A Third Stage for Civil Rights

In the 1960s, as a law student, I became, successively, a writer for, and then the editor of my law school’s newspaper. In that capacity I began criticizing segregation. One could not write about segregation without saying that it was wrong and unjustifiable. As one of my professors put it, you could not acknowledge that blacks have a soul and justify segregation.

I soon went beyond writing about it. I was drawn into participating in the Civil Rights Movement. A friend of mine since high school, who was also a law school classmate, became active in the Movement and went frequently in that capacity into the heart of the Mississippi Delta, real Faulkner country. He was beaten up by the Klan. He was in the thick of the struggle. He persuaded a number of us fellow students to go down and assist in the Movement.

At one point, the authorities in Mississippi, under pressure from the federal courts, had to integrate the schools, but were still operating segregated school buses. My friend was following one of the buses to document this illegal segregation and the authorities arrested him. He was charged first with reckless driving and then that was altered (with a ball point pen as the trial began) into violation of a state statute making it a crime to follow a motor vehicle too closely. This was in Issaquena County, by the Yazoo River, in its county seat, Meyersville.

A number of us went down to continue our work in the Movement and also to support him in fighting the trumped-up charge. It should be mentioned that the blacks there in Issaquena County were led by a remarkable woman, Mrs. Unita Blackwell, one of the many remarkable people who courageously led the Movement in the deep South.

As the trial of my friend began, many of the indigenous black leaders of the Movement were in the audience, along with a number of us from our law school. It was a historic trial because, after a monumental struggle, the Movement had been able to force the authorities to include black Mississippians in the venire, the jury pool, for the first time since Reconstruction had ended. As a result, the jury selected was racially mixed.

The trial began. The prosecutor was an older gentleman with a kind of turkey wattle on his neck a la Senator McConnell. His tactics were to castigate my friend and indeed all of us as outsiders, foreigners, with unpronounceable names, even though most of them were clearly derived from Scotch and Irish antecedents, like the names of many southerners, including prominent Confederates. The school bus driver was a woman and the old prosecutor attempted to cast her as being personally attacked by my friend’s following of her bus. He would say things such as: “When you attack our womanhood, sir, I must arise to defend them.”

My friend was represented by a very capable civil rights lawyer from the Washington, D.C. area. He became quite prominent in civil rights law. The jury hung along racial lines and my friend was not convicted.

While we were all still sitting there in the courtroom another trial came on swiftly. It was a trial of two young black men. They had been caught red-handed poaching on a state game preserve and were charged with violating the state law against such poaching. Their trial proceeded so quickly that we were all still sitting there when it ended. The jury hung along racial lines although they were clearly guilty.

My friend’s lawyer was still standing at the side of the courtroom when this next trial ended. After the verdict of a hung jury was read he leaned toward our group and said quietly: “Hopefully the third stage will be trial on the basis of the evidence.”

As I read about the Black Lives Matter movement and its encouragement by the man occupying the Oval Office and his partymate aspirant to that office, along with the visits of so-called civil rights leaders like Al Sharpton to the Oval Office, my mind goes back to that day in Mississippi. In a postgraduate paper in a small fellowship after law school I studied and analyzed the relationship between law and communications. Law, I concluded, grows out of fields of communications among the people, unless the people’s ability to intercommunicate is overwhelmed by intercommunication amongst an elite that supersedes the intercommunication amongst the people. The latter is what happened from those days in the 1960s until the e-revolution.

When in the court of public opinion, untruths have great prominence because of a powerful elite interested in promulgating untruth, then the danger to the rule of law is great. This has been happening now for over 40 years. The unwillingness to consider actual evidence in the court of public opinion can influence what happens in courtrooms. It is the use of actual evidence to arrive at verdicts in either arena which the Rule of Law depends upon.

My mind keeps going back to that day in Mississippi as the events have unfolded of George Zimmerman, of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, of Freddie Grey, and now of the supposed abundant executions of innocent blacks by what are assumed, without any actual evidence to be racist police officers. We will never reach the stage of trial on the basis of the evidence as long as there is a powerful elite dominating influential channels of communication such as a so-called mainstream media which is affiliated with a single political party devoted to a fundamental change in America which has an interest in seeing that actual evidence is not presented. Polls in recent years have shown that the bulk of the population has less and less confidence in the ability of the mainstream media to convey the truth. But that still leaves a lot of people willing to believe that which is not true. Powerful forces in academia assist in maintaining the influence of the mainstream media despite the growing awareness in the broader public of the lack of reliability of the supposed “evidence” being adduced.

When persons at the highest levels encourage the spreading of untruths and are echoed in the so-called mainstream media the danger that courts will not adhere to the truth as necessary to the Rule of Law persists. So far petit and grand juries and judges have resisted this call. But the third stage of trial on the basis of the evidence in the court of public opinion has not been reached. The greater purpose of the Movement is not yet secure. When, at the Framing, we were assured the guarantee of a jury of our peers, all then involved assumed that our peers would be as interested in the truth as they, the Framers, were. Evidence is the path to truth in the court of public opinion as in every court. It is time for all leaders and all media to acknowledge this and speak and act accordingly, truthfully, putting forth actual evidence. At present, the lies continue -- against the evidence.

