Economics Kept Black Jurors From Oakland Cop Trial

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The year-long Oakland, Ca., police misconduct trial that ended in a mistrial involved alleged crimes in places where more than half the residents, and all the alleged victims, are black. But the San Francisco Chronicle reports that no jurors in the so-called “Riders” case were black, a disparity that experts say seems all too common.

Community leaders and even members of the jury are calling for a retrial, many of them citing the lack of African Americans on the jury, even though the county is 10 percent black.

Attorneys involved said the jury was shaped more by economics than by racial bias. “Economics largely decide who’s going to sit on a jury,” said Michael Rains, who represented one of the accused former officers. “It’s an enormous problem, and I’m not sure there’s a solution.”

Prosecutor David Hollister said the trial’s length had put many working class minority jurors out of the running. “If you get a juror who is 27 years old from West Oakland who is working an hourly wage, his employer might give him a day off with pay, but he is not going to give him four months off with pay,” Hollister said. “That would eliminate him.” Of 680 jurors in the original pool, more than 500 were eliminated for cause or, more often, for hardship, he said. Of the remaining 113, 13 were African American. “We lost ethnic diversity; we lost age diversity,” Hollister said. “What we were left with was a predominantly white, middle class, well-established jury.”

No major studies have been conducted on how well juries represent the communities they serve, experts say. The question wasn’t considered before the 1960s, when states began to look at jury selection systems in the context of the civil rights movement, said Tom Munsterman of the National Center for State Courts.


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