19 March 2008

The key is subtlety

Justices Overturn Louisiana Death Sentence
Yes, there is still racism in this country, and no its not just private citizens being idiots. There is still racism entrenched in our justice system, and not just in the drug laws, or the racial profiling by the cops.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday overturned the conviction and death sentence of a Louisiana man who killed his estranged wife in a jealous rage, finding that the trial judge “committed clear error” in excluding black jurors from the trial.

A black man was convicted and sentenced to die by an all white jury in the south. In 1996. Were talking about stupidity that belongs back in 1954, not in my short lifetime.

Sure the prosecution had some excuse for not seating black jurors, but those excuses hardly hold up in the light of day.

Justice Alito wrote that the prosecutor’s explanation for dismissing Mr. Brooks — that he was worried that Mr. Brooks’s nervousness over his studies would incline him to vote against a death sentence to avoid long deliberations — was not believable.

“The implausibility of this explanation is reinforced by the prosecutor’s acceptance of white jurors who disclosed conflicting obligations that appear to have been at least as serious as Mr. Brooks’s,” Justice Alito wrote, noting that a white juror who had expressed concerns over his wife’s illness and the conduct of his independent contracting business had been seated.

This is the sort of racism whose subtlety has allowed its practitioners to hide behind a shrug of the shoulders and a claim of ignorance. (There is a sexism, closely related, that does the same.) But just because this bigotry doesn't scream on the streets, doesn't mean its any less hurtful, any less ignorant or any more acceptable. So much of the racism and sexism in this country is like neutrinos that pass through every barrier and stream through all of us all day. But unlike neutrinos, these bigoted ideas hurt, cut and kill.

I'm glad that the Court was able to see this for what it is and send a message to all the lower Courts that this is not acceptable. You cannot pack the jury then shrug your shoulders and say "What? That's just coincidence!" Maybe we really can have a legitimate discussion about race in this country. As John Stewart said last night about the coincedentally timed speech by Sen. Obama, "So at 11am on a Tuesday a Politician talked to Americans about race as if they were adults."

Lets talk about this like the adults we are.

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