Non-unanimous jury scheme: The men at Angola State Penitentiary take a stand

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by Get All the Way Right, an organization of African American ‘10-2ers’

Referred to during the election campaign as “the shame of our state,” the non-unanimous jury scheme will no longer be used in Louisiana courts, but it was not applied retroactively. So the approximately 2,000 people serving 10-2 sentences will die in prison unless the law can “get all the way right,” as these writers advocate. The state is not cooperating and is sealing all jury polling records to hide the truth of the Black lives unjustly taken and still incarcerated by the non-unanimous jury scheme.

Until Louisiana’s state Constitution was amended in the November 2018 election, Louisiana was the only state in the union where a person could be condemned to a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole by a non-unanimous jury vote of 10 out of 12 jurors voting to convict – also known as a 10-2 verdict. This practice not only undermines justice by violating the standard of proof of beyond reasonable doubt, which accounts for Louisiana being a leading state in exonerations, but its origin is a direct violation of our guaranteed 14th Amendment right to equal protection of law under the United States Constitution.

The purpose of the “non-unanimous jury scheme” was for white Louisianians to silence and render African Americans powerless in the judicial process. The basis of their ideology was that African Americans were an ignorant people who should be subservient to whites.

Initially, the law allowed for two Blacks to sit on a jury, but to ensure their vote would not count, it required only nine of 12 jurors to convict. At the 1972 Constitutional Convention, to resolve some disagreements about the old law, a compromise was reached that 10 out of 12 jurors could still find guilt. Since slavery was abolished and only two African Americans were allowed on juries, the non-unanimous jury scheme would legally allow for the reintroduction of slavery by assuring convictions for Blacks, while guaranteeing no convictions for whites.

Initially, the law allowed for two Blacks to sit on a jury, but to ensure their vote would not count, it required only nine of 12 jurors to convict.

According to excerpts from the proceedings of Louisiana’s Constitutional Convention of 1898, the intent behind Louisiana’s non-unanimous jury scheme was clear: “What care I whether it be more or less ridiculous or not? Doesn’t it meet the case? Doesn’t it stop the Negro from voting, and isn’t that what we came here for?” asked former Confederate Sen. Thomas J. Semmes.

In closing, Semmes emphasized to the delegates that the “mission” had been to “establish the supremacy of the white race in this state.” Louisiana’s long standing practice of judicial racial discrimination is a statement that Black lives don’t matter in the State of Louisiana.

When the issue of the non-unanimous jury scheme was brought before the legislative committee in early 2018, one of the white members of the District Attorney’s Association stated, “It is what it is!” That statement angered some Black representatives; however, in the same fashion, this is exactly what those representatives said to the many people still incarcerated by the non-unanimous jury scheme, when they rewrote the law.

In other words, slavery is no longer legal in the state of Louisiana but you can still keep the slaves that you already have. So the new law won’t apply to those already incarcerated whose appeal processes have been finalized. The illusion of white supremacy is rooted so deep in the state of Louisiana that even today’s Black reformers – advocates and lawmakers – would rather tap dance around an issue before they can summon the courage to stand firm and uphold the truth about African American struggles.

Louisiana’s long standing practice of judicial racial discrimination is a statement that Black lives don’t matter in the State of Louisiana.

The 10-2 issue is about more than just the non-unanimous jury scheme. It also encompasses a wide range of racially discriminatory practices that target African Americans in the state. Rather than talk reparations, by changing the law, state officials are acting as if no harm was done.

To further add insult to injury, the courts are now sealing all jury polling records to hide the truth of all the Black lives unjustly taken and still incarcerated by the non-unanimous jury scheme. Every African American and any other race of people who believe in the American judicial system should be both appalled and outraged.

To further add insult to injury, the courts are now sealing all jury polling records to hide the truth of all the Black lives unjustly taken and still incarcerated by the non-unanimous jury scheme.

Now, representing the lead case in a class action civil rights violation against the state of Louisiana is Rev. Errol Victor Sr. A recent press release by the “Burning Bush” editorial reads as follows:

“One thousand African American prisoners of Louisiana State Penitentiary are expected to join together in the removal and habeas in the United States Eastern District Federal Court in New Orleans, Case No. 18-10537, Rev. Errol Victor Sr., L.S., v. State of Louisiana. Rev. Victor avers that these prisoners are African American descendants who have been denied rights that arise under federal law providing for specific civil rights stated in terms of racial equality. Secondly, that petitioners are either denied or cannot enforce specific federal rights in the courts of the state of Louisiana.

“Two hundred and thirty-one (231) African American Louisiana state prisoners, still incarcerated, have already joined and petitioned the courts as indispensable parties, and the numbers are constantly rising daily. More prisoners, at Hunts, St. Gabriel, Cottonport, Dixon Correctional Institution and other Louisiana prison facilities, are expected to join. Some white American 10-2ers indirectly injured by the racially motivated law have also joined Rev. Victor’s civil rights case as indispensable parties.”

