A Radical Response to a Reactionary Situation: Jury Nullification a Campaign!

The prison industrial complex, together with the criminal justice system in our country, are perhaps the most inhumane, unjust and corrupt entities in our society. These injustices are exacerbated by the privatization of prisons which has resulted in intolerable conditions with little future prospects for Latino/African-American and low income White populations. The increased incarceration rates of undocumented immigrants provide further evidence of this reality. In 2005 there were approximately 280,000 undocumented immigrants held in detention centers throughout the United States, whereas by 2010 there were approximately 400,000 immigrant detainees. The rapid rise in the detention rates of undocumented individuals has unfortunately accelerated under a the current democratic administration, and is undoubtedly correlated with the role that private detention center lobbyists have played in advocating with local and federal legislators for more vigorous enforcement of immigration policies, including longer sentences. In addition the policy of partnership between federal, state and local enforcement agencies referred to as “Secure Communities” has added a whole new layer of abuses in dealing with undocumented people.

As a result of these profit-driven and draconian enforcement policies, Latinos, who comprise 16% of the U.S. population, now comprise 50.3% of the Federal Prison population. These stricter enforcement policies and longer sentences have been very profitable for privately operated prisons/detention centers. In NYC during 2010, 86% of the 50,383 people arrested for marijuana possession were either black or Hispanic, despite the fact that the use of narcotics occurs at equal rates proportionate to their populations by whites, blacks and Hispanics alike (as many studies have consistently shown). This begs the question: Why are the overwhelming numbers of arrests for drug violations people of color? The practice of “stop and frisk” in NYC has resulted in a high number of juvenile arrests for black and Latino youth, damaging their lives for years to come. These arrests often result in permanent criminal records for our young men and women of color, and ensuing repercussions with future financial aid, possible loss of child custody, loss of public housing/inability to obtain rental assistance and diminished professional/employment opportunities. In many regions of our country, Hispanics are less likely to have their cases dismissed than are whites.

This dire situation faced by communities of color leads me to advocate for a campaign, in support of “jury nullification,” a concept which is by no means new. White supremacists used this practice when refusing to convict white southerners who committed crimes against blacks and it continues to be used today to protect police officers who commit crimes against persons of color. This has been evident when the atrocities of police officers against persons of color are recorded and/or witnessed by many bystanders, yet the officers are still exonerated by juries of their white peers, who nullify the law and the reality of their guilt in perpetrating the atrocity. U.S. Presidents nullified jury verdicts many times throughout history. Lewis “Scooter” Libby former advisor to V. P. Dick Cheney was convicted of a felony by a jury of his peers and sentenced to a prison term of 30 months, but President George W. Bush commuted his sentence, which is legalized jury nullification, most often applied and utilized to benefit the rich and famous.

It is time that jurors of color or poor whites begin to refuse to convict any person of color or poor whites except for a violent crime against an oppressed person, such as rape or child sexual abuse. Our youth should be advised not to enter into any plea bargaining agreements for their cases, which would essentially bankrupt the judicial system with countless numbers of trials. Never again should a Latino/a, African-American or a low income White person agree to collude with a criminal justice system that is enslaving our people while making many rich investors even wealthier with each case of degradation afflicting our citizens of color.