Raw Story (via Pam's House Blend) gives some much-deserved coverage of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, AL -- a fine group that has taken the lead in ensuring fair legal representation and challenging inequities in the justice system.
Here's a summary of what EJI is up against. Welcome to the system that produced this guy:
* Alabama has no statewide public defender system.
* All 19 of Alabama's appellate court judges are white, as are 41 of its 42 elected District Attorneys.
* Odds are 1 in 3 that a jury will be all white.
* Since Alabama's resumption of the death penalty in 1975, courts have found that prosecutors illegally excluded black people from serving as jurors in at least 28 capital cases.
* The state's death row population has doubled in the past decade, with an overall death-sentencing rate that is 3-10 times greater than that of other Southern states.
* Though black people account for only 26% of Alabama's population overall...
-- nearly 63% of its prisoners are black
-- of the 23 people executed in Alabama between 1975 and 2001, 70% were black.
* A local law allows an elected judge to reject a jury's verdict of life and unilaterally sentence a prisoner to death, a power that gives those judges incredible incentive to show they are "tough on crime" by doing so, since they are up for re-election every 4-6 years.
* Nearly 22% of the people sitting on Alabama's death row were initially handed life sentences by their juries. Once convicted to death row, prisoners have no right to counsel. Those that do receive permission to seek legal recourse are faced with the nearly impossible task of attracting a lawyer who will work with a state-imposed $1,000 salary cap.
It's not politically popular to talk about it, but our apartheid-style justice system -- one for those well-off and white, another for the rest -- affects everybody. It locks up countless people wrongfully or for too long, destablizing entire communities. It leads millions to be deprived of the right to vote, especially in the South, with major political consequences. In capital cases, it means people of color are denied the lighter sentences given to their white counterparts, and in some cases means innocent people are put to death.
Groups like EJI are filling an important vacuum left by the silence of our political leaders. By definition, they're always playing defense. Let's hope some politicians find the courage to speak out for the "unwanted and outcast," and challenge the Alabama -- and also Southern and national -- way of justice.