In the 1960s, as a law student, I became, successively, a writer for, and then the editor of my law school’s newspaper. In that capacity I began criticizing segregation. One could not write about segregation without saying that it was wrong and unjustifiable. As one of my professors put it, you could not acknowledge that blacks have a soul and justify segregation.

I soon went beyond writing about it. I was drawn into participating in the Civil Rights Movement. A friend of mine since high school, who was also a law school classmate, became active in the Movement and went frequently in that capacity into the heart of the Mississippi Delta, real Faulkner country. He was beaten up by the Klan. He was in the thick of the struggle. He persuaded a number of us fellow students to go down and assist in the Movement.

At one point, the authorities in Mississippi, under pressure from the federal courts, had to integrate the schools, but were still operating segregated school buses. My friend was following one of the buses to document this illegal segregation and the authorities arrested him. He was charged first with reckless driving and then that was altered (with a ball point pen as the trial began) into violation of a state statute making it a crime to follow a motor vehicle too closely. This was in Issaquena County, by the Yazoo River, in its county seat, Meyersville.

A number of us went down to continue our work in the Movement and also to support him in fighting the trumped-up charge. It should be mentioned that the blacks there in Issaquena County were led by a remarkable woman, Mrs. Unita Blackwell, one of the many remarkable people who courageously led the Movement in the deep South.

As the trial of my friend began, many of the indigenous black leaders of the Movement were in the audience, along with a number of us from our law school. It was a historic trial because, after a monumental struggle, the Movement had been able to force the authorities to include black Mississippians in the venire, the jury pool, for the first time since Reconstruction had ended. As a result, the jury selected was racially mixed.

The trial began. The prosecutor was an older gentleman with a kind of turkey wattle on his neck a la Senator McConnell. His tactics were to castigate my friend and indeed all of us as outsiders, foreigners, with unpronounceable names, even though most of them were clearly derived from Scotch and Irish antecedents, like the names of many southerners, including prominent Confederates. The school bus driver was a woman and the old prosecutor attempted to cast her as being personally attacked by my friend’s following of her bus. He would say things such as: “When you attack our womanhood, sir, I must arise to defend them.”

My friend was represented by a very capable civil rights lawyer from the Washington, D.C. area. He became quite prominent in civil rights law. The jury hung along racial lines and my friend was not convicted.

While we were all still sitting there in the courtroom another trial came on swiftly. It was a trial of two young black men. They had been caught red-handed poaching on a state game preserve and were charged with violating the state law against such poaching. Their trial proceeded so quickly that we were all still sitting there when it ended. The jury hung along racial lines although they were clearly guilty.

My friend’s lawyer was still standing at the side of the courtroom when this next trial ended. After the verdict of a hung jury was read he leaned toward our group and said quietly: “Hopefully the third stage will be trial on the basis of the evidence.”

As I read about the Black Lives Matter movement and its encouragement by the man occupying the Oval Office and his partymate aspirant to that office, along with the visits of so-called civil rights leaders like Al Sharpton to the Oval Office, my mind goes back to that day in Mississippi. In a postgraduate paper in a small fellowship after law school I studied and analyzed the relationship between law and communications. Law, I concluded, grows out of fields of communications among the people, unless the people’s ability to intercommunicate is overwhelmed by intercommunication amongst an elite that supersedes the intercommunication amongst the people. The latter is what happened from those days in the 1960s until the e-revolution.

When in the court of public opinion, untruths have great prominence because of a powerful elite interested in promulgating untruth, then the danger to the rule of law is great. This has been happening now for over 40 years. The unwillingness to consider actual evidence in the court of public opinion can influence what happens in courtrooms. It is the use of actual evidence to arrive at verdicts in either arena which the Rule of Law depends upon.

My mind keeps going back to that day in Mississippi as the events have unfolded of George Zimmerman, of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, of Freddie Grey, and now of the supposed abundant executions of innocent blacks by what are assumed, without any actual evidence to be racist police officers. We will never reach the stage of trial on the basis of the evidence as long as there is a powerful elite dominating influential channels of communication such as a so-called mainstream media which is affiliated with a single political party devoted to a fundamental change in America which has an interest in seeing that actual evidence is not presented. Polls in recent years have shown that the bulk of the population has less and less confidence in the ability of the mainstream media to convey the truth. But that still leaves a lot of people willing to believe that which is not true. Powerful forces in academia assist in maintaining the influence of the mainstream media despite the growing awareness in the broader public of the lack of reliability of the supposed “evidence” being adduced.

When persons at the highest levels encourage the spreading of untruths and are echoed in the so-called mainstream media the danger that courts will not adhere to the truth as necessary to the Rule of Law persists. So far petit and grand juries and judges have resisted this call. But the third stage of trial on the basis of the evidence in the court of public opinion has not been reached. The greater purpose of the Movement is not yet secure. When, at the Framing, we were assured the guarantee of a jury of our peers, all then involved assumed that our peers would be as interested in the truth as they, the Framers, were. Evidence is the path to truth in the court of public opinion as in every court. It is time for all leaders and all media to acknowledge this and speak and act accordingly, truthfully, putting forth actual evidence. At present, the lies continue -- against the evidence.