s motion to transfer without conducting a transfer hearing or even notifying anyone that the motion had been filed. None of the children were present; they did not have legal representation to review the motion or present evidence in their behalf; and none of their parents were present when the motion was heard or granted. Injustice was administered behind closed doors when no one was looking. 

On to adult court

Once in adult court, the Gadsden 6 were given an ultimatum: Plead guilty to all charges and go home today with time served and probation, or take a chance on trial and spend the next decade of your life in prison. The authorities in Gadsden saddled these young Black children with over 20 felony convictions from an incident where only a single burglary occurred. 

These prior felony convictions have been subsequently used to enhance many of the sentences given to the Gadsden 6 under Alabama’s draconian habitual felony offender law, resulting in an additional 50-plus years of illegal time being served, including two instances where life without parole was illegally imposed.

Join the Gadsden 6 as we demand justice!

  • All proceedings and convictions must be declared null and void.
  • All records in juvenile and adult court must be expunged.
  • Compensation must be paid and wrongdoing acknowledged.

Sign our petition to the Alabama Legislature and the Alabama courts to rectify this injustice put upon the Gadsden 6 by the Gadsden Police Department, the Gadsden DA, and the Juvenile and Adult Divisions of the Circuit Court of Etowah County, Alabama.

Send our brother some love and light: Melvin Ray, 163343, St. Clair Correctional Facility, 1000 St. Clair Rd, Springville AL 35146.