Saturday, January 07, 2006

Poor, Young, Black, & Victimized

I would love to see the same kind of breakdown for a few other states. And, this is why we still fight racism. A level playing field? Think again. We may have come a long way - but we still have a long way to go!

January 7 / 8, 2006

Poor, Young, Black and Victimized
Racism and Injustice in Alabama's Courts

All the self-serving, racist noise purporting to justify ridiculously high bail bonds primarily for black people together with all the surreal political nonsense about "locking people up and throwing away the key" gave me reason to take another look at Alabama's criminal justice system. Here is just some of the sickening, racist crap I fully expected and quickly found. Lord, please help us!

In 2006, Alabama has 19 appeal court judges, all white, not a single one is black. This state is 28% black, but white voters routinely refused to elect even one African-American to a statewide office. One wonders about some of our black callers who worry that we don't only want blacks in public offices. On the contrary, whites only elect blacks when they can't elect a white. Alabama has 42 prosecutors or District Attorneys elected from districts and only one is black. He is Michael Jackson, just elected and headquartered here in Selma. Michael must feel mighty welcome among his white prosecuting colleagues as the only elected black prosecutor in a state whose prison population is 63% black. Lord, please help us!

Now listen to this.

80% of all the people sentenced to death in Alabama were convicted of killing a white person, although 65% of the murder victims in Alabama are black. (Repeat) How racist can one state get? Well, maybe the answer can be found in the fact that in November of 2005, more than a century after Brown v. Board of Education, 51% of Alabama's white voters refused to remove outrageous language from the state constitution requiring unenforceable racial segregation in the public schools. That is about as low as a state can sink!

And as black people might expect, Alabama, per capita, has a larger number of people sentenced to death than any other state in the Union and that includes the death states of both Texas and Mississippi. 41 white prosecutors in Alabama achieved that racist result by systematically striking black jurors off the jury list. The prosecutors are helped by uninformed black jurors who dream up excuses to keep from serving in the jury box.

In Houston County (Dothan) several death sentences were reversed because of rank discrimination against black jurors. I will provide one quick example. Jerome Smith, young, black and mentally retarded was sentenced to death after the white prosecutor systematically excluded or struck 23 of the 24 blacks summoned for jury duty in the case, that is 96% of all the blacks on the list. Even an Alabama Appeal court couldn't swallow that sort of overt racism in a death case and reversed Smith's conviction.

Alabama has a larger percentage of juveniles on death row than any other state. In March 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court declared executing juveniles unconstitutional. Alabama courts are now slowly removing juveniles from death row and by the end of last week 13 children had been removed from death row and placed in the general prison population. I believe that some of Alabama's elected prosecutors and legislators should be on death row.

In this state we have one of the harshest and most backward habitual offender laws in the country. Believe it or not, this stupid law makes no distinction whatsoever between violent and nonviolent offenders. Thus, thousands of young men convicted of committing nonviolent property crimes or drug offenses are serving long life sentences and some are even serving life sentences without the possibility of parole. How backwards, how racist can one state be?

Five years ago, some officials began belatedly to listen to a few of us because a crisis loomed in the prison system by reason of both a rapidly growing elderly population and the fact that every prison in the system was severely overcrowded. The backward Alabama legislature, however, would do no more than amend the habitual offender law to the effect that nonviolent offenders serving a life sentence without parole would be now eligible for parole. I wondered if things could get any worse.

I was soon to learn the answer.

Enforcement of the new law was blocked for three long years by Alabama's inexperienced, know-nothing young Attorney General. This officious young man declared the new law unconstitutional. Lord, please help us! All of this in a state that was still jailing people for being poor. In black Birmingham, the black city court was sentencing black people to jail because there were too poor to pay fines. They had to be told that there is no way to reconcile fair and equal justice with jailing people because they are too poor to pay a fine. How about that from a black court?

Racism covers all kinds of injustices in our suspect judicial system. Third-rate professional plea bargainers masquerade as lawyers, along with imposing ridiculously high bail bonds on poor black people are just a few examples. That is why I left the mess almost 20 years ago. It is also the reason I may have to return to the fight.

J.L. Chestnut, Jr. is a civil rights attorney in Selma, Alabama. He is the founder of Chestnut, Sanders and Sanders which is the largest black law firm in Alabama. Born in Selma and, after graduating from Howard University Law School, he began practicing law in Selma in 1958. He started as the only black lawyer in the town and has been challenging the establishment since then. His law firm now owns two radio stations in Selma and Mr. Chestnut hosts a radio talk show three days a week touted as the most popular radio show in south and central Alabama. He is the author of "Black in Selma" with Julia Cass (1989 Farrar, Straus and Giroux), and writes a weekly column called the "Hard Cold Truth". He can be reached at



  1. Its racist to sentence blacks to death for killing whites and not for killing blacks, huh?

    What the author misses is that most blacks are killed by blacks too, so if we were to enforce the law equally for each race, we'd be executing blacks in even larger numbers -- which, frankly, might not be such a bad idea.

