As a Black law student, I would love nothing more than to see Derek Chauvin, his conspiring officers, and every bigoted cop brought to justice at the hands of a Black prosecutor, just for the irony.
However, unless you are currently reading while Black, I doubt you understand the stigma associated with Black prosecutors. So please allow me to be blunt: Black people do not trust Black prosecutors.
We trust Black people with our braids and fades, with our lawns and plumbing, and with our food and infant children. However, we do not trust the Black person facing us from the other side of the V.
The average Black lay person perceives Black prosecutors to be the enemy, and Kamala Harris’ failure to garner support among the Black community is the most recent example of this perception. In the Black community, Black prosecutors are considered to be sell-outs, or Uncle Toms, mostly because Black people distrust law enforcement in general.
Can you blame us? Throughout history, the relationship between Black people and law enforcement has been sensationalized to inform the majority of what the minority has already known and endured for centuries. Emmett Till, Rodney King, and Trayvon Martin; the evidence supporting the distrust in law enforcement by the Black community is in our news feeds and in our own backyards. Most people associated with law enforcement are perceived as antagonists in the eyes of most African Americans. This antagonism is best verbalized by Ice Cube in the first verse of N.W.A’s greatest hit:
Fuck the police! Comin’ straight from the underground; A young nigga got it bad ’cause I’m brown; And not the other color, so police think; They have the authority to kill a minority … But don’t let it be a black and a white one; ’Cause they’ll slam ya down to the street top; Black police showing out for the white cop …
This song hit the top of the charts in 1988, but the Black population can still relate to the depth of the injustice and pain just the same in the year 2020 in the midst of the protests and riots surrounding the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd.
The legal world is still very much dominated by white men with very little representation of Black legal professionals, especially Black prosecutors. Probably because:
It is true, every person, and every class and description of persons, who were at the time of the adoption of the Constitution recognised as citizens in the several States, became also citizens of this new political body; but none other; it was formed by them, and for them and their posterity, but for no one else.
Justice Taney in his Dred Scott (1857) opinion made it clear that while this land was definitely made by us, it was not made for us. To date, we still see more Black barbers and mechanics than Black doctors and lawyers due to generations of Black people following Booker T. Washington’s teachings — urging careers in trade work. Our deeply rooted familiarity of Black people in trade work and deeply rooted unfamiliarity in more prestigious careers, is another reason why the Black layperson does not trust Black prosecutors.
African American males play a major role in our American legal system not as lawyers, judges, or prosecutors, but as defendants in criminal proceedings. Indeed, on any given day and almost in any criminal court or juvenile justice system, African American males will be defendants, represented by a court appointed white attorney, prosecuted by a white prosecutor, sentenced by a white judge, and ultimately incarcerated and guarded by white prison guards.
If African Americans are more likely to be arrested, and therefore more likely to be indicted, then they are therefore more likely to be prosecuted, right? We need more Black prosecutors in order to be representative of the population they are prosecuting.
Prosecutors wield the the most power in the courtroom. Think of playing fetch with your dog. The dog runs and catches the ball, and brings the ball to your feet. In the criminal justice system, the cops (good ole boys) run and catch the accused, and bring the accused to the feet of the prosecutor. The discretion to charge and to plea bargain is the power to determine the extent that the accused is involved in the criminal justice system.
The time for Black prosecutors is now. We need more Black prosecutors to help mend the disproportionate amount of Black Americans incarcerated. We need more Black prosecutors to put criminals like Derek Chauvin & Co. behind bars to help prove that there is no place for bias, murder, and incompetent policing in these United States of America.
Written by Anora Marie Morton, a law student at the University of Louisville
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