July 11, 1998

Open Letter to Judge McCloskey and District Attorney Zappala

It has been nearly three years since five area police officers brutally beat and murdered Jonny Gammage. The courtroom saga following the beating has included a number of attempts to slow down, cover up or stop entirely the prosecution of those officers attempts often undertaken by the very people responsible for that prosecution.

Despite an inquest jury which unanimously recommended charging all five officers with criminal homicide, District Attorney Robert Colville did not vigorously prosecute them. Instead, we watched as he dropped the charges against two officers. We have seen judges cooperating with defense attorneys and juries picked from predominantly white counties, bringing the fairness of the trials into question.

That is why we feel the need to write this letter to bring this tragedy back to the forefront of community discussion and back to the community that has led the fight for justice for Jonny Gammage. To let Judge Joseph McCloskey know that we are still here, and to let D.A. Stephen Zappla Jr. know that we expect him to do a better job than his predecessor did.

We are here to speak for those who have filled the streets of this city on numerous occasions, demanding that the officers involved be charged, tried, and, if found guilty, convicted.

We are here to say what those marchers have been saying for almost three years: The trial must go on. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King from the Birmingham jail, "Justice too long delayed is justice denied."

It has been nearly three months since the Harrisburg hearing on April 19th, when the officers involved asked that the case be dismissed. The response of Judge McCloskey and D.A. Zappla has been complete silence.

It is that silence that alarms us; during these silent periods, deals are made. Deals that may involve dropping the charges.

For those who say, "We should be patient and let the legal system run its course," we suggest that they take a look at the history of this case. Even a small glance will show why it is important that we wait no longer. It takes continual pressure from the public to get the prosecution to make any effort to prosecute these officers; often, the wait for justice in cases of police brutality is a wait that never ends.

We are told to be patient, but allowing an unjust system to commit further injustices is not patience. Allowing the system to drag this case out, slowing down civil and federal trials, is not patience. Allowing the prosecution to wait out those who have sought justice for Jonny Gammage is not patience.

Patience is fighting through state, civil and federal trials for three years. It is this patience that many in this community have shown.

That is why we are still here, and why we still say the trial must go on.

Respectfully yours,

Campus Coalition for Peace and Justice (CCPJ)
United Concerned Christian at Work (UCCW)