The Unheard Truth of the Criminal Justice System


Nicole Jancova, Staff Writer

On November 7, 1932, The United States Supreme Court issued its decision in the Powell v.
Alabama case, better known as the Scottsboro incident. The case circled around nine African
American men, ranging from the ages of 13 to 21, who were removed from a freight
train in Scottsboro, Alabama and charged with raping two white women. All nine of the young men, dubbed the “Scottsboro Boys” were tried in court, found guilty, and condemned to death.
As well as being tried before a jury that excluded African Americans, they were denied due process,
equal protection under the 14th amendment, and the right to counsel. Although the boys were retried
because of these factors, they again were found guilty and sentenced to death.
The matter reached the courts again in April of 1935. It was ruled in Norris v. State of Alabama that
the exclusion of African Americans from juries was a violation of due process. The Scottsboro boys
were innocent.
Charges against four of the boys were eventually dropped; however, five were still convicted and
sentenced to long prison terms.
The Scottsboro case occurred in 1932. Now, in 2018, although it seems a lot has changed over the
years, racial discrimination still appears in the criminal justice system and through police
On March 18, 2018, Stephan Clark, an unarmed black man, was fatally shot eight times by
Sacramento police officers.
According to the New York Times, Mr. Clark’s family had accused the police department of trying
to cover up this misconduct by its officers and decided to conduct an autopsy.
Dr. Omalu, the doctor in charge of the autopsy, suggested that Mr. Clark in fact lived for three to ten
minutes after the shooting. This added questions about the large gap of time it took for Mr. Clark to
get treatment.
Protesters in California’s capital have taken Clark’s story to the streets nearly every day since he was killed, demanding that the city’s leadership fire the two officers involved. These acts of
protest, some say, should be worldwide, considering the many other cases the U.S. has seen like
Stephan Clark’s.
A 2012 study conducted by Duke University showed that all-white jury pools convict black
defendants 16 percent more often than whites. This is just one factor that has played a role in the
verdicts within cases like Walter McMillian’s in the book, Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson.
Like Stephan Clark in his case, Walter McMillian was wrongly accused.
Although Walter was born to a poor black family outside of Monroeville, Alabama, he became a
successful businessman as an adult. He was a loving man with many children and a wife named
Minnie, and yet was falsely accused and convicted of murdering a white woman. After a tricky and
long trial, in the end, Walter was put on death row and died on September 11, 2013.
After the monumental Powell v. Alabama case, stories like Stephan and Walter’s are not largely
acknowledged anymore. Thousands of innocent men are being accused and put on death row.
Something must be done.