Not So Blind Justice— The Criminal (No) Justice System

When O. J. Simpson was found not guilty of murdering Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman in 1995 by a predominately Black jury the outrage was palpable; an intensifying twister of emotion sweeping across much of white America with a sense of disgust for an inept criminal justice system. The murders themselves as well as the subsequent trial were of great interest to the country. Like a trashy crime novel splashed with sex, money and betrayal, this case captured the attention of even those who claimed to be disgusted by it. The trial was aired in its entirety and fueled an outrage of the criminal justice system unseen in America previously.
After the not guilty verdict on October 3, 2014 there was talk of revamping the entire criminal justice system: it was unreliable; too much power was placed in the hands or minds of the uninformed and/or uneducated was one of many complaints about a judicial process that allowed juries to decide on guilt. In fact, some claimed that the whole system was suddenly flawed and didn’t work. It is fascinating that a system that has served white America so well for so long would be questioned to such a degree by the very group that has so often benefited from it, white America. Far too often, the majority of white America has insisted that the criminal justice system works and that it is equipped with safety devices such as appeals to ensure justice and that the different departments, law enforcement investigators, district attorneys, and the courts are checks and balances that make it just.
Yet, a so-thought wrongful acquittal in the Simpson case produced an outrage that has been absent from the slew of wrongful convictions that often take decades to correct. For example, Glenn Ford, a Black man, was convicted of robbery and murder and sentenced to die by electrocution for the 1983 murder by an all-white jury. Ford claimed to be innocent, saying he was not even there, but until recently, approximately three decades later, the courts wouldn’t listen and affirmed his conviction time after time. According to the Associated Press, Ford’s attorneys recently said his initial trial was ”profoundly compromised by inexperienced counsel and by the unconstitutional suppression of evidence, including information from an informant, a suppressed police report related to the time of the crime, and evidence of the murder weapon, which implicated the true perpetrator,” which overshadow the complaints leveled at the prosecution in the Simpson case where a predominately Black jury so angered the country with its not guilty verdict.
However, in Ford’s case an all-white jury’s verdict created no outrage and no questions concerning their intellect or understanding of the law and surely no cries of revamping the system were heard. In addition, according to the record the trial included questionable peremptory strikes by the prosecution that kept potential Black jurors off the jury. Still, the response to the Ford’s verdict was that the system works. The fact that both of his lawyers had little or no trial experiences and were working a death penalty case with a man’s life at stake caused no outcry, created no sense of outrage. And as for the checks and balances of the system, the Louisiana Supreme Court upheld Ford’s conviction and sentence despite raising “serious questions” about the quality of the state’s evidence and concluding the case for guilt was “not overwhelming.” Yet, his conviction was affirmed; too often the criminal justice system refuses to check or balance itself, especially when the defendant is Black.
According to the Innocence Project, since 1989, there have been 316 post-conviction DNA exoneration in the United States with 198 of them being African Americans, which means that a group that makes up only 12% of the population made up more than 62% of those wrongly convicted in these 316 cases. In addition, it was science and not the criminal justice system’s checks and balances that delivered justice. In New York State alone, 24 people have been exonerated through DNA testing after being convicted of crimes they did not commit and they served a combined 280 years in prison before the science of DNA facilitated their release. Tony Yarbough and Shariff Wilson spent 21 years in prison for the brutal triple murder they always claimed they didn’t do. The two men were victims to what has now been exposed as shoddy police work with the Coney Island case; a hurried investigation that featured coerced confessions, and misinterpreted evidence. Additionally, it’s been determined that Yarbough and Wilson suffered from inadequate legal representation, all factors which contributed to the two men spending 21 long years behind bars for the murders of Yarbough’s mother, 12-year-old sister and her friend.
Although the scene was extremely violent, not a speck of blood was on either man. Yarbough nor Wilson had criminal records; Wilson, 15-years-old, and Yarbough, 18-years-old, would be failed by investigators, the District Attorney’s office as well as their own lawyers and the courts. However, no shouts of outrage would be raised and no demands that the system be changed. Three people, two of them children, were brutally murdered and without any solid evidence against Wilson or Yabough, seasoned investigators had no problem pushing the case to the D.A. who has no problem going to court with it. No one stood up for justice; not the police, not the D.A. or the courts and there were no concern ever voiced that a deranged killer might still be on the loose, which proved to be the case seven years later when the same DNA discovered under Yarbough’s mother’s fingernail was found at the scene of another murdered victim, a woman, who was killed the same way as the three in Coney Island. But then, none of these victims looked liked Nicole Brown Simpson or Ronald Goldman and of course Coney Island is no Brentwood, which of course the criminal justice system saw right off-.

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