In pivotal cases in courtrooms across America, we have seen victories and movement toward a more just and equal country, while also being reminded that there is still more work to be done.
Our legal system shows progress in the fight against racism
On November 18th, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt granted clemency to Julius Jones hours before his scheduled execution. Jones had spent 19 years on death row for a 1999 murder that new compelling evidence suggests he did not commit. Governor Stitt took action after years of pleading and advocacy by the public, including a petition with more than 6.5 million signatures. Supporters argued that Jones, a Black man, was not given a fair trial and that racism played a role in his sentencing. Research has found that a disproportionate number of death-row inmates are Black, and that Black defendants accused of killing white people are more likely to be executed. While the governor granted clemency, Jones still faces a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Days later, organizers of the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville were held liable for inciting violence against counter protesters in 2017. The verdict was a clear admonishment of the defendants, a mix of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and Confederate sympathizers.
And finally, on November 24th, three white men were found guilty of murdering Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, in what many viewed as a modern-day lynching. Arbery was chased down and killed by the men while jogging through their neighborhood. Arbery’s family and supporters across the nation found some solace in the jury of mostly white citizens affirming that killing an unarmed Black man was not only morally wrong, but legally wrong as well.
The work is not finished
Our nation was divided on November 19th when jurors found Kyle Rittenhouse not guilty in his shooting of three men during racial justice protests in 2020. Jurors determined that Rittenhouse acted in self-defense in accordance with Wisconsin law. Those in opposition to the verdict argued that Rittenhouse, a young white man, benefited from a blatant racial double standard. Many have argued that if Rittenhouse was Black, he would not have been released on bail, nor had a public trial to plead his innocence. Activists also raised concerns that racial justice protestors could lawfully be deemed a threat by armed vigilantes.
The underlying truth in these cases is that violence and injustice against people of color has gone on for far too long. Our legal system has historically justified the killing of Black men and women, serving as an affront to the claims of justice for all. Furthermore, men and women of color face implicit bias and systemic racism in our courtrooms, resulting in disproportionate negative outcomes in criminal legal proceedings. Justice should not be based on the color of your skin.
Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy stands with the Black community
The Advocacy Center’s vision is to build a just community where all people are treated fairly and have access to legal representation. The long-standing inequities of our criminal justice system have been laid bare, yet we know firsthand that our civil legal system is equally rife with injustices. We must stand as a community to say that Black lives matter. But so too does the quality of life to which they are afforded. At the Advocacy Center, it is our mission to address the disproportionate impact of civil legal issues threatening our neighbors of color, improve our clients’ quality of life, ensure stability, and promote opportunity.
The verdicts in the Charlottesville, Jones and Arbery trials may bring us closer to a world of justice for all, but we know it is just one step in a very long journey. We continue to watch cases where Black defendants have made similar claims of self-defense. In Wisconsin, Chrystul Kizer, a young Black woman and a victim of abuse, faces criminal charges for murdering her sex trafficker when she was 17. And in Georgia, Marc Wilson, a young Black man, faces criminal charges for killing a white female after firing defensive shots at her vehicle. The young woman and co-passengers of her vehicle had targeted Wilson with racial epithets, threw glass bottles at his vehicle, and attempted to run Wilson off the road. It is our hope that the outcome of these cases will demonstrate that Black defendants can and must receive the same deference and protection afforded by a self-defense argument as white defendants. For now, the fight continues and we remain hopeful that one day justice for all will not only be said, but shown.