CAUGHT! CAN I GET A WITNESS?: BLACK PEOPLE & JURIES

In 1995, during the aftermath of the O.J. Simpson trial, Geraldo Rivera interviewed black Harvard law graduate, and George Washington University Professor, Dr. Paul Butler. Dr. Butler advocated a judicial process called jury nullification. Butler argued that due to unfair sentencing disparities among black Americans and the resulting massive incarceration rates, black jurors on NON-VIOLENT property crimes and low level drug offenses should refuse to convict black defendants regardless of the evidence.

Rivera, once a liberal reporter and commentator, shrieked in horror at this proposition. He called this idea radical and took Dr. Butler to task for presenting it. Rivera’s reaction revealed not only his bias but his ignorance. Rivera failed to mention that for decades in the American south, white juries engaged in the practice of jury nullification in the face of staggering eye witness accounts, ballistic evidence, and even confessions.

The most famous example was the murder of a young 14yr old Chicago teenager named Emmett Till. Till was killed by J.W. Milam & Roy Bryant for violating the racist social customs of the south by allegedly whistling at a white woman. According to the testimony of his grandfather 94 yr old Moses Wright, Milam and Bryant, accompanied by an un-identified police officer, kidnapped Emmett Till at gunpoint. From there, Milam and Bryant took him back to their farm where Till was brutally tortured before they finally killed him. They were charged and tried in a Mississippi Court by an all white jury. With the presentation of compelling evidence short of a full blown confessions, which was later obtained by a reporter from Reader’s Digest, the jury deliberated for 30 mins before acquitting Milam & Bryant. The jury foreman stated that the long delay was due to the jury having a break after lunch.

Jury Nullification is not exclusively a southern phenomena. In New York City, the late Don of the Gambino Family, John Gotti used the practice so much that it earned him the nickname “The Teflon Don.” While many believed that Gotti’s victories were due to the ingenious tactical skills of his attorney Bruce Cutler, The Don always had an ace up his sleeve. In many of his trials, at least one of the jurors would receive a little brown envelope filled with cash. With numerous acquittals in his back pocket, the federal government stepped in when it wiretapped his phones, stripped him of his attorney, flipped his under boss and most importantly, sequestered the jury. Only then, could the authorities cover the Don with enough velcro to make the subsequent charges stick for a criminal conviction.

If there is ever any example of the power of democracy, it is the power to exclude someone from society through the courts.  For a criminal defendant, a jury literally hold the power of life and death. In 2004, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed a prior conviction of one Curtis Flowers when it was discovered that the prosecutors used all of its peremptory challenges to strike blacks from the jury. This practice was found to violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. In the case of Batson v. Kentucky, the Supreme Court ruled that a juror may not be dismissed from jury duty solely on the basis of race.

According to a 2010 New York Times article titled “Study Finds Blacks Excluded from Southern Juries,” studies found that potential black jurors were dismissed because of such trivial reasons as their speech patterns, word annunciations, and in at least one case in North Carolina, because the juror “shucked and jived” when he walked.  But the real truth is far less trivial; for the study revealed that “racially diverse juries deliberate longer, consider a wider variety of perspectives and make fewer factual errors than all-white juries.” Most importantly, it also concluded that predominantly black juries are less likely to impose the death penalty.

In a system where prosecutors base their careers on getting convictions, such jurors are as un-welcomed as pubic lice. In that system, prosecutor posture as the guardians of law and order for the purpose of realizing their aspirations to obtain higher elected offices. A cursory glance at the federal and state houses of legislature will reveal that the only occupation more prevalent in the backgrounds of congressmen and senators than law, is business. Thus, in the infancy of their careers in law, as prosecutors, criminal convictions are the vitamin A of their future ambitions. And anything that hinders that process has to go. It’s as simple as that!

But this blogger would be dis-ingenious if he didn’t mention the apathy that resides in the heart of the black community. I’m sure that all of us know people who run from jury duty due to monetary concerns, fear of the system, or just good ole fashioned laziness. In this manner, we become the key perpetrators of our pain. I’m sure someone is gonna say that, after you wrote all of this, how can you advocate our participation? I can do so because it is better to fight, try and get your ass kicked, than to cower in fear and inertia.

If you don’t think so, consider this. William H. Cosby is free today not only because of his immense wealth, but because at least one of his jurors refused to convict him because something in the story just didn’t make sense. Moreover, all of the police charged with the shootings of blacks never see trial because their cases are dismissed by: Yes that’s right! A GRAND JURY! For in the final analysis, if you know anything about democracy, you must conclude that it’s not a spectator sport. If you want justice, you’re gonna have to get up, catch a square, and knuckle up for it. Understand that the key to halting mass incarceration of black people starts by picking a jury.

I am not suggesting that we acquit every miscreant or malcontent destroying the black community. Because, I really believe that some of these niggas have never, and will never listen. But in cases where the evidence is scant, the police are questionable, and there are no victims of capital offenses, it’s up to you to stop the show!

TONY MACEO is a senior blogger for the Negromanosphere and the Chief Blogger at Power and Strategy.com. Like, Share & Subscribe to the mailing list at powerandstrategy.com & the You Tube Channel. Like us on FB or become a patron @powerofstrategies on patreon. Till Next Time, I will holla!

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