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COMMENTARY: Experts: ‘Jury of your Peers’ Rarely Applies to African Americans

NNPA NEWSWIRE — “Race has a tremendous impact in criminal trials, at least one African American juror can help even the playing field when it comes to verdicts. Race matters in the courtroom and race relates to perception and judgment – especially when a case is about race,” said Waukeshia Jackson, founder of the Atlanta-based Jackson & Lowe Law Group.

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By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

If accused of a crime, American justice supposedly guarantees the right to a trial in front of a “jury of your peers.”

However noble the idea might be in theory, many legal experts acknowledge that, due to systemic racism, having a jury of your peers is often just an illusion.

For African Americans, systemic racism in the criminal justice system has greatly contributed to mass incarceration, partly because blacks are more likely to be profiled, pulled over by police, searched, and arrested, according to legal experts.

Once arrested, African Americans also are more likely to be detained prior to their hearing, which could take months.

“Jury selection creates another concern,” said Charlotte, N.C.-based Attorney Darlene Harris.

“When a juror is unable to relate to a person accused of a crime, the defendant is more likely to face stiffer penalties, up to and including life in prison,” said Harris, who after trying a recent murder trial, spoke to a white male juror who shared that a lot of the jurors could not understand the African American defendant.

“The two people who could relate to the defendant happened to be Black women. They were able to shed information that led the group to finding the defendant guilty of second-degree murder as opposed first degree murder, which would have resulted in a life sentence,” Harris said.

That and other experiences led Harris to question how much different the outcome would have been if there were black men – from the same socio-economic background as the defendant – on the jury.

“The scourge of racism manifests in discriminatory policies and practices such as the ‘War on Drugs,’ Stop and Frisk, and Three Strikes You’re Out,” Harris said.

“Consequently, black men are profiled more often, punished more frequently and more harshly than any other group in the United States,” she said.

The Sentencing Project estimates that there are presently 2.2 million people incarcerated in America.

Black men born in 2001 have a 1 in 3 chance of being incarcerated.

Given these distressing numbers, black men appear to have a higher risk of being knocked out of juror pools, Harris said.

“When you couple racist policies and practices with socio-economics, the share of black men available for jury selection is further diminished and since people must take time off work to serve on juries, only people who can afford to miss a paycheck, people with paid time off or flexible work arrangements can afford to serve on a jury,” Harris said.

“Keep in mind that trials for serious crimes are lengthy; a recent murder trial that I was a part of lasted one month. How many of us can afford to skip a month’s pay?” she said.

While a judge is not required to exempt someone from jury duty because the person can’t afford to go without a paycheck, defense attorneys are ill-served by forcing a person to miss pay to be their juror, Harris added.

The right to a jury trial is a hallmark of the American criminal justice system and defendants generally have the right to be tried by a jury of their peers, said Waukeshia Jackson, founder of the Atlanta-based Jackson & Lowe Law Group.

In explaining the meaning of having “a jury of your peers,” Jackson said defendants aren’t entitled to a jury containing members of their own race, gender, age, or sexual orientation.

Most accurately, “jury of your peers” means “jury of fellow citizens,” she said.

“Nonetheless, widespread discrimination remains in the jury selection process,” Jackson said.

While courts don’t have to ensure that a defendant’s race, gender, age, or sexual orientation is represented in a jury pool, the Supreme Court has long held courts may not remove a potential juror solely based on these factors, she said.

“For more than a century, racial minorities have been protected from jury discrimination in theory but in practice, these laws have little actual protection and one critical factor that impacts African American eligibility to participate in jury pool is the felon jury exclusion rule,” Jackson said.

Throughout the country, African Americans are overrepresented in felony convictions and therefore more likely to be excluded from jury pools because individuals cannot serve as a juror if they’ve been convicted of a felony.

“The felony jury exclusion rule dramatically reduces the number of African Americans eligible for jury selection because roughly, one-third of the adult African-American male population has been convicted of a felony and, in many jurisdictions, these citizens are forever barred from serving on a jury,” Jackson said.

