By Mark David Blum, Esq.
This morning I woke up to the news that Syracuseís first homicide victim of the year was a young man named Martin Paulk. So you know, Mr. Paulk was a client of mine for many years. So too was his father. Martin is now just the latest of young Black men I have met over my career who despite being good and honorable people trying to do right, was gunned down on a cold street like a dog. There are not words sufficient to explain the bile and anger that rises up in me when I read a story of yet another good person murdered for no reason.
Meeting Martin was a first for me. I was giving a presentation on law at a middle school when that evening I got a series of emails. In them were pictures of a young black man whose face looked like it had been worked over with a baseball bat. The story that followed was simple: While his father and he were moving from an apartment, the father (who had the same name) had left with a load of boxes to deliver to the new apartment. Young Martin stayed behind to watch over their stuff until his father returned. Well, a little old white lady saw a young Black man hanging around an apartment that was supposed to be vacant. Police were called and long story short, mistook the son for his father leading to a heated exchange and a severe beating of young Martin by Syracuse Police. Of course, being how they are, the federal courts and their notorious all white juries took no time at all to green light and ignore violence perpetrated by Syracuse police upon persons of color in the community. It also didn't help that the City's attorneys hid evidence, hid witnesses, violated the law, court orders, and evidentiary rulings, and engaged in a long pattern of unethical behavior. (Court's opinion, not mine).
The fatherís story is far more interesting. Very active against police and the Mayorís office for violence perpetrated against his son, Martin senior became very vocal against how police treated members of the Black community. As his sonís civil case was moving forward, one day a friend of the father approached him on what is referred to as a ďbuy bustĒ. Police set the father up to make a purchase of a small amount of cocaine. Of course he was arrested. Under normal circumstnaces and given the nature of the case and search and arrest, the father would not have had a bad outcome to his case. But, being smarter than the lawyers, the night before jury selection, the father and friend grabbed the snitch, drove him around, and threatened the snitch not to testify. It didnít work.
During the fatherís drug trial, the defense demanded production of the actual buy money used in the alleged transaction. The People presented photocopies of the marked bills but could not offer the actual evidence. Result: Case dismissed. Because however of the incident with the snitch the night before, father was ultimately convicted of kidnapping and is now a guest of the State for most of the rest of his life.
But the son, young Martin, managed to thrive despite all this. His anger at police and distrust of the system was well earned. Growing up without a father (and for the most part, without a mother), this young man managed to still do the right thing. He was a good man and will be missed.
Martin is just another in a long line of bodies I have tripped over during my career. It happens to me all the time: I meet a young Black man caught in some stupid mess usually resulting from either improper socialization or just plain buffoonery by police. Yes, there are plenty of thugs out there who donít get a second thought from me. But every once in a while I meet a young man like Martin who is a genuinely good person trying to do the right thing despite the overwhelming odds.
Yet here I am this morning, once again, reading in the news how another meaningful life has been destroyed by prison or death. It kills me how much effort, time, and money I invest in trying to get a young man get on his feet and find a way out of the circle of hell that comes with being poor and Black in upstate New York. With but one single exception, every one of these folks I have stepped up to help has not survived long enough to get out and be the person they were capable of being.
This morning my heart is heavy. This morning, I have to say goodbye yet again. This morning, is like any other Ė I wake up, I get out there, and I try and save as many souls as I can.
The death of Martin Paulk should be a beacon; a rallying point. I am so sick of burying good people and watching the corrupt criminals continue to thrive.
When Syracuse buries Martin Paulk, Jr., it will be burying a part of its heart. As long as these deaths and abuses continue, there will be many more essays like this one posted.
Martin Paulk, you were a good man. You have much for which you should be proud. Yours was a hard childhood and yet you still managed to hang in there. Your death will not be in vain. Your name will not be forgotten. You will be missed.
Shame on this community for destroying itself and an entire generation of young Black men. Syracuse is eating its future. Something has to be done. This fight is not one I can do alone; though it feels as though I been in the trenches by myself for so long.
I come this morning not seeking sympathy. As noted above, this is not the first or even the tenth that I have buried or watch lose a life to prison. It has to stop though.
Martin, I pray you are at peace. Know that you did not leave this earth alone. You did have an impact on the people you left behind. I hope the press does not let this sleep but instead uses your memory and senseless murder as a rallying point to end this cycle of institutionalized violence and wasted lives.
Shame on us for how we treat our neighbors.
Rest in peace young Martin. There will come a time when we can sit again as brothers and talk of what was good.