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Sharpton, Lowery, others hold vigil for Genarlow Wilson

    DOUGLASVILLE, Ga. — Standing on the steps of the Douglas County Courthouse, the Rev. Al Sharpton embraced the mother and sister of Genarlow Wilson, joining hundreds of supporters Thursday in continuing to demand Wilson’s immediate release from prison.
    Joined by clergy and civil rights activists, Sharpton said Wilson’s case — a 10-year prison sentence for receiving oral sex while a teen from a 15-year-old — is a national one.
    ‘‘This boy is not only her son, he’s your son, he’s my son,’’ Sharpton told the cheering crowd. ‘‘We’re here today because what affects you affects all of us.’’
    State lawmakers also attended the rally at the courthouse, where a bond hearing scheduled for Thursday was canceled earlier this week after the judge ruled Wilson was ineligible for bond while he appeals his sentence.
    State Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan said that like the prison sentence for Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff I. Lewis ‘‘Scooter’’ Libby, which was commuted Monday by President Bush, Wilson’s punishment was also excessive and should be reduced.
    ‘‘Genarlow is the face of many other young black men who have received injustice,’’ Thomas Morgan said. ‘‘Somebody’s got to stand up for them.’’
    Wilson, now 21, is serving a 10-year mandatory sentence for aggravated child molestation stemming from a 2003 New Year’s Eve Party where he was captured on videotape receiving oral sex from a 15-year-old girl. The law has since been changed by Georgia lawmakers, but the state’s top court said the new law could not be applied retroactively.
    Wilson was also charged in 2003 with raping a 17-year-old girl at the party, but a jury acquitted him of the charges. Five other male partygoers accepted plea deals in the case.
    Wilson was also offered a plea before his trial but rejected it. On June 11, Monroe County Superior Court Judge Thomas Wilson ruled that Genarlow Wilson should be freed from prison and not be listed on Georgia’s sex offender registry. The judge called the 10-year mandatory sentence ‘‘a grave miscarriage of justice’’ that violated the constitution.
    Attorney General Thurbert Baker immediately appealed that ruling, drawing criticism from civil rights activists.
    The Georgia Supreme Court is set to hear the latest appeal in October.
    Bernstein is also appealing Douglas County Superior Court Judge David Emerson’s ruling that Wilson was ineligible for bond under Georgia law.
    The Rev. Raphael G. Warnock, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, argued that public protest must continue since the legal wrangling in the case has not freed Wilson.
    ‘‘If you think it’s hot today...it’s going to be a very hot summer,’’ Warnock told the crowd.
    Many in the crowd of mostly black supporters held signs with slogans like, ‘‘Free Genarlow’’ — an oft-repeated chant during the rally — ‘‘Justice Now’’ and ‘‘Respect Judge Wilson’s decision.’’ The issues of race and class came up in many of the speeches.
    ‘‘If he had a different complexion and a different connection, we wouldn’t be here,’’ Sharpton said of Wilson.
    ‘‘It is a sad day when prison is routine for a black boy, and finishing high school is the exception,’’ Warnock said.
    Lowery called Thursday’s rally a sign of a new era.
    ‘‘No longer will we be apathetic,’’ he said. ‘‘The criminal justice system is where we must target our energy. It is the most dangerous aspect of life in this country.’’
    Supporters vowed to return to Douglas County on July 14, and to keep coming back until Wilson is released.
    If you don’t let Genarlow out of jail, maybe some of us need to go in the jail,’’ Sharpton said. ‘‘Whatever it takes, we are not going to let this go.’’

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