Elie Mystal, Above the Law, December 7, 2016
African-Americans live in a world where the police can murder us and get away with it. Walter Scott proved that, for anybody who still had a lingering doubt. There is no justice for black people. And yet violently revolting against the system will get us nowhere.
Maybe it’s time for black people to use the same tool white people have been using to defy a system they do not consent to: jury nullification.
Maybe it’s time minorities got in the game?
Black people lucky enough to get on a jury could use that power to acquit any person charged with a crime against white men and white male institutions. It’s not about the race of the defendant, but if the alleged victim is a white guy, or his bank, or his position, or his authority: we could acquit. Assault? Acquit. Burglary? Acquit. Insider trading? Acquit.
Murder? … what the hell do you think is happening to black people out here? What the hell do you think we’re complaining about when your cops shoot us or choke us? Acquit. Don’t throw “murder” at me like it’s some kind of moral fault line where the risk of letting one go is too great. Black people ARE BEING MURDERED, and the system isn’t doing a damn thing to hold their killers accountable. Sorry I’m not sorry if this protest idea would put the shoe on the other foot for a change.
Honestly, what the hell do you expect us to do? How do white people think we’re supposed to react when we watch cops murder us and get away with it, over and over and over again? We’re just supposed to take it? Wait for America to produce nicer white people? The options for black America in the face of this state-sponsored injustice seem pretty limited.
And white allies can join in too, if they feel so compelled. As we’ve learned, it only takes one person out of 12 to neuter the justice system. One person out of 12 who recognizes that the system itself is on trial, every trial, and it is guilty. White people have rendered this country INCAPABLE of holding police officers accountable. There might be some white allies who are ready to do more than post frowny emojis on Facebook.
There are a lot of protest ideas floating around. But jury nullification would get white people’s attention. Remember how pissed-off white people were about O.J.? And that was just one dude. White people would notice if black jurors simply refused to play along.
I WANT CHAOS IN THE PROSECUTOR’S OFFICE. And you can’t accomplish that with a bomb or a gun.
But you can with an acquittal. Lots of acquittals. All the acquittals. There are counties in this country where the justice system would grind to a halt if prosecutors couldn’t find black and brown people willing to convict or indict. NOBODY CARES if they can’t get an indictment against a police officer whose only crime was the murder of an African-American.
Let’s see what happens in Brooklyn when they can’t evict anybody ever again (refusing to pay rent to a white man? Acquit.). Let’s see what happens in Hollywood when you can’t bring a case against pirates (stealing the white man’s movies? Acquit.).
There were a million cases calendared in the five boroughs of New York City, according to the 2015 Annual Criminal Court Report. Some 315,000 of them went to a final disposition with 146,201 resulting in a guilty plea. There were about 500 “trials,” resulting in 233 acquittals and 243 convictions.
But can you imagine a world where a prosecutor could get a conviction on, say, a hate crime, but couldn’t get a conviction against a guy accused of stealing a white man’s Mercedes? White people aren’t willing to indict a cop for choking a black man to death in broad daylight. Imagine if black people weren’t willing to indict a citizen for punching a white guy in the mouth?
White people would lose their s**t, that’s what would happen. Suddenly, the New York Times would pull reporters off the “understanding Trump voters” beat and you’d start seeing stories like “Hmm… It Appears Negros Have Some Grievances Too.”
And that’s just the start of it. You start flipping some of those 243 convictions, and the walls start crumbling around the 146,201 cases where defendants plead out. THAT’S how you gum up this system. So many of those plea deals are from people who just can’t risk a trial where they know that the jury will be stacked against them. But what if they knew there was a chance, a good chance, that a minority on the jury would just refuse to convict?
That’s how cops roll. You have to think about it, why didn’t a cop like Michael Slager take a plea deal? They had him ON VIDEO shooting a man in the back five times. He didn’t plea because he knew he just needed one racist white guy on his jury. You give some of those 146,201 defense attorneys the same “hope,” and the courts grind to a halt.
You change the math, you change the game.
For the price of, what, 50 – 100 extra “guilty” people walking free (in all of NEW YORK CITY), you could change the calculus around the dispensation of justice in New York City. Without a new law. Without an act of Congress. Without approval from The President In The High Castle.
White juries are using jury nullification to protect cops. But the door swings both ways. It’s time for us to push back. Civil disobedience, when used in a targeted fashion, is a powerful force.