Group wants to ensure teen gets fair shake

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By Jenny Hartley

With the Carter family all dressed in black behind him, a civil rights advocate for the 17-year-old charged with burning the Lancaster County Courthouse talked about the bigger picture.

At a press conference in front of the damaged courthouse Wednesday, John Barnette, the South Carolina representative for the Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network, said his organization has been asked to do three things for the family of Martavious Carter.

He said his organization will start a support group for Carter's family, find a lawyer for Martavious Carter and conduct a civil rights investigation into the charges the teen is facing. Barnette said his biggest concern is that Carter may have been intimidated during the police investigation.

"I'm not pro-crime," Barnette said. "We're not condoning any type of violence. We're not saying he didn't do it, or he did do it."

Carter is charged with the Aug. 4 arson at the courthouse and another arson on Aug. 7 at 6th Circuit Solicitor Doug Barfield's office. He is also charged in connection with five recent armed robberies around the Lancaster downtown area. Police have said Carter confessed to the robberies and arsons.

"We do need a lawyer," Barnette said. "Our public defenders are worn out across the country."

Barnette is also looking into complaints from Carter's mother that she has been unable to visit her son at the Lancaster County Detention Center.

No members of Carter's family chose to speak at the press conference.

NAN advocated for the family of Lancaster resident Maury Cunningham, who died at the Lancaster County Detention Center after being shocked with a Taser for more than two minutes in July 2005. Officials said Cunningham attacked detention officers, stabbing two of them with a pencil, in an effort to escape from the jail.

NAN has taken on civil rights issues related to voter registration, education and police misconduct.

But Barnette said NAN and his own ministry, THUG, or True Healing Under God, wants to reach out to other youth in Lancaster County.

"We want to get at the root of the problem," Barnette said. That means more mentoring for young black men and engaging more fathers in the home.

"Straighten up their whole image," Barnette said. "Getting that rap out of their head."

One of the first steps in doing that was meeting with Lancaster Police Chief Hugh White. Barnette said White welcomed his assistance in getting young people involved in positive efforts and getting rid of gangs.

"I'm tired of people going to jail, and he's tired of putting people in jail," Barnette said.

Barnette said he plans to bring his Pull Up Your Pants tour through THUG to Lancaster again.

Several years ago, he presented the program at area churches. The program focused on the negative impact of rap music on young people.

"I'm all about pulling your pants up," Barnette said. "Straighten up your attire. Read a book."

White said his meeting with Barnette went well Wednesday afternoon.

"We didn't talk about specifics about the case, and he didn't ask," White said. "He understands that we don't want to try this case in the media or in the public. He wants to make sure Mr. Carter is getting a fair shake. Part of my job as police chief is to make sure a person gets a fair trial and that people are treated fairly and properly."

Contact senior reporter Jenny Hartley at jhartley@thelancasternews.com or (803) 283-1151