Earlier this week the above photograph was trending on twitter and other social media platforms of Kyle Rittenhouse selecting which jurors would be removed from the jury pool of his homicide trial. It’s a fascinating photograph that I am sure will soon be utilized in school textbooks across the country over the next several decades, when studying America during this period. In seeing the photograph then reading the context of the photograph I couldn’t help but think of two specific criminal cases in recent history. First, the Curtis Flowers murder trial(s) and second, the Kalief Browder robbery arrest. I hope you’ll notice that for the latter, I wrote arrest, and not trial.
This reflection won’t have much to do with Kyle Rittenhouse’s incident as much as it has to do with the bold words written above the steps of the United States Supreme Court: Equal Justice Under Law.
Moreover, don’t forget the image above as you read along. It’s very important.
Curtis Flowers was accused of murdering four people at Tardy Furniture store in Winona, Mississippi. Mr. Flowers was tried six times by the same prosecutor. The first trial was thrown out because the Mississippi supreme court found significant errors in the manner in which the district attorney had prosecuted Mr. Flowers. The others ended in either a hung jury (unable to determine guilt or innocence), mistrial, or similar to the first trial and thrown out because of procescurtial errors.
Finally the Supreme Court tossed out the conviction from the 6th trial and later noted that the prosecutors “showed an unconstitutional pattern of excluding African American jurors” during the trials.
As of December 2019 Mr. Flowers is now a free man after having spent 23 years in prison for a crime he never committed.
Kalief Browder didn’t get his day in court. For allegedly stealing a backpack Mr. Browder was jailed at the notorious Rikers Island from 2010 until 2013 and for two years placed in solitary confinement while at Rikers. Mr. Browder was released from jail after all charges against him were dismissed. Oh, and yes I did say for stealing a backpack.
Two years after being released from jail Mr. Browder committed suicide at the age of 22 years old.
In 2019 New York City Council voted to close down Rikers Island.
When considering the photo above I hope you’ll commit to learning more about Curtis Flowers. Two of our country’s bravest journalists provide a full investigation in their podcast, In The Dark, about Mr. Flowers’ experience with “justice.”
In memory of Kalief Browder, Jay-Z produced a remarkable docuseries in 2017 titled Time: The Kalief Browder Story that you can watch on Netflix. It is the first time I can remember ever weeping during a television production.
If we, in order to form a more perfect Union, allow these three separate criminal proceedings to equate to Justice, then we, collectively, are guilty of the greatest crime of them all: indifference to Justice.