In response to the mistrial of a former South Carolina police officer accused of murdering a fleeing black man, the editor of a prominent legal site is calling on black jurors to acquit black defendants accused of, among other things, murdering white people.
Elie Mystal, editor of Above The Law, said acquitting black defendants regardless of guilt would “put the shoe on the other foot for a change.”
“Maybe it’s time for black people to use the same tool white people have been using to defy a system they do not consent to: jury nullification,” Mr. Mystal said in the op-ed published Wednesday. “White juries regularly refuse to convict or indict cops for murder. White juries refuse to convict vigilantes who murder black children. White juries refuse to convict other white people for property crimes.
“Maybe it’s time minorities got in the game?” he continued. “Black people lucky enough to get on a jury could use that power to acquit any person charged with a crime against white men and white male institutions.”
Mr. Mystal, a graduate of Harvard Law School, said the severity of the crime makes no difference.
“Assault? Acquit. Burglary? Acquit. Insider trading? Acquit,” he said. “Murder? … what the hell do you think is happening to black people out there? What the hell do you think we’re complaining about when your cops shoot us or choke us? Acquit.”
The blog post comes days after a jury deadlocked in the case of Michael Slager, a former police officer who was caught on video fatally shooting Walter Scott, who was fleeing from the encounter following a traffic stop. The prosecution says it intends to retry the case.
There is precedent for the idea of intentionally deadlocking juries as a form of protest.
Mr. Mystal cites the work of Georgetown University Law professor Paul Butler, who said jurors need to “take the law into their own hands.”
“If they think that the police are treating African Americans unfairly — by engaging in racial profiling or using excessive force — they don’t have to convict, even if [they] think the defendant is guilty,” Mr. Butler wrote in The Washington Post earlier this year.
Refusing to acquit black defendants “could make a difference,” Mr. Mystal said.
“The stench of it will choke the system until it is willing to change,” he said.