What made Nas’ Illmatic such an iconic song was its ability to paint the all-too-real portrait of young Black male incarceration and the many people affected (particularly in the 80s and 90s) by a system where locking brothers up seemed to be a sport. Who didn’t relate to their homeboy getting locked up and wanting to send a word or two of encouragement? Many from that era could.
Many could also relate to the pain of their sons, brothers and loved ones getting locked up having absolutely no probable cause.
John Bunn’s story crystalizes that era, the harsh discriminatory practices of law enforcement and the rash disciplinary actions of the judicial system that at times seemed to detest Black boys. At 14, Bunn was knocked for the murder of an off-duty correction officer named Rolando Neischer in Brooklyn. The deceased officer was sitting in his car outside of a BK housing project on a hot summer night in August (early morning like 4 a.m.) and was gunned down. According to court documents, he was shot 5 times resulting in his untimely demise. His partner Robert Crosson was also shot. Tragic indeed.
What was more tragic is that whether groggy from his wounds, blinded by his own prejudice or just a mistaken identification, Crosson wrongly tagged John Bunn as the shooter. Even with eye witnesses that said Bunn did not shoot the officers, the system failed this boy and from 14 to 41, he spent the most precious years of his life locked up for a crime he did not commit.
But the on Tuesday, May 15th Bunn had his day in the sunlight and was when a judge formally exonerated him after 27 years.
Bunn said “It has been 27 years, I’ve been fighting for my life and I’ve been fighting for my innocence.”
After serving 17 years, in 2009 he was freed on parole in 2009. In 2016, he was afforded the right to a new trail and now prosecutors have determined that they would not try the case. Why?
Because he was not only innocent but the victim of the very real systemic criminalization of Black and brown people.
The presiding judge, The Honorable Shawndya Simpson reprimanded all those involved but placed much of the shameful blame on the crooked NYPD detective who has since been connected of framing numerous African-Americans during his career on the beat. The mishandling of Bunn’s case and the lack of care it went in to convict this child, sickened her.
“In one day they picked a jury, they had openings, they had witnesses, and a conclusion on a murder trial which I do not consider justice at all,” Judge Shawndya Simpson said.
While in prison, Bunn fell in love with reading. He taught himself to read and has since corrected over more than 20,000 books for New York inmates. He also created a literacy project called A Voice 4 the Unheard, in which The Source magazine has supported since the inception.