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View Diary: Misinterpreting Legal Language is the REAL Racism (35 comments)

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  •  Racism in the system is not about language (0+ / 0-)

    This is not about interpretation of language, as if merely educating people about the correct way to interpret statutory language will solve this problem, but about how racism finds many creative ways to put Black people down.  The same effect also happens to others, though to a lesser extent.  Witness what has happened to Arabs and Arab-Americans accused of terrorism since 9/11. And this is not only racism of White people, but of Black and Asian people too, because we are raised in the same society with the same attitudes. I've heard of Black defendants not wanting a Black lawyer because they assume that the White lawyer will be superior, and other examples of Black racism.  

    As a professor of law and society, I spend countless hours teaching about this, and one has to start in the 1500's to understand where these attitudes came from (read Winthrop's White Over Black: American Attitudes Towards the Negro, 1550-1812). Then, one can begin to understand how racism has infected the legal system in many subtle ways, as described by Delgado and Stefancic in Introduction to Critical Race Theory.  Further complicating the situation, the effects of institutional racism are then erased by shortsighted theories of colorblindness, as illustrated by several books by Patricia Williams, particularly "Seeing a Color-Blind Future: The Paradox of Race."

    If you want to see my syllabus and some of the readings, see my website, and click on LAWS 131 at  

    •  I think NPR had a segment yesterday (0+ / 0-)

      comparing federal prosecutions for "terrorism" under the Clinton and Bush II administrations.  The assertion was that under the Clinton DOJ, terroristic acts were treated as crimes and the prosecutors concentrated on building a strong case or else not taking the case to court if the facts were not there.

      The comparison was to the current DOJ which has a tendency to try to bootstrap cases, tying together various actions by different people, trying to show by pattern or inference that some sort of conspiracy exists. It was pointed out that the Bush DOJ had a very poor track record in prosecuting alleged terrorists and seems to want to charge the defendant and then build a case. I suppose the Padilla case is one of the more egregious cases but a recent case that was dismissed had the jurors scratching their heads. As one of them said, "They had mountains and mountains of material and they showed us all sorts of stuff that didn't seem related to the case, like tapes of people being executed by al Qaeda. But they never proved that the defendants were connected to any of this"      

    •  it's not ONLY about language (0+ / 0-)

      you are correct.  if a law is racist or jurors are racist or the judge is racist, then interpreting language won't do anything.  if a law is racist, then the only correct interpretation would be a racist one (thus furthering the injustice Congress wanted to proliferate).  but if jurors or a judge are racist and are interpreting what's clearly not a racist law (the aggravated battery one here), then they're not interpreting the law. they're imposing their racism.  the point i was making is that in Jena we have covert racism  because while people were looking at and complaining about the nooses (they should have--that kind of behavior shouldn't be tolerated) we accepted RACISM AS INTERPRETATION.  we also need to take seriously this issue of interpretation.  you're right in noting that interpretation of language won't elimintate all racism in the justice system.  but it's an important (and often forgotten) front.  i am interested to take a look at your syllabus.  i'm a (recent) ABD in literary studies.

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