Racism invalidates justice system

By By John Stafford

By John Stafford

Utah got a solid kick in the teeth of a wake-up call this week to help it see that blatant racism and bigotry is an all-too-commonplace reality in the country’s judicial system.

An appeals court recently denied Ute tribal member Kerry Dean Benally’s request for a new trial even though two jurors were caught on court records making bigoted remarks about the tendency of American Indians to get drunk and violent.

That a statement such as this was said outright in a supposedly impartial court of law by the very people who are entrusted to decide the fate of a man’s life is horrifying. A fair decision is impossible when blatant prejudice is influencing it. This stereotype made Benally guilty in the eyes of these two jurors the second he walked into that courtroom.

The scary thing is that this is just the tip of the iceberg. For every incident like this in which systemic racism is caught red-handed, how many go unnoticed to all but the voiceless incarcerated in prison? Ten, 20 or more? Although we as Americans have made progress striving for equality, Benally’s case shows that, unfortunately, we still have a long way to go to stop the wound of racism that continues to bleed America.

At the end of 2007, 7.3 million people in the United States were behind bars, on probation or on parole, and of this total, more than 2.3 million people were incarcerated8212;making the United States the largest incarcerator of its people on the planet, according to The Pew Center on the States. And though one out of every 31 Americans are in the correctional system in some form or another, the rate is one in 11 for blacks.

It is not an accident that blacks and Latinos, although they only compromise a combined 24 percent of the population, make up more than 60 percent of the prison population. The fact that blacks are four times as likely as whites to be under correctional control shows the vast inequalities and racism that are supported by the inaction of the judicial system in cases like Benally’s.

It is unfortunate that the defense didn’t recognize these two jurors as racist and failed to successfully challenge their ability to make an impartial decision and remove them from the jury. I guess the message here is that it is never easy to spot a racist when the roots of bigotry run so deep in the foundation of society that they are status quo.

Bottom line, two jurors were caught on record making bigoted comments, a court of law is supposedly impartial and bigotry is the exact opposite of impartiality. The answer is simple: a new trial should be held in which extra measures can be taken to ensure that the courtroom is not a place that mistakes stereotypes as facts, but ensures that justice keeps her eyes closed.

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