The big problem with how we pick juries
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The big problem with how we pick juries


In October of 2014, Jason Van Dyke – a white
Chicago police officer – shot and killed Laquan McDonald – a black teenager. A year after the shooting, the city released
the graphic video that captured the incident. It shows McDonald walking down a busy roadway,
holding a knife. As he walks away from the officers, Van Dyke
shoots him. 16 times. “16 shots. 16 shots.” The response to the release of the footage
was swift and widespread. Chicago residents protested. The police chief was fired. The state’s attorney was voted out. A Justice Department investigation unearthed
a pattern of excessive deadly force and racial bias among Chicago Police officers. And for the first time in more than 30 years,
a Chicago police officer faced murder charges. While police officers who end up in court
often prefer a judge to hear their case, Van Dyke opted for a jury. But here’s the thing about that jury. It didn’t look like the population of Cook
County, where the shooting took place. In a county where almost a quarter of people
are black, there was only one black juror. When it comes to justice in America, race
has always been a part of the equation…So what happens when a “jury of peers,” doesn’t
actually look like our peers? “A good citizen will perform basic civic
duties. Your duty to serve on the jury goes with your
right to trial by jury” Here’s how jury selection works. First, prospective jurors are picked for duty
out of a large pool. Usually, a list of registered voters or licensed
drivers. Then comes a process called “voir dire”
or “to speak the truth.” Prospective jurors are questioned by lawyers
on both sides. They’re looking for bias. Like in this scene in “The Devil’s Advocate”
where a lawyer is trying to gauge the jury for bias against bankers. “Do you think as a juror you might be able
to set aside any prior opinions you might hold of the savings and loan industry?” If a lawyer has reason to believe a juror
will be biased, they can ask the judge to dismiss the juror with cause. Each side can also strike a certain number
of  jurors without giving a reason. These are called “peremptory challenges,”
and this is where things get tricky. While lawyers aren’t technically allowed
to use these challenges to discriminate on the basis of race or sex,
that doesn’t mean they don’t try. Like in this scene from the TV show How to
Get Away with Murder. “We have to look for jurors who are prone
to distrust authority. What are some of the signifiers of this? Number one is race. There’s a larger distrust of police among
black Americans. You don’t call the police in my neighborhood.” The racial balance of a jury can impact the
verdict. Studies have shown that all-white juries are
harsher on black defendants, make more errors, and discuss less of the case facts. And in another study, in cases with a black
defendant and white victim, having one or more black male jurors lowered the likelihood
of a death sentence – by a lot. “A difficult day for jurors in the OJ Simpson
murder trial.” It’s why – in high-profile, racially charged,
trials like that of OJ Simpson – so much attention was given to the fact that the jury had nine
black members on it… “The jury has spoken.” and Simpson was acquitted. There’s also the disturbing case of Emmett
Till. In 1955, two Mississippi men – Roy Bryant
and J.W. Milam – were accused of kidnapping and brutally
murdering a 14-year-old black boy named Emmett Till. Bryant’s wife alleged that the boy had touched
her hand and waist, and whistled at her in a grocery store. Emmett Till’s body was found days later
in the Tallahatchie River, beaten, shot, and tied to a cotton gin with barbed wire. Bryant and Milam were arrested and charged
with murder. But the trial of Bryant and Milam would be
decided by a jury…a jury that consisted of 12 white men. Despite multiple witnesses seeing the two
men take the boy, and one that saw the back of Milam’s truck dripping with blood – “a
jury of twelve white neighbors of the defendants reached the verdict after one hour and five
minutes of deliberations” The men would walk free. Decades later, Bryant’s wife – who made
that first accusation against Emmett Till – recanted her story. Fast forward thirty years later, and all-white
juries still weren’t a thing of the past. In the 1986 case Batson vs. Kentucky, a prosecutor
used his peremptory challenges to remove all four black jurors from the pool. The defendant’s appeal made it all the way
to the Supreme Court. And won. Today, if one side suspects the other of using
peremptory strikes to racially discriminate, they can file what’s called a Batson challenge. But…the problem is…. “Yeah so Batson is pretty much
widely regarded as a failure.” If a lawyer accuses the other side of excluding
a juror because of race, the judge then has to decide whether it’s discriminatory. The accused would have to come up with a reason
– any reason – that’s race neutral, for why they don’t want that juror. “Courts have really allowed
kind of any reason.” “For example like an attorney might say ‘well
I struck all the people who seem suspicious of the police.’ And so that would on its face be racially
neutral but it’s still kind of allows for that disproportionate impact.” You can see that in this leaked 1987 training
video in which attorney Jack McMahon explains how to exclude black people and get away with
it. “There’s the blacks from low-income areas
are less likely to convict… and as a result you don’t want those people on your jury. Batson vs. Kentucky, I’m sure you’ve all become aware of that… The best way to avoid
problems is to protect yourself. When you do have a black jury, you question
them at length, on this little sheet that you have mark something down that you can
articulate. Say well the woman had a kid the same age as defendant and I thought sh’ed
be sympathetic to him. Or she’s unemployed and I just don’t like
unemployed people because I find they’re not too stable.” This kind of strategy has led to a pattern
of excluding black jurors across the country. And in North Carolina, between 1990 and 2010
— prosecutors struck black jurors 2.5 times as often as non black jurors. Another report found half of all juries that
delivered death sentences in Houston County, Alabama, between 2005 and 2009 were all white. The other half had a single black juror…even
though the county is 27 percent black. And Ann Eisenberg did a study that showed
the prosecution struck 35 percent of black jurors in South Carolina who made it through
the voir dire process compared to 12 percent of white jurors. “I asked a colleague of mine
when I finished this study I said you know okay I’ve shown this you know what of it now? There’s so much evidence.” “And he said ‘yeah, proving that racial discrimination
effects jury selection is like proving that the sun rises.’ ” But there might be signs of progress. In the case of Jason Van Dyke, the Chicago
police officer who shot Laquan McDonald, a majority white jury convicted him of murder. It was Chicago’s first murder conviction
of a police officer in 50 years. They found him guilty of second degree murder,
a lesser charge. And guilty of all 16 counts of aggravated
battery. One for each shot at Laquan McDonald. “We the jury find the defendant Jason Van Dyke guilty of aggravated battery with a firearm, 16th shot.” Thanks for watching. There’s a lot I couldn’t fit into the
video, like how do we fix the problem of racial discrimination in jury selection? Over the years lawyers have suggested solutions
like choosing from a bigger jury pool of underrepresented people that aren’t on voter registration
lists or driver license lists. Or getting rid of peremptory challenges altogether. It’s a complicated problem to solve but
there are procedural tweaks that could make the system a lot more fair.

