Militant Journalism

Community rallies for wrongfully charged Queens, N.Y., man at 90th court appearance

About thirty people gathered on the steps of the Queen Criminal Court on Nov. 15 to support 22-year-old Prakash Churaman before his most recent pre-trial hearing. They demanded that Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz drop all charges against him. The rally was organized by the Free Prakash Alliance, with support from the Party for Socialism and Liberation, How Our Lives Link Altogether (HOLLA), Voices of Activists & Leaders New York (VOCAL-NY), and Desis Rising Up & Moving (DRUM).

This was Churaman’s 90th court appearance, after being arrested by the New York Police Department in 2014 and coerced into a false confession for the murder of his friend Taquane Clark during a botched robbery.

Police kidnapped then 15-year-old Churaman from his home in the early hours of the morning and drove him around for three hours before finally bringing him to the station for interrogation. Using tactics of fear and intimidation against him and his mother, both Guyanese immigrants, the officers coerced Churaman into an admission of guilt. He was targeted even though no physical or forensic evidence linked him to the scene of the crime. The entire case rests upon a sole “earwitness.” Olive Legister, the victim’s then 74-year-old grandmother, claimed to have heard Churaman’s voice during the robbery and thus identified him as one of the masked burglars.

Churaman spent the next six years incarcerated. After four years, he was convicted of second degree murder in 2018. This verdict was later overturned, but Churaman continued to sit in jail awaiting a new trial. Churaman managed to organize his own release while incarcerated, and was finally sent home on house arrest in January 2021. 

House arrest is still incarceration

Churaman has been home on bail for almost a year, wearing an ankle monitor and confined to house arrest. He is unable to work to support his family, which will include a newborn in a few weeks.

In New York alone, 43,000 people are living under parole supervision and 96,000 under probation, all of whom live under the threat of being remanded to jail for any minor violation of release conditions. While presented as an alternative to incarceration, supervised release is truly just a continuation of incarceration, imposing conditions that not only make it difficult to survive, but also highly increase the likelihood of returning to jail.

From the time he was in a Rikers Island jail, Churaman has been building a network of supporters which has developed into the Free Prakash Alliance. Aaron, a member of the Free Prakash Alliance and a friend of Churaman’s, reminded the crowd: “I don’t want you to think that just because [Prakash] is home, he’s not locked up. He’s locked up. I can’t go to the movies with him. I can’t go hang out with him. I can’t go to the store with him — I can’t do any of that. He’s locked up. … I’m riding until the wheels fall off for Prakash, and he knows that. Prakash will never get his childhood back, but he’s not going to lose his adulthood. We’re not letting that happen!”

‘Fight for Prakash! Fight for us!’

Aaron continued, “When we disrupted her hypocrital Diwali celebration, Ms. Katz responded, ‘This is America.’ Well guess what? She’s right — this is America. This is stolen land America. This is white supremacist America. This is the America where the zip code you live in determines whether you’ll be good, or whether you’ll be in jail!” 

The Alliance has recently increased pressure on Katz who dismissed 60 criminal cases this month due to police misconduct, with Churaman’s notably missing among them. 

Alex Davis, a member of HOLLA, said the group was there “to fight for Prakash, and all Black and Brown people. We need freedom!” Davis continued, “And freedom isn’t given, freedom is taken, freedom is fought for. … We need all our families and communities here. … So when you go home, let your mom, your niece, your dad, let your family know where you was at today. Where did you spend your spirit at today? Who did you fight for today? … Maintain this type of energy! Tell them to fight for Prakash! Fight for us!” 

Supporters then marched across the street to demonstrate in front of Katz’s office where they chanted, “Free Prakash!” “Drop the charges! and “No justice, no peace!” The Free Prakash Alliance members carried a banner that read, “Free Prakash, Free Chanel, Free Them All.” Chanel Lewis is another young man from Queens wrongfully serving time for murder based upon a coerced confession. Protesters are calling for his case to be re-opened.

Officials from Katz’s office watched demonstrators through the glass doors and eventually motioned for the police who were observing near the building to intervene. 

The fight is far from over

In his first trial, Churaman had only four people in the courtroom with him. On Nov. 15, at his 90th court hearing, about 30 supporters were there chanting, holding signs calling for his freedom, building with each other for continued action, and shouting that they’d be outside until midnight if they had to.  

Shows of solidarity like this are needed to wrest justice from this capitalist system — one that prioritizes the protection of wealth and power and criminalizes any sign of a fighting spirit, especially in youth. For every story like Churaman’s that is uplifted, that is fought publicly, there are thousands that remain unheard.

The fight for Churaman does not end with the Nov. 15 rally. Activists are preparing for his next court appearance on Jan. 19, when a trial date will be set. In the meantime, Churaman is raising funds to maintain stable housing and support his family since he is barred from gainful employment. Supporters are asked to donate to Churaman on GoFundMe, to help him pay for living and legal expenses.

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