The unthinkable has happened in Georgia. A duo of so-called civil rights leaders say blacks should serve on juries, but not to provide justice. Instead, they should make certain that black defendants go free even though they may be guilty.
Georgia state Representative Tyrone Brooks, president of the Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials, and Joe Beasley, the Georgia chair of the Rainbow Coalition, held a press conference in Atlanta on September 28 to make that declaration and denounce attempts by Georgia Attorney General Thurbert Baker to retry former state Senator Ralph David Abernathy, III.
Abernathy, son of the late civil rights leader Reverend Ralph David Abernathy, Jr., was recently tried on 32 counts included misappropriating more than $13,000 in state funds. The trial ended in a hung jury after Brooks and other prominent civil rights leaders allegedly influenced the jury.
Abernathy represented metropolitan Atlanta. His antics are legend in Georgia, ranging from leading police on a high-speed chase because he was late for a speech to schoolchildren about leadership to walking into a women's bathroom in the Georgia state Capitol building to chat up the occupants and refusing requests to leave.
Abernathy's political downfall came from two major events. In the early 1998, U.S. Customs officials detained Abernathy at Atlanta Hartsfield International Airport when he returned from a Jamaican vacation. A strip search found he literally placed drugs "where the sun don't shine," sealed in a plastic bag in his underwear. He was charged with attempting to smuggle marijuana. While the charges were ultimately dropped, he was censured by the state Senate.
During the summer of 1998, Abernathy bounced the check to pay the qualifying fees for his senatorial re-election run. He first blamed it on his wife, then on a conspiracy by both state Democrats and "racists." As a result, Abernathy did not meet the qualifying date for the Democratic primary. A write-in campaign was unsuccessful.
Most recently, Abernathy was accused of witness tampering, misappropriation of state funds, stealing state funds and related criminal behavior. But his trial ended in a hung jury when jurors could not agree on a verdict. Among the evidence against Abernathy was a tape recording of him admitting to an advisor that he forged her name on expense reports and his begging and cajoling her to lie about his actions. With damning evidence like this, how could a jury not convict him?
Just after jury deliberations began, the King family (including Coretta Scott King and sons Martin, III and Dexter) and state Representative Brooks, the Reverend Al Sharpton and Abernathy's mother made a concerted attempt to influence the jury. As the jury headed to lunch on their first day of deliberations, Brooks led the others in what they called a "prayer vigil." This "vigil" chased the jurors through the building, foiling efforts by the bailiff to keep them separated.
Upon hearing this, the judge called in each member of the jury to ask him or her if they could still render an impartial verdict. Each said they could. After the mistrial was declared, however, several jurors came forward to note that at least two of the jurors - both black, incidentally - made it clear from the onset (more so after the "vigil") that they would not review the facts of the case, nor would they rule against Abernathy. The judge asked the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to look into the incident to determine if charges should be brought against the group.
Brooks and Beasley's subsequent news conference denounced Attorney General Baker's promise to retry Abernathy in light of these revelations, calling it a personal vendetta. But they did not produce any evidence or indicate what sort of vendetta that would be. Beasley, alluding to plans to oppose Baker's re-election efforts in 2002, said, "we can't get Clarence Thomas, but we can get this one." Baker, by the way, is also black.
Brooks and Beasley are irresponsibly calling for blacks in Georgia to serve on juries whenever possible to make sure that those charged get off, making special note to indicate that black elected officials who are charged with a crime should not have to face justice.
If anyone is out of line here, it is certainly Brooks and Beasley. Their actions have tainted the waters for any black wanting to run for office. In addition, their actions make blacks suspect within the legal system. It will prompt the question, "Is this person trying to get the criminal off?"
It isn't a question of civil rights, but of rights and wrongs.
(Michael King is a member of Project 21 and an Internet and
radio broadcaster in Atlanta, Georgia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Note: New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21.
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