16 Comments

  • Sophie Taylor

    I actually got the chance to hear Emmett's cousin talk about what happened the night of/after he was kidnapped. I was so angry that these men thought they could do this to a child because he was black. Now anytime I hear the name Emmett Till, I am filled with so much sorrow and I can barely hold back my tears.

  • GABX P

    Wait a minute, a place with a population of less than a quarter black people that’s shown on a jury of mostly white people isn’t representative of their peers? WHO CARES?!?! I don’t think people look at a jurry and say “hmmm….TOO MANY WHITES” 🤣

  • GABX P

    Besides the guy was walking away from police wielding a weapon that could have potentially harmed another human being…did he deserve to be shot? Yes. To the extent that he was? No.

  • TRUTH HUNTER

    We are far too passive to a fault. One reason we were perfect slaves. We won't exact justice like others do to us. And we don't forgive our own, like this young man done with his brother's enemy. This means nothing to the world, nothing at all. This makes us look, even more desirable for others to attack. Wikipedia Category: Racially motivated violence against African Americans. We keep playing ourselves!!!

  • Juwar1974

    This is easy to solve…If an area is 24% African American, then 24% of the jury needs to African American. But there's another issue too. People just don't want to serve on juries (particular blacks). An ex-judge told me the system is always struggling to find jurors even with the threat of the law.

  • Daud El Bey

    Anything that I post for educational purposes only I am not about hate I am about love and as it is written if you do not know your pass you will repeat it the fact that these companies corporations and institutions that call them selves government are nothing but companies with charters and started off as parishes have run rogue and have been missed treating the American people of the whole continent

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