“Race has a tremendous impact in criminal trials, at least one African American juror can help even the playing field when it comes to verdicts. Race matters in the courtroom and race relates to perception and judgment – especially when a case is about race,” she said.

The landmark 1986 case of Batson v. Kentucky established that lawyers aren’t permitted to engage in systematic exercise of peremptory challenges of prospective jurors based solely upon such suspect criteria.

“However, if the attorney – whether it be prosecutor of defense attorney – can establish an age, race, ethnicity, or gender-neutral reason for the use of the peremptory challenge, the court will permit it,” said Western Michigan University Cooley Law School Professor and former Miami-Dade Judge Jeff Swartz.

“The jury pool should be made of such a representative cross-section in the same proportion as found in the community,” Swartz said.

“Does this mean that on many occasions that a black defendant may end up with an all-white jury?  Yes, it does,” Swartz said.

Jackson added that those who are not African American haven’t experienced the racial discrimination and verbal abuse that are far too common for members of the black community.

Jurors from all-white jury pools convict African American defendants significantly more often than white defendants and this gap in conviction rate is entirely eliminated when the jury pool includes at least one African American member, she said.

“The makeup of a jury can mean the difference between a conviction and an acquittal,” Jackson said.

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Fighting an Unjust System, The Bail Project Helps People Get Out of Jail and Reunites Families

In addition to posting bail at no cost to the person or their family, The Bail Project works to connect its clients to social services and community resources based on an individual’s identified needs, including substance use treatment, mental health support, stable housing and employment.

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Adrienne Johnson, the regional director for The Bail Project, told NNPA’s Let It Be Known that the organization seeks to accomplish its mission one person at a time.
Adrienne Johnson, the regional director for The Bail Project, told NNPA’s Let It Be Known that the organization seeks to accomplish its mission one person at a time.

Hundreds of thousands of individuals locked up in jails almost daily — many find it challenging to pay bail

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

As public support for criminal justice reform continues to build — and as the pandemic raises the stakes higher — advocates remain adamant that it’s more important than ever that the facts are straight, and everyone understands the bigger picture.

“The U.S. doesn’t have one ‘criminal justice system;’ instead, we have thousands of federal, state, local, and tribal systems,” Wendy Sawyer and Peter Wagner found in a study released by the nonprofit Prison Policy Initiative.

Together, these systems hold almost 2 million people in 1,566 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 2,850 local jails, 1,510 juvenile correctional facilities, 186 immigration detention facilities, and 82 Indian country jails, as well as in military prisons, civil commitment centers, state psychiatric hospitals, and prisons in the U.S. territories,” the study authors said in a press release.

With hundreds of thousands of individuals locked up in jails almost daily, many find it challenging to pay bail.

Recognizing America’s ongoing mass incarceration problem and the difficulties families have in bailing out their loved ones, a new organization began in 2018 to offer some relief.

The Bail Project, a nationwide charitable fund for pretrial defendants, started with a vision of combating mass incarceration by disrupting the money bail system.

Adrienne Johnson, the regional director for The Bail Project, told NNPA’s Let It Be Known that the organization seeks to accomplish its mission one person at a time.

“We have a mission of doing exactly what we hope our criminal system would do: protect the presumption of innocence, reunite families, and challenge a system that we know can criminalize poverty,” Johnson stated.

“Our mission is to end cash bail and create a more just, equitable, and humane pretrial system,” she insisted.

Johnson said The Bronx Freedom Fund, at the time a new revolving bail fund that launched in New York, planted the seed for The Bail Project more than a decade ago.

“Because bail is returned at the end of a case, we can build a sustainable revolving fund where philanthropic dollars can be used several times per year, maximizing the impact of every contribution,” Johnson stated.

In addition to posting bail at no cost to the person or their family, The Bail Project works to connect its clients to social services and community resources based on an individual’s identified needs, including substance use treatment, mental health support, stable housing and employment.

