The Depths of a ‘Sorry Vein of Racial Prejudice’

By | March 21, 2013

When Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued a scathing rebuke of an assistant U.S. Attorney based in San Antonio, she opened the Supreme Court’s door to a discussion many of us have been having for several years all across this country.

Although concurring with her fellow Supreme Court Justices in a decision not to hear an appeal of a Texas case, Justice Sotomayor took the opportunity to remind us all of an embarrassing history of racial prejudice in our law enforcement and judicial systems, a prejudice that continues even today, “a decade into the 21st century,” to quote the associate justice.

The case that drew her rare reprimand took place in a federal court in San Antonio where an African-American man was on trial for participating in a drug conspiracy. The case centered on the question of whether the man, Bongani Charles Calhoun, knew that the friend he had accompanied on a road trip, and his friend’s associates, were about to engage in a drug transaction.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Sam Ponder asked Calhoun, “You’ve got African-Americans, you’ve got Hispanics, you’ve got a bag full of money. Does that tell you — a light bulb doesn’t go off in your head and say, This is a drug deal?”

Justice Sotomayor quoted the late 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Jerome Frank: “If government counsel in a criminal suit is allowed to inflame the jurors by irrelevantly arousing their deepest prejudices, the jury may become in his hands a lethal weapon directed against defendants who may be innocent. He should not be permitted to summon that 13th juror, prejudice.” (Huffington Post)

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