By Editor Scotty Boman and LPM Historian Greg Stempfle
During the banquet following the Libertarian Party of Michigan State Convention Saturday in Lansing, the party handed out it’s annual Defender of Liberty Awards. Four awards were issued in three categories.
Spokesperson for Liberty Richard Wershe Jr.
The Spokesperson for Liberty Award goes to a member of the community whose patriotism and conviction have inspired contributions to the cause of liberty.
Scotty Boman presented this award to Richard Wershe Jr. (BKA “White Boy Rick”). Wershe was the longest serving nonviolent juvenile offender in Michigan history. He was sentenced to life without parole, at the age of 17, for drug offenses, but was released in 2017. While this type of sentencing evokes outrage and sympathy from Libertarians, Wershe earned the award based on what he did when he got out of prison.
Calling Out Government Child Abuse
In 2021 Wershe challenged the use of juvenile informants by law enforcement. He sued former FBI agents, Detroit cops and federal prosecutors for illegally using him as an underage informant in the 1980s, and reneging on any deals to get him released from prison after his cooperation put corrupt cops behind bars. “I was too young and dumb to know that it would affect the rest of my life.” At the age of 15 Wershe was shot after following the instructions of agents. “I did 33 in prison because I told on corruption in the city. Make that 100-percent clear.” Said Wershe.
Instead of becoming bitter he quickly became an outspoken advocate of prison reform, using his notoriety to help people who may have already been forgotten. This included working with groups like Citizens for Prison Reform. His efforts bore fruit in January when 60 year old Tracy Cowan was released from prison. Cowan had been in prison since 2003 on non-violent drug offenses, but Wershe spent much of 2021 lobbying lawmakers to secure her release.
Adding Weight to the Message
He has also launched his own cannabis brand, The 8th, and dedicated a portion of the proceeds to fund efforts to release drug offenders who have been wrongfully or excessively imprisoned. He named the brand in honor of the 8th Amendment to the Federal Constitution because it prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. He says helping non-violent offenders in prison is his passion:
The plan is to take a portion of the proceeds and give it back to jail diversion and prison reform. We want to help the people I call “the forgotten ones”—because when you’re in prison you’re forgotten. We’re also gonna educate people on what the Eighth Amendment is. Maybe you know now after reading about my brand, but did you know before that? “
Wershe was unable to attend the banquet but Scotty Boman presented the award, and Greg Stempfle recorded the moment here.
Boman later delivered the award and Wershe documented the moment with a selfie.
Producers of Liberty Jeff Pittel & Andrew Hall
The Producer of Liberty Award is given to a dedicated, behind-the-scenes Libertarian whose quiet labors over the years exemplifies the backbone of the LP. Two of these awards were given.
Reviving the Membership Committee
Greg Stempfle presented the first Producer of Liberty Award to Jeff Pittel for his work on reviving the state party membership committee and running the credentials committee during the past few conventions.
Organizing Conventions and Credentials
Larry Johnson presented the other Producer of Liberty Award to Andrew Hall. The award committee honored him for many years of activism, including the national credentials committee, and helping to organize many past state conventions.
Promoter of Liberty Brian Ellison
The Promoter of Liberty Award is given to a libertarian whose efforts have done the most to promote the LP and Libertarian principles.
Joe Brungardt presented this year’s Promoter of Liberty Award to Brian Ellison . The award committee honored him for his endeavors to keep government officials and law enforcement accountable. Much of this work concerned abusive members of the Royal Oak Police Department.
Most notably, Ellison was arrested for protesting of the killing of Antonino Gordon, by Royal Oak police officer Keith Richard Beirenga. Thereby drawing attention to the lack of consequences for those responsible.
A Historical Conclusion: Libertarian Party of Michigan
51st Anniversary Celebration
The banquet was proceeded by a presentation by Greg Stempfle of the Libertarian Party of Michigan Historical Committee. His presentation was about the 51-year history of the Libertarian Party of Michigan.
The focus of his presentation was electoral milestones for Libertarian Candidates, especially those running under the Libertarian banner in partisan elections. Of course the biggest milestone, for a candidate, is winning an election and there were several winners Stempfle reminded guests of.
Readers may link to the presentation here. and afterward by a speech and Q & A session with former Congressman Justin Amash.
Anyone interested in a deep dive into LPM history is free to visit our historical archives here.