Local Justice Leaders Condemn Exclusion of Black and Jewish Jurors from Alameda Death Penalty Cases

Brent Turner, San Francisco Bay Area Black and Jewish Unity Coalition

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Oakland, CA – Local justice leaders gathered Tuesday in front of the Fallon Street Courthouse in Oakland calling for the resentencing of all death penalty cases following revelations that Black and Jewish residents have been routinely and illegally excluded from serving on capital juries in Alameda County for decades.

After a deputy district attorney in DA Price’s office uncovered evidence of the illegal practice of excluding jurors on the basis of race or their Jewish faith, DA Price’s office shared the information with the defense attorneys in the case and with the federal judge overseeing the appeals.

U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria ordered the District Attorney’s office to begin a review of every capital case from Alameda County, 35 in total.

Brent Turner, representing the San Francisco Bay Area Black and Jewish Unity Coalition said, “We’re here today to confront grave injustice that has been exposed within our justice system. It has come to light that Black and Jewish jurors were intentionally excluded from death row cases in Alameda County.

“This is yet another example of systemic discrimination that has plagued our country, our state, and our county for far too long in the south, they practice discrimination openly.”

He pointed out, “These aren’t just statistics, these are real people with families and futures. It’s not about acknowledging the past, but about making amends and insurance and ensuring that such injustices never happen again.”

Turner added, “It is also crucial that we recognize that other district attorneys have turned a blind eye to this issue displaying a level of complacency that is unacceptable.”

Yoel Haile, Director of Criminal Justice Program, ACLU of Northern California

“This gross injustice is just further evidence of the racially biased application of the death penalty law not just in Alameda County but across California,” said Yoel Haile, director of the criminal justice program at the ACLU of Northern California. “Biases are intensified when prosecutors eliminate a large percentage of Californians, especially Black Californians, to prevent them from serving on capital juries. The only remedy is to abolish the death penalty in California once and for all.”

Haile added, “Public defenders and defense attorneys in Alameda County have been raising the alarm for decades about the unethical and downright illegal practices of this DA’s office. The previously elected DAs have failed to curb these unethical practices. The widespread nature of these practices indicates that they were either accepted or outright encouraged this level of prosecutorial misconduct in search of convictions at all costs.”

While the speakers on Tuesday condemned the inaction of past DAs, they also praised the action of current DA, Pamela Price.

“We commend the courage of DA Price and the deputy DA who fulfilled their Brady obligation and turned over to the defense evidence that exposed that prosecutors routinely discriminated against Black, Jewish and LGBTQ people during jury selection, denying the accused a trial by a jury of their peers,” Haile said.

He continued, “We call on DA Price to continue the work she’s doing of rooting out racism and discrimination from Alameda County’s criminal legal system. We call on this DA’s office to swiftly provide relief to all affected people, whether they’re on death row or face the death penalty and seek to hold accountable.”

Rabbi Josh Weisman, Temple Beth Sholom

Rabbi Josh Weisman of Temple Beth Shalom in San Leandro asked why exclude Jews and Blacks from Death Penalty cases.

The Rabbi said, “This case raises an important question in my mind, just who was afraid of Black and Jewish jurors in death penalty cases? Is it a system that has disproportionately sentenced Black and brown people to death? It raises another question. Why were they afraid of Black and Jewish jurors in death penalty cases?”

He continued, “Is it because of the sense of connection to our histories and current experiences of oppression that is so foundational to the Black American and Jewish communities? Were they afraid that people who know their history might be on juries? The Black and Jewish communities are rooted in a shared tradition that goes back to the foundations of the notions of justice that we share.”

Morgan Zamora, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights

Morgan Zamora, from Ella Baker Center, pointed out that, earlier this year, the Ella Baker Center joined as a petitioner in a challenge to our state’s capital punishment statute because the racially disparate application of this extreme sentence is in direct violation of our state’s constitution and beyond, that is a direct attack on the humanity of the populations who are most impacted.

“This is a serious issue,” she said.  “What we have seen come to light in Alameda County, a legacy of prosecutorial misconduct that not only has allowed but promoted bias, anti-blackness and antisemitism is a clear example of the types of blatantly discriminatory practices that have resulted in so many facing harsher sentences and being condemned in the state on the basis of their identity.

“Practices such as these only further erode the community’s lack of trust in our legal system and its actors and the only way to restore even some of that faith is for the entities that uphold these systems to provide direct relief to those who have been affected and to ensure that these incidents cannot reproduce themselves ever again.”

Helen Hutchinson, League of Women Voters of Alameda County

Helen Hutchinson, League of Women Voters of Alameda County said that “we are appalled and disgusted by these practices in the District Attorney’s office and we join with our allies in the call for re-sentencing and accountability.”

Turtle Woman (she/her), from Bend the Arc Jewish Action, noted that “as someone who has been convicted of a federal felony, I am not permitted to serve on juries.”

She said, that we are here today “to ensure and extend the right of all people to serve on juries and somewhat correct the imbalance of our criminal legal system in the jury process and in the criminal legal system in general.”

There were also additional revelations on Tuesday that exclusion was extended to the LGBTQ community.

Turtle Woman, Core Leader of Bend the Arc Jewish Action California

“I’m also here to share some recent information that has emerged in the last couple of days, and this is information that strikes me, especially painfully as a formerly incarcerated trans woman following the discovery of new evidence of racial bias in jury selection,” Turtle Woman said.

She explained, “This review has resulted in the discovery of new evidence of anti L-G-B-T-Q bias and jury selections. In past Alameda County cases, we have provided to reporters photos of jury selection notes from two death penalty cases from Alameda County, one using derogatory anti-lesbian slur and the second using a derogatory anti-gay slur. One of these cases was tried as recently as 2010.

“The language used by Alameda County prosecutors to describe L-G-B-T-Q prospective jurors is shocking and offensive. This language shows a deep seated homophobia in the criminal justice system. As residents of Alameda County, we are deeply concerned about the injustices that occurred in these cases and what these documents reveal about the longstanding culture of the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office. We are here to demand action.”

“We continue to be deeply disturbed by the revelation of over thirty years of Alameda County prosecutors and judges engaging in anti-Black, antisemitic, and malicious constitutional violations in order to send people to their deaths,” says Queen Adesuyi, policy strategist at Color Of Change who was not at the press conference.

Adesuyi added, “It is unsettling that this scandal was first uncovered in the early 2000s, but previous administrations within the Attorney General of California’s office, the State Bar of California, and the Commission on Judicial Performance failed to appropriately investigate these grave allegations. We call on Attorney General Rob Bonta to provide immediate resolution for those whose cases are impacted by this scandal. We also demand that the state’s prosecutorial and judicial accountability entities be on the right side of history this time around and hold all implicated prosecutors and judges – active or retired – accountable for these gross injustices.”

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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