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When Courts Go Wrong

recorded 4/5//08

1) 2:21 Radio Essay - short - MP3

2) 2:50 Radio Essay - long - MP3

When Courts Go Wrong (Spanish Translation Follows)

[col. writ. 4/5/08] (c) '08 Mumia Abu-Jamal

    We're often surprised when courts get it wrong, but why?

    It's because we expect them to get it right -- and therein lies the surprise.

    For, if history is any judge, we should all be surprised when they get it right. For courts are political institutions, and politics is rarely about right or wrong: it's about power.  As in who has it; and who doesn't.

    Courts were set up to protect the wealth and property of the powerful, not the powerless; and any honest reading of legal history leads one back to that conclusion.

    Here in this country courts were places for slavemasters, not slaves, and the words of a "justice" of the North Carolina Supreme Court, Thomas Ruffin, are instructive as he illustrates what underpins the law of 1829: The power of the master must be absolute, to render the submission of the slave perfect... As a principle of moral right, every person in his retirement must repudiate it.  But in the actual condition of things it must be so." *

    Most of us have heard of the infamous Dred Scott (1857) case, but how many of us know that a generation before Dred was decided, a Pennsylvania Supreme Court opinion said essentially the same things?  In Hobbs v. Fogg (1837) the state's highest court ruled that Blacks were not party to the Constitution, and therefore couldn't vote.

    And although Dred Scott became a cause for war, by war's end, it was the courts, in cases like Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) that upheld racial segregation, discrimination and oppression against Black people - even in stark violation of the words in the Constitution.

    We like to think of this as ancient history;  then - not now. But these are the very foundation stones upon which America was built.

    My father was born one year after Plessy was decided, and he lived almost all of his life under its cruel restrictions.

    The law has only moved when people organized to make it so.  As that great abolitionist, freedom-fighter, and rabble-rouser, Frederick Douglass has taught, "Power concedes nothing without demand...It never has--and never will....."

    Social movements in the streets brought an end to Plessy, not lawsuits.

    People, organized, shook the status quo, not neat words typed on crisp white paper.

    When people organize, they make change.

(c) '08 maj

[*Source: Aptheker, Herbert, American Negro Slave Revolts (New York: International Publ., 1943 {197}, p.66]

Cuando las cortes fallan

[col. writ. 4/5/08] (c) '08 Mumia Abu-Jamal

    A veces nos sorprende cuando las cortes toman malas decisiones. Pero ¿por qué?

    Es porque tenemos expectativas que vayan a hacer lo correcto. Y ahí está la sorpresa.

    Si la historia es algún tipo de juez, deberíamos estar sorprendidos cuando hagan lo correcto. Porque las cortes son instituciones políticas, y la política no se trata del bien o del mal: se trata del poder ––de quién lo tenga y quién no lo tenga.

    Las cortes fueron establecidas para proteger la riqueza y propiedad de los poderosos, y cualquier lectura honesta de la historia jurídica nos lleva a esta conclusión.

    Aquí en este país las cortes eran los enclaves de los esclavistas, no de los esclavos. Las palabras de un juez de la Suprema Corte del estado de Carolina del Norte  son instructivas. Ilustran la base de la ley en el año 1829: “Es imprescindible que el poder del amo sea absoluto para asegurar la perfecta sumisión del esclavo....Como un principio moral, cada individuo jubilado debe repudiar [la esclavitud], pero en las condiciones actuales, tiene que seguir así”.  *

    Casi todos hemos escuchado algo sobre el infame caso de Dred Scott (1857), pero ¿cuántos sabemos que una generación antes de este dictamen, la Suprema Corte del estado de Pensilvania afirmó lo mismo? En Hobbs v Fogg (1837) el máximo tribunal del estado opinó que los negros no eran parte del acuerdo expresado en la  Constitución, y por eso no podrían votar.

    Y aunque el dictamen Dred Scott se volvió motivo de la Guerra Civil, cuando la guerra terminó fueron las cortes, en casos como Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), que avalaron la segregación racial, discriminación y opresión contra la gente negra en una descarada violación de las palabras de la Constitución.  

    Nos complace pensar que todo eso fue la historia antigua—algo que ocurrió en aquel entonces, pero no en este momento. Pero se trata de las piedras angulares sobre las que se construyó los Estados Unidos.

    Mi papá nació un año después del dictamen Plessy y vivió casi una vida entera bajo sus crueles restricciones.

    La ley ha cambiado únicamente cuando la gente se ha organizado para obligar a un cambio. Y el gran abolicionista, luchador por la libertad, y agitador Frederick Douglass nos enseño que “El poder no concede nada sin una demanda. Nunca lo ha hecho y nunca lo hará”.

    Los movimientos sociales en las calles, no las demandas en las cortes,  terminaron con los efectos del dictamen Plessy.

    El pueblo organizado sacudió el status quo; no tenía nada que ver con palabras finas escritas sobre crujiente papel blanco.

    Cuando la gente se organiza, el cambio ocurre.

(c) '08 maj

[*Source: Aptheker, Herbert, American Negro Slave Revolts (New York: International Publ., 1943 {197}, p.66]

 

 

 

[Mr. Jamal's recent book features a chapter on the
remarkable women who helped build and defend
the Black Panther Party: *WE WANT FREEDOM:
A Life in the Black Panther Party*, from South
End Press (http://www.southendpress.org); Ph.
#1-800-533-8478.]
===============================


MUMIA'S COLUMNS NEED TO BE PUBLISHED AS BROADLY
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Submitted by: Sis. Marpessa

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[Check out Mumia's latest: *WE WANT FREEDOM:
A Life in the Black Panther Party*, from South
End Press (http://www.southendpress.org); Ph.
#1-800-533-8478.] 

"When a cause comes along and you know in your bones that it is
just, yet refuse to defend it--at that moment you begin to die.
And I have never seen so many corpses walking around talking about
justice." - Mumia Abu-Jamal

For additional information and to order Mumia's new book We Want Freedom,

visit: southendpress.org

Check out Mumia's NEW book:
"Faith of Our Fathers: An Examination of the Spiritual Life of African and African-American People" at www.africanworld.com