April 27, 2013 – Today was the first day of the 56 day, 600 mile march across California to seek clemency from Governor Brown and free 12 men and women who have strong cases of factual innocence. For the past year, I’ve planned for this day and I was anxious to get it started. The first group to arrive at California Western School of Law in San Diego for the press conference to kick off the march were 50 students from Universidad Autónoma de Baja California. These students are part of the brand new Inocente Tijuana, the newest Innocence Project and the first in Mexico. After that, Ken Marsh arrived, one of the many clients who has been exonerated by the California Innocence Project. Ken spent 21 years in prison for the crime of killing his girlfriend’s baby. He was released based on strong evidence that the baby died due to an accidental falling off a couch. Ken was soon joined at the press conference by fellow exonerees Reggie Cole and Adam Riojas, two other innocent men exonerated by the California Innocence Project.
By noon, the auditorium was filled with the families of “The California Twelve.” Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, husbands and wives cried together and celebrated together the march to free their loved ones. As I looked over the room, filled with so many people who had dealt with so many painful years of loss, I was overcome with emotion. It was a vision I want to keep in my mind to motivate me through the pain of walking 600 miles.
San Diego mayor Bob Filner addressed the crowd and talked about his own activism back in the 60s, when he was a freedom rider. At the age of 18, he along with other social activists intentionally violated the interstate busing laws to protest the segregationist policies. The Mayor himself spent two months in prison, making him the perfect speaker for the day. “Justice sometimes requires activism,” he told the packed auditorium.
After the mayor spoke, I was thrilled to lead the crowd out into the streets for the first 8 miles of our journey. Michael Semanchik and Alissa Bjerkhoel, the young lawyers who will walk all 600 miles with me, stood by my side as they have throughout the planning of this challenge.
As the Innocence March begins, I am nervous about walking 600 miles, but filled with energy by those we are leaving behind.
– Justin Brooks