Thursday, September 8, 2011

Struggle Against Confederate Flag at Caddo Parish Courthouse Moves Forward

From The Louisiana Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty:
The Louisiana Supreme Court released its opinion in State of Louisiana versus Felton Dorsey yesterday, September 7, 2011. In a section titled “Endemic Racism,” the Court addressed the claim that the “presence of a confederate flag memorial outside the courthouse in Caddo Parish injects an arbitrary factor-race-into the capital sentencing decision.” The opinion acknowledged “the display of a confederate flag would be offensive to some” citing cases from the 4th and 11th Circuit Courts that recognized that “the confederate flag has multiple ‘emotionally charged’ meanings and is viewed by some as a symbol of white supremacy” and that “It is the sincerely held view of many Americans, of all races, that the confederate flag is a symbol of racial separation and oppression… it is not an irrational inference that one who displays the confederate flag may harbor racial bias against African-Americans.”

The Supreme Court recognized that race should never play a role in capital proceedings, but held that the issue was not “properly before it”, because defense counsel failed to raise an objection to the presence of the Flag at the time of trial. The Court stated that hearings should be conducted at the trial level as to the adverse effect of the flag on the “administration of the criminal justice system with respect to black defendants” before it would address the issue on appeal.

The decision did not address excluded Juror Mr. Carl Staples’ right to serve on a capital jury without the prejudicial influence of the Confederate Flag.

This opinion affirms the concerns of the community, including the 26 Caddo Parish and other Louisiana Clergy Leaders, 28 Law and history scholars, the ACLU, the NAACP, the Louis A. Martinet Legal Society, the Equal Justice Initiative, the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute For Race And Justice, the Southern Center For Human Rights and Mr. Carl Staples who signed onto the amicus brief in this case, that there is an unacceptable risk that the Confederate Flag injects racial bias into capital proceedings at the Caddo Parish Courthouse and that they must continue their efforts to highlight this in capital cases at the trial level.

“The Court has called for pre-trial hearings to determine whether the Confederate Flag injects racial bias into capital proceedings,” local pastor Reverend Sim Roberson responds, “So that’s exactly what we’ll do.”

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