October 20, 1995


Racism is as human as love. In defining ourselves, the tribe we belong to, its mores, we are tempted to believe in the inferiority of the cultures and mores of other groups. Prejudice is the hairy backside of what we all need: a sense of identity.

Thomas Keneally, 1994

Common jargon in police departments is the term B. O. B., black on black. This refers to crimes committed by black people on black people. The expression implies that not as much time and energy will be expended trying to solve those crimes. A white on white crime will be given the ordinary amount of time, while a black on white crime will take as much energy as the department can muster. A white on black crime may be ignored.

In the deep south, the standard fine for a black man cutting another black man used to be one or two dollars. A black man attacking a white man in any way might result in the death of the assailant. If a white man killed a black man he would probably get away with it, or get off with a small penalty.

In the early part of this century, a white man could get away with murder if his victim was black. Now, in Los Angeles, a white man can still get away with almost anything if his victim is black. A black man can get away with murder if his victim is white and the jury consists mostly of black people.

The fact that it took the O.J.Simpson jury a mere 4 hours to reach a verdict indicates to me that the members of the jury had made up their minds long before the end of the trial. I suspect that their minds were made up before the trial started. The same thing happened when the policemen who beat Rodney King were tried.

The reason that many black people were elated was that, for the first time in history, the tables were turned and a black person got away with murdering a white person.

What happened with the King and Simpson juries was bigotry in action. It is not new; it has always been the custom in this country and the world. Bigotry has been the linchpin of what is euphemistically called the "criminal justice system." It not only happened to black people, but to the Irish, Indians, Chinese, Japanese, Mexicans and others who were unfortunate enough to be considered less than human by the predominant racial or ethnic group. The only reason that Jews weren't subject to much of this in our country was that there were enough clever Jewish lawyers. It is obvious that there are now some very clever Black lawyers. Are there any Indian, Oriental and Hispanic lawyers?

True justice will not happen until a system is created where those who judge are truly impartial and able to evaluate evidence. It can never be perfect because those who judge have to be people -computers aren't smart enough to do the job. People who judge have to be able to distinguish lies from the truth. Considering that liars are often very skilled, that can be very difficult. They also have to be willing to try to look objectively at the evidence. Since people usually tend to see what they want to see, this is also very difficult.

The critical stage of the O.J. Simpson trial, as it is in most trials, was the selection of the jury. The deck is heavily stacked in favor of the cleverest lawyers. There are now jury selection consultants who specialize in evaluating prospective jurors -and they are good at their jobs.

The present method of selecting juries, in which a lawyer is allowed to disqualify a juror for no reason at all, is at the root of the problem. Until peremptory challenges are totally eliminated, we can expect decisions based on race. We can also expect unjust civil verdicts to continue; verdicts based on the race or class of the perpetrator and the race or class of the victim.

It might be worth considering the elimination of the jury system as it exists today in favor panels of professional judges made up of both lawyers and laymen.

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