“This is the last stance and second civil rights movement,” declares Rev. Victor. “The criminal justice system and law enforcement – the prison system – is the last racial stronghold in America that African Americans and people of color have to break the yoke and overcome before truly abolishing slavery and finally accomplishing the goal of complete human dignity, independence and equality.”

UPDATE: Another 230 African American Louisiana state prisoners have joined, bringing the total to date to 461 and counting.

To contact the members of Get All the Way Right at Angola, email editor@sfbayview.com.

The Ricky Davis affair: A Hurricane Katrina story

An example of the injustices that can occur under the 10-2 scheme is “The Ricky Davis affair: A Hurricane Karina story,” published in November 2015 by the San Francisco Bay View and written by Curtis Davis. Although Mr. Curtis Davis has been released since that article was published, the brothers he left behind understand the injustices taking place and have decided to come together and take a stand against injustice. Here’s an excerpt from the story:

“In most cases involving a homicide, the decision to charge white suspects with manslaughter and Blacks with second degree murder is a disturbing practice that has amounted to 89 percent of those serving life in Louisiana being people of color. Maybe the former has something to do with the fact that 98 percent of the state’s 66 parishes have white men in the position of district attorney.

“Hurricane Katrina made the situation much worse when most of the evacuees from New Orleans were Black people, pushed by the storm, into the more conservative Northern parishes, where law enforcement officials took a very hostile approach to dealing with what they saw as an invasion of ‘outsiders.’

“In a very interesting case in point, a New Orleans evacuee living in a Baton Rouge hotel was arrested and sentenced to life for fatally wounding a suspected serial rapist while trying to make a citizens’ arrest. The ‘victim’ was a local white man with political ties. His name was Corey Hawkins and the defendant was a Black man with no criminal record named Ricky Davis.

“Mr. Davis was one of the many thousands of people who did not leave New Orleans ahead of the storm. Once the levees broke, he suddenly found himself in a modern day city of Ninevah, bodies floating in the streets and desolation everywhere. He worked his way through the makeshift refugee camps and two months after the storm was living in a roach motel in Baton Rouge.

“On Oct. 29, 2005, exactly 60 days after the storm hit, Ricky Davis was sitting in his hotel room at the antebellum named Plantation Inn Hotel, when he was sought out by two female Katrina evacuees who had reported to the police that they had been raped by a white sexual predator. According to the ladies, the police ‘weren’t doing anything’ to protect them, and they were frightened even more because the suspect was seen lurking in the parking lot just a few minutes prior.

“Ricky gave his cellphone to his girlfriend and instructed her to call the police and proceeded to the parking lot with the intention of detaining the suspect until the police arrived.

“After arriving at the parking lot, witnesses pointed out the alleged predator stalking in a parked car. Mr. Davis confronted the suspect, informing him that several young Black females had accused him of rape. The situation escalated when the alleged rapist attempted to shoot Mr. Davis and run over him with his car.

“Hawkins subsequently died as a result of what was most likely a self-inflicted gunshot; however, in a remarkably amateurish investigation by local detectives, police failed to conduct a routine ballistics check on the weapon found in the victim’s lap.

“Ricky Davis was arrested and charged with manslaughter because of the mitigating factors of the case. That changed once the Hawkins family complained to their fellow Baton Rouge friends and contacts in the DA’s office. The sentiment went something like this:

“’How can an “outsider” come to our parish and make a citizens’ arrest? He’s not a citizen of Baton Rouge; he’s a damn refugee.’

“Before long the family successfully convinced the DA’s office to upgrade the charge to second degree murder. The process by which the prosecutor used a ‘non-jury indictment’ to make the upgrade is currently under review in the state’s highest court. A crime that has a mandatory life sentence can only be implemented by a grand jury consisting of nine members.

“The DA and the foreman in this case are alleged to have just signed the thing themselves without bothering to run it by the body. Ricky Davis went to trial and was found guilty as charged with a 10-2 jury verdict. Did I forget to mention that Louisiana is the only state where one can lose his freedom forever without having to have the U.S. gold standard of a unanimous verdict?

“The good ol’ boy system runs deep and, whether right or wrong, a Blackman who takes the life of a white person is doomed to meet the wrath of Confederate-inspired Southern justice.

“According to Michigan State Police Trooper Jeffery Werda, who gave an interview to the Associated Press: ‘I was told that I could go ahead and beat someone down or bitch slap them and they would do the report. I was told this was my gift from them for helping with the hurricane relief efforts.’

“’Comments were also made throughout the night by the Baton Rouge officers that they were told by their commanding officer to harass the evacuees from New Orleans because they wanted them to leave Baton Rouge.’

“In light of such attitudes from local law enforcement, it is clear that Ricky never had a chance of receiving fairness in such a toxic judicial environment. The Ricky Davis affair is just one of the little known travesties that has arisen as a result of the storm.

“In Louisiana, a life sentence means you die in prison. Mr. Davis’ act of heroism has turned him into a victim of an arbitrary racially motivated legal lynching. If Black Lives Matter, it’s hard to tell down here in Louisiana.”

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