Charles Zafir Lawson
Charles “Zafir” Lawson, Co-founder of Art for Justice, is an acclaimed visual artist whose thought provoking art has been featured in over 100 displays and exhibits since 1997. Charles Lawson has used his art to stimulate conversations in diverse communities about systemic racism, poverty, injustice and how they are manifested in mass incarceration and throughout society. Mr. Lawson’s brilliant art continues to bring people together to discuss the transformative change needed in our communities, the Criminal Justice System, and throughout our society.
Referring to the public outrage after seeing the video of the murder of George Floyd – coming after many other police killings of unarmed Black and Brown Individuals – Charles Lawson writes,
The conversations about systemic racism and injustice taking place in our streets and communities, throughout this country and the world will hopefully generate much needed change in the Criminal Justice System (CJS). These are the very conversations I have been expressively illustrating in my art. The layers and layers of injustice must be peeled open so people can see – as they see in the video of the murder of George Floyd – the racism and injustice that have been going on for so long.
Art for Justice stands upon beliefs that each person who connects with the CJS should encounter the same rights. This has not been the case throughout the history of this country – yet change must come! Accountability and equity should be applied conscientiously. I am proud to use these recurring themes in my art to promote the conversations Art for Justice was founded upon.
Road Map for Life Workshops
Charles Lawson is Co-creator, with AMKirk, of the Road Map for Life Workshops. His art and statements engage young people who are in or at risk of entering the criminal justice system in discussions about critical issues they face in their day-to-day lives. The Workshops have been presented at the Montgomery County Youth Detention Center, in Norristown, PA during the summers of 2012 -2019.
Growing up in Philadelphia I knew the poverty and violence that young people live with every day. Peer pressure was a constant reality and survival was dependent on how you were perceived.
One of my goals is to inspire youth to look at their own talents and turn away from violence which can lead to the halls of the criminal justice system and eventually to prison. If I can inspire just one or two persons, then I can count myself among those who have tried and succeeded.
Charles Zafir. Lawson is fighting to clear his name as the 17-year-old convicted to first degree murder and sentenced to life without parole of a South Philadelphia man who was shot to death in 1974. After a four-year battle in the Pennsylvania courts, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania vacated Zafir’s mandatory life without parole sentence and granted him a new trial in 1978. Regrettably, Zafir took the advice of his legal counsel and pled guilty to voluntary manslaughter instead of going back to trial and was released from prison after serving 5 years. Thirteen years later, while in the throws of drug addiction, Zafir killed a man in self-defense in a South Philadelphia crackhouse. A judge did not agree with Zafir’s self-defense claims and found him guilty of murder of the third degree. Under Pennsylvania’s recidivism law, the judge imposed the mandatory sentence of life without parole.
In the years to follow, the United States courts began addressing the cruelty of sentences handed down to juvenile offenders. Zafir responded accordingly and timely by filing various motions in the Philadelphia courts requesting post-conviction relief on the premise that he was a juvenile offender when he was accused of the 1974 murder and should receive the benefit of the United States Supreme Court’s holding in Miller v. Alabama and its progeny, Montgomery v. Louisiana. A Philadelphia judge will decide in the summer of 2020 whether to dismiss Zafir’s request for relief or grant him an evidentiary hearing or any other appropriate relief. The Conviction Integrity Review unit of the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office is currently reviewing Zafir’s cases. Please continue to visit our website for updates.
Edited excerpts of Charles Lawson’s statements and letter to
The Honorable Edward C. Wright.
Dear Judge Wright,
I write you with the hope that I might earn your reconsideration in connection to your intentions to dismiss the pleadings I have coming before you on 11-19-20. The fact that I now approach this matter from this posture, making a personal appeal, may seem unprecedented, but I have learned that you cannot address the atrocities or the effects of the systemic racism that plague my case "with formal proposals".
I am now 63 years old and have spent more than 37 years of my life in prison in connection to a crime I did not commit. I have formally addressed this grievous matter with in the courts for the past 30 years. The Court response has always been to turn a blind eye to my arguments. I only ask to be held accountable for the crime I did commit - and not for the conviction of a crime I did not commit.
This is my account of what occurred and has led to my wrongful sentence of life without parole.
Art for Justice - Shows the humanity behind bars. Brings awareness to systemic flaws in the criminal justice system. Seeks solutions to eliminate injustice.
* Artworks are either privately owned or have been donated to Art for Justice.
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