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U.S. Justice System Fails Blacks
Professor: Legal system fails to protect rights of blacks
By RAFAEL A. OLMEDA,
Web-posted: 10:54 p.m. Feb. 17, 2001
A white man accused of killing two young black men in a
bizarre drunken driving accident was allowed to drink again to prove
he really wasn't drunk.
A 12-year-old black
child killed his playmate, and the justice system treated him as if
he were an adult.
In each case, the black
community responded with surprise and
They shouldn't, said Howard
University Professor Michelle Jacobs, one of the speakers at a forum
on "Law and Race" organized for Black History Month at the Broward
County Main Library in Fort Lauderdale on
"You should not be surprised at any
criminal justice decision that tramples on the rights of black
people," she said. "The American legal system does not respect our
legal existence, period."
Jacobs was joined by
U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Miramar), Harvard Law School Professor
Charles Ogletree and Fort Lauderdale lawyer W. George Allen on the
panel, which was organized by the African-American Research Library
and Cultural Center.
discussion touched on a number of topics, including the recent
murder conviction of Lionel Tate, now 14, and the upcoming trial of
former FBI Agent David Farrall, accused of killing two men after
driving the wrong way down Interstate 95 in 1999. Other topics
included Attorney General John Ashcroft, reparations for the
descendants of slaves, affirmative action and Supreme Court Justice
As a political opponent of
Ashcroft, Hastings said his appointment to lead the Department of
Justice will increase activism in the black
"I rather enjoy the fact that he's
there, because it makes us work harder," he
Another speaker, local Assistant U.S.
Attorney Terry Brown, agreed with Hastings, though from a different
"I have got to be more diligent
than ever to ensure that everything I'm doing is in the interest of
justice," he said. Earlier, Brown quipped that as an
African-American prosecutor he is now in a position to "police the
police," making sure the rights of all suspects, including black
suspects, are respected.
The other topics touch
on longstanding issues that seem simple but are really more complex,
said Ogletree. Speakers derided the idea that the U.S. Constitution
and justice system are "color-blind."
blind to race, especially in the context of the criminal justice
system, is to be blind to injustice," said Ogletree, who represented
Anita Hill in Thomas' confirmation hearings in
Each topic seemed to bring an admonition
from Jacobs to the audience of 120 community
"You have to turn off your VCRs and
talk to your kids," she said. "We have to educate ourselves on the
law. You can't trust the criminal justice system because that's a
machine that's on a roll and it will crush
Rafael Olmeda can be reached at