First it was for acquiring automatic M-16 rifles by falsifying documents to the federal government. Then it was pursuing the death penalty against mostly poor, black men (one despite evidence that the cause of death was not homicide) citing reasons that society has devolved into a “jungle” and “we need to kill more people“.
The Caddo Parish District Attorney’s office is back in the news today with the release of a new study that shows that the office excludes black potential jurors from juries in criminal cases at 3 times the rate it excludes non-African American potential jurors. The study is coauthored by the MacArthur Justice Center in New Orleans and Reprieve Australia, and available at www.blackstrikes.com.
Racial violence and discrimination is not a new phenomenon in Caddo Parish. It was the lynching capital of the South at the turn of the century, and Shreveport continues to celebrate its legacy as the Confederacy’s Last Stand in the Civil War. Here is some background about race and justice in Caddo Parish from one of our previous posts:
Encompassing Shreveport and its surrounding towns and villages, Caddo has a population of a little over two hundred and fifty thousand, but an outsized role, both practical and symbolic, in the American justice system.
The history of the racialized, and at times vigilante justice in this part of Louisiana is too long to recite here, but for context’s sake it’s worth noting: (1) that until a concerted effort to have it removed came to fruition in 2011, a confederate flag flew over the courthouse; (2) of those counties that gave four or more death sentences in the last five years, Caddo has the highest number of sentences of any county in America, three quarters of them given to African-Americans; and (3) a recent study showed Caddo prosecutors struck nearly half of all African-American prospective jurors, but only 15% of whites.
The study referred to in (3) was a preliminary version of the now complete Blackstrikes study released today. In a piece for the New York Times on Sunday, Adam Liptak noted that the decision to strike black jurors was largely being made by white prosecutors:
Of the 12 prosecutors who handled at least 20 trials, 10 were white. The highest dismissal rate was held by Brian H. Barber, a white former prosecutor who struck five times as many blacks as others. Now a judge, he did not respond to requests for comment.
In his opinion editorial to The Shreveport Times in July, Prof. Charles Ogletree of Harvard Law School leveled a challenge at Caddo voters to ask for new leadership that would shake up the DA’s office:
“Though this symbol of racial injustice [the Confederate Flag that flew on the courthouse lawn] is now in Shreveport’s rearview mirror, the hard work of stamping out inequality in the criminal justice system remains. And it starts with reforming the Caddo Parish District Attorney’s Office.”
In what is shaping up to be an election with national implications, Caddo will decide who its next District Attorney will be in November. Acting District Attorney Dale Cox, whose controversial comments about the death penalty and use of racialized language has drawn sharp national criticism, pulled out of the DA’s race. But it remains to be seen whether one of the existing candidates can bring about the sort of deep cultural change that these recent events and damning new study demonstrate is necessary to restore the integrity of the Caddo DA’s office.