News Release

When Racism Pervades the Jury Room

The New York Times reports in “Black Man Wins New Trial Over Confederate Memorabilia in Jury Room”: “A Tennessee appeals court granted Tim Gilbert a new trial after jurors deliberated in a room named after the United Daughters of the Confederacy.”

CLARENCE LUSANE, clusane@igc.org, @clusane
    Lusane is a professor of political science at Howard University and author of the forthcoming Twenty Dollars and Change: Harriet Tubman vs. Andrew Jackson, and the Future of American Democracy and The Black History of the White House — both from City Lights books.

    He said today: “The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals was just in granting a new trial to African American defendant Tim Gilbert following his conviction for aggravated assault and other charges. Not only was Gilbert judged by an all-white jury in a county that is 11 percent African American, but that jury made their decision in a room festooned with Confederate symbols. A portrait of Jefferson Davis, president of the rebelling Confederate States of America, looks over the room along with a large, framed Confederate flag. This was no accidental design. The room was maintained by and named for the Confederate-defending United Daughters of the Confederacy, a group that lost its Congressional-supported patent for its insignia back in 1993 after a majority of senators came to understand the racism underlying the symbol. A 31-page ruling by the appeals court forcefully argued that Gilbert was denied a right to a fair trial, an impartial jury, due process, and equal protection, all constitutional violations. That room, ‘exposed the jury to extraneous prejudicial information’ according to the ruling. By acknowledging that the ‘location of jury deliberations’ can clearly be bias, at least one court is willing to end the marriage between overt white supremacy and fairness in jury determinations. One question left unanswered by the ruling: how many other black defendants were convicted by all or nearly all white juries in that room?”