Juan Melendez

Could you ever imagine, being run up on by the FBI, guns drawn, aimed dead on your head, then being thrown down to the ground, hand cuffed and taken away knowing you didn’t do anything? You may have done some dirt in the past being young and stupid but you paid for that. Imagine having no idea why the FBI is taking you till they drop a bomb on you. “You’re being charged with murder in the first degree”.

This is pretty much what happened to my man Juan “Puerto Rican Johnny” Melendez in 1983. He was accused of robbing and killing a man that he had never even met before in his life. Sounds like a crazy movie right? But it’s not, this really happened. Not only did it really happen within a matter of days Juan was tried, convicted and sentenced to death in Florida.

One would instantly think well if homeboy ain’t do it, he ain’t got nothing to worry about, he should be able to prove his innocence in the greatest criminal justice system in the world right? Well, Juan did in fact prove his innocents no thanks to state or federal agencies though. After spending 17 years, 8 months and a day on Florida’s death row thanks to a moms that wouldn’t give up on her son and a lawyer that believed in the truth and real justice, Juan was released January 3, 2002. Upon release he received $100 compensation from the state. He has not received any further compensation, nor an official apology from the state of Florida. Ain’t that about a mutha fucka?

It’s no surprise that Juan now travels the world telling people his story in an effort to abolish the death penalty. Exoneration’s like this is only one of the reasons I am against, and fight for the abolition of the death penalty. I know all to well how easy it is for someone to fall victim to a merciless system that states, “as a constitutional matter, the Supreme Court has never found a constitutional right for the actually innocent to be free from execution.” This means that as long as you had what they consider a fair trial, they can kill you even if you’re innocent. They call this justice.
I have chilled with Juan. He is a good friend of mine. Both being ex-prisoners we had an instant bond when we met that only ex-prisoners can understand. The first time we met, I was booked to speak and perform in New Mexico where Juan now lives and he contacted me and insisted I stay at his house. This brother not only let me stay at his crib, he took care of me, he cooked for me and shared his story with me on a personal level. I couldn’t hold back my tears for real. Juan has to be one of the realest, kindest souls I ever met in my life I got nothing but love for him for real. He introduced me to his wifey and two step daughters and to his dog and cat which are both exonerees as well. Juan saved his dog and cat from the shelter just hours before they were to be euthanized and believe me, they act like they know it, they love him so much. It was dope to see how they interacted together.

Juan doesn’t fight against the death penalty as a personal vendetta per se. He fights against the death penalty first for those he left behind on the row. He fights it for those he grew close to on the row, and were executed, so they won’t have died in vain. He also fights to abolish the death penalty so that no one else will ever go through what he went through.

They have a law called the “Three Strikes Law”. Three strikes and you’re out, you get life in prison without parole. Three strikes. Well the death penalty has over 100 strikes. There are 135 others with stories just like Juan’s, both men and women. 135 strikes and counting. I say it’s game over.

What’s this got to do with hip hop? Well seeing that hip hop was born out of the same poor communities that seem to be the same poor communities where most death row prisoners come from, I would say it has a lot to do with the hip hop community. Capital punishment, targets the poor. There has never been a rich person on death row. The saying goes “Capital punishment means those without the capital get the punishment.” I have been fighting this fight non-stop for the last 6 years. I gave up my home and my job to fight against the death penalty full time because it’s that serious. I was homeless for 2 years but I didn’t care as long as I could fight this killing machine in a way that it needs to be, like Easy-E…Ruthless.

I urge the hip hop community to look at Juan’s ordeal. Look into Cameron Todd Willingham’s case for whom time ran out. Look into the case of Troy Davis and Mumia Abu Jamal and get involved in any way you can.
The most important way to fight this beast is to load up with the facts about the death penalty and then spread the word. Each one reach one.We need the truth about the death penalty to be known by everyone. The Anti Death Penalty Movement needs soldiers desperately. Attend conferences, attend protests hell put events together at your schools, or in your neighborhoods. We need to unite like they did during the civil rights movement. We need to register as a strong voting power and let it be known that if you are pro-death penalty you will not make it into any office and, we will vote out anyone that currently holds office and is pro-death penalty. Life without parole is a just alternative.

The U.S. is one of the few industrialized nations that still uses capital punishment. Eighty-six countries have outlawed it, including all of Europe. Puerto Rico which is a common wealth of the US has not had the death penalty since 1929. In fact Puerto Rico is a strong force in the fight against the death penalty and I believe in my heart that the hip hop community can be the force that can push the death penalty into a thing of the past.
In revolution 4 all.

Capital-“X” aka 305375
“X” and Juan chilling in New Mexico 2008
Learn more about the death penalty.
Juan’s web site.
Trailer of documentary of Juan’s story 6446.
Cameron Todd Willingham’s case.
Troy Davis.
Mumia Abu Jamal

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