I am asking this question because of an article I read in the Arizona Informant Newspaper published by the Campbell family of Phoenix quoting Bryan Stevenson from the “Equal Justice Initiative” on a study they completed stating that race was still a consideration in jury selection in several southern states where the study was done. He cited the Civil Rights Act of 1875 which involved equal protection under the law that Republicans initiated and passed. In that same year, the US vs. Cruishank case was brought before the Supreme Court where hundreds of Blacks were massacred by Whites. The court ruled the civil rights laws were unconstitutional because Blacks had no rights and threw out the case, thus none of the Whites involved served any time in jail. In that case it was an all White jury nine White male Supreme Court Justices, who decided the outcome of the trial. It was not until 1964 with the passing of the Civil Rights Act that we as Blacks got legal equal protection under the law. The same law that Rand Paul of Kentucky says he would like to take away again if elected to the United States Senate, in 2010.
Now we have the case of Oscar Grant, the young Black man shot in the back while lying on his stomach in hand cuffs by a White police officer in Oakland. They requested the case against the officer be moved to Los Angeles because they do not believe the White officer would get a fair shake in Oakland which is in Alameda County. There are 187,802 or 12.9% Blacks in the county and 108,121 or 29.8% in the city of Oakland. In Los Angeles County we have 867,971 or 8.8% Blacks with 370,718 or 9.9% residing in LA City. When you combine the two counties together that is over 1 million Black people. This case is the first of its kind in California where a police officer is being charged with murder. The officer said he was reaching for his tazer or stun gun but accidentally pulled his revolver and shot Oscar. The attorneys have made their selection of people to sit on the jury with the judge’s approval and not one is Black or Latino. I refuse to believe they could not find one Black out of a million to sit on the jury.
The trial of this case has just begun so no one knows what the verdict will be but the handwriting is on the wall that he will be found not guilty.
The other reason for the question is my wife received a call Friday from a local law school graduate regarding a bad experience he was having in the Riverside court. This is typical treatment for Blacks in Riverside’s court system. One court building was moved from a community with a high concentration of Blacks and Hispanics into a middle class White community even though the people using the court were Black and Hispanic. Several years ago we did a few stories on court cases where Blacks were purposely excluded from performing their civic duty. I have heard of similar complaints in San Bernardino County.
There are some interesting reasons to deny Blacks from jury selection the study found. Things like “low intelligence”, “wears eye glasses”, “walked in a certain way”, “dyed their hair”, and countless other reasons. They also found that some district attorney’s offices explicitly train prosecutors to exclude racial minorities from jury service and how to mask racial bias to avoid a finding of discrimination.
I am reminded through my former work in Affirmation Action that even though the rule, policy or procedure has the appearance of a neutral application but always has a negative outcome it is still discrimination in most instances.
We have a new opportunity in Riverside to remove any practices of this kind with the election of a new District Attorney. Judge Paul Zellerbach will be assuming his new duties soon and we should meet with him to assure that none of these practices are in the Riverside County district attorney’s office.
We want a district attorney who will tell any law enforcement officer “do your job and bring us the evidence to support your case.” We want a district attorney that will tell his staff “do your home work on every case because we do not want to convict anyone by using a racially biased jury.” We want a district attorney that will represent the law and all citizens of the county regardless of race, gender, religion, status or political affiliation when it comes to jury selection.