By Rhegene S. Fairley
Jackson Advocate Guest Writer
On popular televised singing competitions, competitors are judged by the quality of their performance. The winner is the one who emerges as the best candidate for the job of being a successful performer. Imagine if jurors were selected in a similar fashion – through a process that selected individuals who showed themselves best for the job. The winners would be those who demonstrated an ability to listen to evidence and testimony then apply the law to it. This might end the constant complaints about people of color being underrepresented on juries. It most certainly would end attempts by some lawyers to use race as a factor for excluding jurors of color when they show up for jury service.
Black people have been in a continuous fight against jury exclusion since the Reconstruction Era. The Civil Rights Act of 1875 was enacted, in part, to outlaw racial discrimination on juries. Over 100 years later, this issue still plagues us. In its 1986 Batson v. Kentucky decision, the Supreme Court of the United States thought it fashioned a solution to the practice of using race to prevent Blacks from serving on juries. The prosecution of Curtis Flowers, a Black Mississippi man, proves that Batson has faults. Flowers was tried six times before the SCOTUS ruled that the prosecution intentionally dismissed Black jurors. In Flowers’ first four trials, the prosecution used all of their peremptory challenges to strike potential Black jurors.
Although Curtis Flowers was eventually released 23 years after his first conviction. If Batson worked, the conviction might not have ever happened and would certainly not have happened six times. Batson proved to be more of a hope than an answer. Jury diversity matters. It can make the difference between freedom or incarceration. Focusing on their ability and not their race could lead to the high ratings in the jury box. Songs were the anchor that Black people clenched to endure the middle passage, chattel slavery, segregation, and countless years of oppression. For this generation, they might change some prosecutors’ tunes about people of color serving on juries.
Rhegene S. Fairley is a third-year student at Southern University Law Center who is enrolled in Professor Angela A. Allen-Bell’s Law & Racism class.