ACLU Argued Flag Prevents Fair Administration of Death Penalty System
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SHREVEPORT, La. - A Confederate flag flying outside a Louisiana courthouse will be removed today, six months after the American Civil Liberties Union argued to the state's highest court that its presence prevents the death penalty from being fairly administered.
Caddo Parish commissioners voted 11-1 late Thursday to take down the flag, which was raised outside the Caddo Parish Courthouse in 1951 as an act of resistance to the civic and civil rights advances of African-Americans.
"The presence of the Confederate flag outside the courthouse has for too long been a reminder of lynching, terror and the oppression of the African-American race," said Denny LeBoeuf, director of the ACLU Capital Punishment Project. "Flying the flag outside the courthouse only risks diminishing the trust of African-Americans in the criminal justice system and priming white jurors to view African-American defendants and victims as second-class citizens. Removing the flag brings us one step closer to justice."
The ACLU argued before the Louisiana Supreme Court in May that the conviction and death sentencing of Felton D. Dorsey in 2009 should be overturned because, among other reasons, the 11 whites and one African-American who comprised his jury walked past the flag dozens of times before rendering a verdict and voting on a sentence. Dorsey is African-American, and African-Americans comprise nearly half of Caddo Parish's population.
The flag has flown beside a Confederate monument commissioned in 1903 by parish officials at a time of strong resistance to civil rights reforms promised by the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments passed in the wake of the Civil War. The monument was meant to honor the parish as the last stand of Confederate Louisiana.
A friend-of-the-court brief filed in Dorsey's case by the ACLU and other groups, along with dozens of religious leaders, historians and legal scholars, argued the flag outside the courthouse has a substantially adverse impact on the administration of justice inside the courthouse. The brief contended the flag poses the intolerable risk that criminal justice cannot be fairly administered within its walls, particularly in death penalty cases, in violation of the Eighth Amendment.
The flag denied Dorsey a fair trial, according to the ACLU's brief, and denied potential African-American jurors the opportunity to serve on Dorsey's jury. The brief cited the experience of Carl Staples, an African-American who was eliminated by the prosecutor as a potential juror after expressing frustration with the systemic injustices inherent in the nation's criminal justice system. He highlighted the presence of the Confederate flag outside the courthouse as symbolizing the pernicious realities that served to undercut his faith in the system.
A recent study by a Florida State University social psychologist found that exposure to images of the Confederate flag increases the expression of negative attitudes toward African-Americans among whites.
“For many people, the Confederate flag signifies an endorsement of historical efforts to deny African-Americans equality under the law," said Marjorie Esman, executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana. "Justice could never be fairly administered within the courthouse walls so long as the flag was allowed to fly outside it. This is an important step toward erasing the vestiges of racism from the courthouse."