Johnson noted that officials created cash bail to incentivize people to return to court.

Instead, she said, judges routinely set cash bail well beyond most people’s ability to afford it, resulting in thousands of legally innocent people incarcerated while they await court dates.

According to The Bail Project, Black Americans are disproportionately impacted by cash bail, and of all Black Americans in jail in the U.S., nearly half are from southern prisons.

“There is no way to do the work of advancing pretrial reform without addressing the harmful effects of cash bail in the South,” said Robin Steinberg, Founder, and CEO of The Bail Project.

“Cash bail fuels racial and economic disparities in our legal system, and we look forward to supporting the community in Greenville as we work to eliminate cash bail and put ourselves out of business.”

Since its launch, The Bail Project has stationed teams in more than 25 cities, posting bail for more than 18,000 people nationwide.

Johnson said the organization uses its national revolving bail fund, powered by individual donations, to pay bail.

The Bail Project has spent over $47 million on bail.

“When we post bail for a person, we post the full cash amount at court,” Johnson stated.

“Upon resolution of the case, the money returns to whoever posted. So, if I posted $5,000 to bail someone out, we then help the person get back to court and resolve the case,” she continued.

“The money then comes back to us, and we can use that money to help someone else. So, we recycle that.”

Johnson said eliminating cash bail and the need for bail funds remains the goal.

“It’s the just thing to do. It restores the presumption of innocence, and it restores families,” Johnson asserted.

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PRESS ROOM: EPA Administrator Regan to Join Leaders of Civil Rights, Environmental Justice Movement for Significant Announcement in Warren County, North Carolina

NNPA NEWSWIRE — U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael S. Regan will be joined by significant figures from the civil rights and environmental justice movements, including Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., president and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association and other participants from the original Warren County protests for the event.
The post PRESS ROOM: EPA Administrator Regan to Join Leaders of Civil Rights, Environmental Justice Movement for Significant Announcement in Warren County, North Carolina first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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Administrator to honor legacy of environmental justice and civil rights at event in Warren County, site of protests that launched the movement 40 years ago

WASHINGTON (September 22, 2022) – On Saturday, September 24, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael S. Regan will travel to Warren County, North Carolina to deliver remarks on EPA’s environmental justice and civil rights priorities and the progress we’ve achieved since the first protest and march that launched the movement 40 years ago this week. Administrator Regan will make a significant announcement on President Biden’s commitment to elevate environmental justice and civil rights enforcement at EPA and across the federal government and ensure the work to support our most vulnerable communities continues for years to come.

Administrator Regan will be joined by significant figures from the civil rights and environmental justice movements, including participants from the original Warren County protests for the event.

Who:
EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan
Congressman G. K. Butterfield (NC-01)
Environmental Justice and Civil Rights Leaders
Warren County residents and community leaders
Additional stakeholders

What: Remarks on EPA environmental justice and civil rights priorities and honoring the legacy of the environmental justice and civil rights movement
When: Saturday, September 24, 2022,
Doors Open: 11:30 AM ET
Program: 12:45 PM ET
;
Where: Warren County Courthouse
109 S Main Street
Warrenton, NC 27589
Livestream: A livestream of this event will be available at epa.gov/live.

The post PRESS ROOM: EPA Administrator Regan to Join Leaders of Civil Rights, Environmental Justice Movement for Significant Announcement in Warren County, North Carolina first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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September 26 | Governance at the Local Level | The Conversation with Al McFarlane

Join Al McFarlane (Host), Brenda Lyle-Gray (Co-Host) and Special Guest Co-Host Diana Hawkins, Executive Director for …
The post September 26 | Governance at the Local Level | The Conversation with Al McFarlane first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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Join Al McFarlane (Host), Brenda Lyle-Gray (Co-Host) and Special Guest Co-Host Diana Hawkins, Executive Director for …

The post September 26 | Governance at the Local Level | The Conversation with Al McFarlane first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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