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Wednesday, April 06, 2016


Professor Paul Butler has an interesting opinion piece in yesterday’s Washington Post revisiting his 1995 Yale Essay Racially Based Jury Nullification: Black Power in the Criminal Justice System.  In the Post article, he writes:

“[S]ome 20 years later, the whole world knows what African Americans have been saying all along. There are two justice systems in the United States: one for privileged white people, and another, inferior one for everyone else. Last year, 90 percent of the people sentenced in D.C. criminal court were African American, even though blacks make up less than half the city’s population.

Nationally, most of the people locked up for drug crimes are African American, in spite of studies that demonstrate blacks don’t use or sell drugs more than any other group. We make up 13 percent of the country’s population but nearly 60 percent of the people doing time for drug offenses.

And an endless series of videos have shown how black people get policed: the mailman arrested in Brooklyn for yelling at the cops who almost ran him down; the teenage girl tackled by the cop at a pool party in McKinney, Tex.; Eric Garner, arrested for selling a cigarette in Staten Island and then put in a chokehold that killed him.

Like a lot of African Americans, I am sick and tired of being sick and tired. I encourage any juror who thinks the police or prosecutors have crossed the line in a particular case to refuse to convict.”

I have taught about juries since I started teaching law, working them into criminal procedure, advanced criminal procedure, and a seminar class I teach.  I have taught Professor Butler’s theory in my seminar class (along with the response essay).  But, I have not reworked my curriculum to address how the #BlackLivesMatters movement impacts these discussions about juries.  It is a topic I am thinking more about this week as our law school is hosting a symposium entitled “From Protest Movements of the 60s to #BlackLivesMatter: Legal Strategies for an Emerging Civil Rights Movement.” 

Have others of you added #BlackLivesMatters, the “Ferguson Effect,” and/or its impact on race and criminal justice to your classroom teaching?  How?  Plainly, the subject might come up in class discussions, but have you changed your curriculum/readings as a result of changes in society?  Has it changed your strategy of teaching law?

Posted by Andrew Guthrie Ferguson on April 6, 2016 at 03:09 PM | Permalink


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