News, thoughts and comments on civil rights and related issues.
Friday, February 04, 2005
Law: Rideau deserves release from prison
I have decided to write about the Wilbert Rideau case for two reasons. First, it is an excellent example of how attitudes about race determine how people accused of crimes are treated. Second, it has been offered as an argument against the indictment of Mississippi Burning killings suspect Edgar Ray Killen. The saga that became the Rideau case began before most of us were born. In 1961, a teenaged Louisiana creole went on a crime spree. By the time the spree ended, a white woman was dead. This year, Rideau was tried for his crimes for the fourth time. He was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to the maximum term -- 21 years. He had already served 44 years in prison, so he was released. The release outraged many white residents of Lake Charles, La. Rideau was forced to relocate.
Make no mistake about it. Rideau's crime spree was a heinous one. He kidnapped and shot three people after robbing a bank. The woman he killed was both stabbed and shot. The seriousness of Rideau's rampage is not an issue. The issue is whether his crimes justified the death penalty. Though Rideau, unlike many black defendants, dodged the electric chair, execution is at the heart of the controversy around his case. Many white residents of Lake Charles believed then and now that a black man guilty of killing a white person should be killed himself. That has been the pattern in American criminal justice system for the history of our country, especially in Southern states. A white life is perceived as having a higher value than the life of a person of color. When a person of color murders a white victim, his sentence -- life in prison or death -- reflects that. Black and Hispanic defendants are subjected to disproportionality. In this context, disproportionality means the tendency of judges and jurors to penalize nonwhites more severely for crimes than whites. The average American killer spends about 20 years in prison. In fact, life in prison often meant a 20-year term. But, when there is a black defendant and a white victim, life in prison without parole or a death sentence is the usual outcome.
Rideau was convicted by all-white, all male juries in 1961, 1964 and 1970. Each time, appeals courts reversed the decisions, citing prosecutorial misconduct. In 1972, his death sentence was invalidated when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down state death penalty statutes as violating the Eigth Amendment to the Constitution. In 2000, his third conviction was overturned on grounds that blacks had been excluded from the grand jury which indicted him. The jury that rejected the prosecutor's recent pleas for a murder conviction was mixed in gender and race. If such a jury had been inpaneled decades earlier, the murder convictions might not have occurred. Rideau's sentences, for two aggravated assaults and a murder, might have been less than life in prison or death.
At several racist sites, commentators are saying that Rideau's release from prison is favoritism for a black murderer. They then say Edgar Ray Killen's indictment, for the murder of three young civil rights workers in 1964, is discrimination against him. They say Killen should not have been indicted and Rideau should not have been released. Long term white supremacist's Sam Francis ranting at VDare is typical.
Actually, Rideau stabbed the victim in the chest. The myth that he cut her throat is one of the embellishments that abound when the story is told by racists. The additions are meant to make the Rideau crime seem even worse than it was. Nor is it true that the victim has been forgotten. A man has spent most of his life in prison because he killed her.
They racists are wrong. Rideau was tried and convicted. He has spent two-thirds of his life in prison. Killen was tried for violating the victims' civil rights and acquitted. He was never charged with murder until this year. He has spent his life as a free man. The racism embedded in society, especially in the South, effected both men. Rideau was convicted of murder and sentenced to death because of the usual excessive response to a black person killing a white one. Killen was never convicted of any crime in the killings of the civil rights workers because of his stature as a Ku Klux Klan leader in the segregated South. Rideau suffered the effects of a biased criminal justice system. Killen benefitted from the effects of a biased criminal justice system.
While serving 44 years in prison, Wilbur Rideau became an acclaimed journalist and filmmaker. He is currently adjusting to life as a free man.
MSNBC covered Rideau's release. Read the article and watch the video.posted by J. | 2:15 PM
Monday, January 31, 2005
News: Oregon Nazis adopt a road
White supremacists in Salem, Oregon, now have their own signs on highways as part of the city's anti-litter program -- sort of. In return for picking up litter at least twice each year, organizations are given a green and white sign naming their groups. More typical participants are Boy Scout troops and civic groups. The signs cost $250 each. When I wrote most of this entry this morning, the signs were there. Later this evening they were. . .gone.
In 2001, a U.S. District Court held that Missouri could not reject an application by the Ku Klux Klan to participate in its Adopt-a-Highway program. Missouri had argued that accepting the Klan into its program implied approval of the group's white supremacist views by the state government. The court disagreed, saying that barring the KKK from participation in Adopt-A-Highway would impinge its right to free speech. The case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but rejected by it without a hearing, in Yarnell v. Cuffley, 00-289 (2001) (writ of certiorari denied). The decision is the controlling one in regard to inclusion of hate groups in state sponsored activities. Absent different grounds for appeal, Marion County has no legal basis to exclude the Nazis and NSM from its Adopt-A-Road program.
But, the court victory in Cuffley proved to be pyrrhic for the plaintiff. The Southern Poverty Law Center has the details.
Cuffley also was charged with crimes in Florida.
Jim Ramm, associated with one of the group's responsible for the Salem signs, may have been the unidentified person who was arrested by police at an anti-racism rally in Portland a couple of weeks ago. Two other members of the the Tualitan Valley Skins briefly shouted "White Power!" and other slogans at the event.
Blogger Tim O'Reilly of Tim O'Reilly's City Desk, has identified C. Marchand as the person who applied for the permit for the road signs in Salem.
What's the art?
The crossbar is a neo-Nazi symbol.
Update: I wrote this entry Friday. Subsequent reports say one of the signs was removed by county officials after it was damaged. The other sign disappeared. It is unclear when. The Nazis and the National Socialists can replace the signs at their own expense.posted by J. | 6:15 PM