Senator Barack Obama says that he is the candidate for president who would be most able to bridge divides of color in America. If so, this would be an excellent time for him to prove it. If he steps forward now with new proposals for addressing and ending the systemic injustices that have led thousands of people, Black and white to protest in Jena, Louisiana today, then Barack Obama might be able to capture the imaginations of Americans and provide leadership, showing the way forward. He could create a new consensus for threshold notions of fairness.
This crucial moment in the history of the American Civil Rights Movement will truly tell us much about Barack Obama's modus operandi. If he were elected president, would he feel compelled to mostly ignore debates about skin color in order to avoid disagreeing with white perspectives and thereby being fatally cast as the "Black candidate." Would be bridge divides or simply be the proponent for a "new denial." Can Barack Obama come forward with substantive alternatives to the status quo that about which Blacks and whites as well as Latinos can endorse and feel good?
For example, the Jena, Louisiana criminal panel that convicted Mychal was an all-white jury.
A court-appointed attorney in Bell’s adult trial did not present any evidence or witnesses in his defense before an all white jury convicted him of guilty of second-degree aggravated battery and conspiracy to commit second-degree aggravated battery. Black America Web
Because Blacks, at one time, were forbidden by law to sit on juries, all white juries are an historical symbol of systemic anachronistic injustice, constituted by prosecutors and the courts precisely because they are more likely to be blind to the guilt or innocence of Black people and to render injustice based on prejudices. All-white juries are not an accident that yield accidental injustice. Instead, they are both a manifestation and factory of prejudice. There is no justification to insist on all-white juries in this day and age.
So, will candidate Barack Obama step forward and propose that every jury be composed of at least one "group juror" who is a representative of the accused's ethnic group? Of course this one juror would still be in the overwhelming minority and would be in no position to single-handedly change or guarantee a fair process or result. The group juror could only act to help review the evidence and pique the conscience, both of the jury and of society.
A new insistence upon ending all-white juries would focus America's attention on the inherent unfairness of a system that so often is so careful NOT to have minority jury participation when convicting and sentencing minorities. In the process of implementing a "group juror" consideration, the new thinking required to end all-white juries would shine a continuous light into an unfair court system and bring constant attention to other forms of injustice, focusing America's attention first on the injustice that is most visible in order to build a political will for a continual effort to end injustices that are more subtle.
The group juror concept is a direct challenge to notions of color-blindness promoted by the Roberts Court in its decision to overturn Brown v. Board of Education. And this proposal would put insistent discriminators on the indefensible defensive.
What, after all, is the great need to maintain the institution of the all-white jury? Would having ONE member of the defendant's color be so injurious to the prospects for justice? In order to make justice truly blind in America, it is time to redefine the term "a jury of one's peers" in the public consciousness to mean a jury that includes at least one member of one's own ethnic group.
Does this mean that an Arab terrorist must have at least one Arab on his jury? Yes it does. And how or why would the presence of one Arab so confound the system that justice could not be served?
Meanwhile, a call by citizens and organizers for an end to all-white juries would be one way of maintaining the public's focus on the most blatantly obvious systemic unfairnesseses. The group juror proposal is a way of asserting the inherent unfairness of a criminal justice process that excludes the participation of Blacks, and this is so even in cases where the defendant's guilt or innocence is unclear, as it always is until a jury has pronounced its sentence.
Of course, many people will insist that this proposal is unconstitutional, that the courts must "ignore the skin color or the defendant" while convicting Black youths at a rate six times higher than whites. These defender of all white juries will insist that maintainance of all-white juries is, in fact, constitutional while the "Group Juror" proposal is not. Yet arguments for that proposition would show the idiocy of all that has transpired in the discussion of skin color since Bakke. Because if all-white juries are truly essential to our Constitution, (and I don't believe they are) then it may explain why there are so many Black people in jail. The group juror proposal is based Constitutional proposition that our society deserves a fair trial to determine each defendant's guilt or innocence.
Advocating for the group juror proposal challenges the assumption that "justice is blind," and that a system run exclusively by whites can be fair to those who are not. This advocacy challenges Americans to concede the inherent fairness of a "jury of one's peers."
As such, the "Group Juror" proposal subtly and obliquely offer a rationale for Obama's own candidacy, which is predicated on the belief that no person should be excluded from service based exclusively on the color of his skin, while no system should systemically ignore or discount the services to democracy and justice that are offered by those who are not white men.
As such, the Group Juror proposal would be a direct challenge to America's history of systemic segregation and discrimination, while those who believe that all-white justice is a good thing would be compelled to step forward and defend that proposition. In any case, if Barack Obama cannot step forward now to show America the way out of this Jena morass, then he may effectively be conceding that he cannot and does not offer something to unite us that his opponents do not.