    Here's a suggestion -- if blacks don't like being jailed, why don't they stop committing crimes? If they want to be trusted with seats on the judiciary or other professional positions, why don't they get educations?

    Oh, because they're black, and they're not capable of either.

    "Discrimination" is just natural differences expressing themselves in society -- not evidence of any overt "racism".

  2. I think you have missed the point, Bill. The autor holds that it is more likely for a person to be put to death for murdering a white person than for murdering a black person - even though, 67% of murder victims are black. This suggests that the penalty for killing a white person is much more severe than for killing a black thus, devaluing the life of African-Americans.

    I would bet that that kind of disparity plays out all across the judicial system - not just in Alabama.

  3. There is a real simple solution. If the niggers would stop the killing; these problems would go away.

  4. The death penalty is just sick and disgusting anyways.

    How can anyone call themselves "pro-life" and rally to take control over women and their reproductive freedoms while shaking their cheerleader pom-poms to kill off people.

  5. Niggers deserve the death penalty and so do Jews. Persoanally I'd like to see it applied to race tratiors as well.

    Suicide bombers. Round up their worthless families and torture them to death and show it on TV. It would take all the fun out of suicide bombing if you know your mommy is going to get the blow torch to her toes after your gone.

  6. Now that would make a bomber stop & think before they blew themselves up. A blow torch on Mama's toe; Shit that hurts.

  7. The above poster who is impersonating me needs to be lynched in the tallest tree. Hal & I are not Faggots and we shouldn't be associated as such. He must be a Pedophile or he wouldn't be saying such vile things about my innocent little 13 month son.

    I wish I could get a hold of this Bastard. I would stomp his Faggot sic Ass.

  8. It seems to be your old buddy Roger Wiseman, Steve. He has always had a thing for you and your buddy Lloyd.

  9. Is that the real Hal Turner or just another fake?

    I'm confused!


  10. I also find it funny that people get their panties in a bind offended at the photo of two beautiful girls kissing each other on my blog, and yet, they drool in delight over the media snuff film footage of a public execution.

    How demented it that?

    Erotic vs Murder

    Okay, who are the really healthy people who will opt for the former?

  11. The topic of this article has to do with the disparities in our justice and penal system.

  12. Actually, Nikki, I had covered a rally in DC in Laffayette Park that dealt with this very issue.

    If you would like me to send you a few shots of the people who were protesting to make this very point, please let me know.

    I also have shots of some of the children who have parents in prisons you might find interesting.

    One of the main focuses of the rally was the unfair incarcernation of those who are victims of the "War in Drugs".

    Rich people tend not to serve time because they are able to either buy their way out or have the pull to keep themselves from prison.

    While the poor, esp people of colour tend to get roped up into the victimless crime sceme bottemless pit.

  13. Niggers commit the majority of crimes in the US even though they are a minority. They get what they deserve. End of disucssion.

  14. I oppose the death penalty on principle. I do not wish to grant the government power to put people to death. Though I am all for the quick and speedy death of those who in any way shape or form harm children. Working from this principle is not always easy, for example I would like to see Mumia walk out of prison a free man and have David Lane hung. But again I do not wish the state to have the power to murder people and let us make no mistake an "execution" by the government is a murder pure and simple it may be more sterile but the end result is the same the deliberate taking of a human life. I am in total agreement with Isis here when she makes her point. It is very ironic that the so called "pro lifers" are almost always for capital punishment. It really is sick!

  15. Hmmmmmm, a "fake Bill", why would anyone want to fake anyone else?

  16. I think the "fake Bill" uses an avatar with Bill's pic though I am not sure.

  17. Yes - it was a fake Bill White - I deleted the post. I have a pretty good hunch that this "Hal Turner" guy is not the real deal either.

    I agree with Isis and Josh as I very much oppose the death penalty. Isis - I would love to hear more about that rally.

  18. The rally was this past summer. It was one of the more emotional rallies I have ever shot.

    The author of Blood and Law

    Willie Ray Jackson was there and was with his son portraying a very stunning scene in grassroots activism.

    Art Behind Bars was there until the DC SWAT Team forced them to put all the art away (you know how dangerous art can be *grin*)

    And yes, the children of incarcerated persons were sadly in the mix.

    Just let me know where to send the photos.

  19. I think there is more than 1 fake Bill.



All comments must remain civil. No threats, racist epithets, or personal attacks will be tolerated. Rational debate, discourse, and even disagreement are all acceptable as long as they remain on point and within the realm of civility.