JIM CROW LIVES

By Pastor George F. Nicholas

Jim Crow Lives : The Robert H. Jackson U.S. Courthouse in downtown Buffalo.

Jim Crow Lives : The Robert H. Jackson U.S. Courthouse in downtown Buffalo.

One of my favorite prophets is Amos, who God called to remind the nation of the importance of justice for and among the people of God. The prophet declares: 

Amos 5:15 (NIV) Hate evil, love good;

maintain justice in the courts.

Perhaps the LORD God Almighty will have mercy on the remnant of Joseph

This important admonition has largely been ignored by the criminal justice system in America. Traditionally, when we think about racial discrimination our minds go to the institution of chattel slavery and legalized segregation in the South. However, we largely ignore the ugly history and current reality of racism which is alive and well in the north. Remember Eric Garner was strangled to death in New York City and Tamir Rice was a victim of a police drive-by shooting in Cleveland. The institution of Jim Crow is defined:

“The systematic practice of discriminating against and segregating Black people as well as the upholding or practicing discrimination against and segregation of Black people.”

Based on that definition I would argue that United States Federal Courts in the Western District of New York has been and continues to practice the principles of Jim Crow. The demographics mirror the demographics of the old segregated courts of the Jim Crow South. This is not my opinion but a fact. The fact is the Western District of New York was established in 1900 and its first judge, a white male, was seated on May 12 of that year. Since that inaugural appointment there has been 15 lifetime appointments made to that court.14 of those appointments have gone to White males and 1 has gone to a white female, but that was not until 2013. There has never been an African-American appointed as a District Court Judge. The closest was Judge Hugh B. Scott who is a federal magistrate, the only African-American, but that is different from a District Court Judge. Sadly Judge Scott has announced his retirement and it has already been announced that he will be replaced by; you guessed it, a White male. 

The impact of this Jim Crow district court has devastating effects on African-Americans. As I stated in previous writing these are the demographics of the Western District:

Number of males prosecuted:

Number of Black males prosecuted - 150 of 475 (83.3%)

Hispanic males prosecuted - 134 of 475 (94.4%)

White males - 171 of 475 (36.3%)

Other males -20 of 475

Number of females prosecuted:

Black females -  30 out of 73 (16.7%)

Hispanic females-8 out of 73 (25.9%)

White females - 28 out of 73 (14.1%)

Other females - 7 out of 73

If you want to see what a Jim Crow Court looks like just drive down to the brand new multi-million dollar federal courthouse. There you will see Jim Crow justice at work:

•all White judges, 

•about 90% of the prosecutors are White

•about 90% of the public defenders are White 

•80% of the jurors are White. 

•majority defendants are African-American 

•Majority of all the other people with power and authority are White. 

This is not the old south, this is the new “One Buffalo” where you see these disparities. Federal judges are appointed by the President with the recommendation of the senior US Senator. It would be easy but ignorant to base this 115-year disparity on racist Republican political leaders. However the fact is this disparity has remained and the Jim Crow courts have been maintained under the presidencies of alleged democratic friends of the community like FDR, JFK, LBJ, Carter, Clinton and yes even Obama. In addition, we have had alleged progressive US Senators, like Moynihan, Hillary Clinton and yes even Schumer. The fact is not one of them has done anything to bring justice to our federal courts and that has to change. Recently another White male has been named to the federal bench, but yet there is still one vacancy available. 

The selection process is a closed door secret confab of rich White lawyers and political operatives. Legal merit plays a role, but financial membership in the “ol’ boy’s network” means more. This is how Jim Crow stays alive not in legislation but in the informal networks of White privilege. The only way to tear this down and do what the prophets counsels us to do, “establish justice in the courts” is to let our voices be heard loud and clear. We must come together as a community and let Senator Schumer and our President know we are not happy with demographics of our district court. Furthermore we must demand that the next appointment go to a qualified candidate from our community. In addition we need organizations like the NAACP, Urban League, Minority Bar Association and others to lend their voices to evicting Jim Crow from our court system. 

Rev. George Nicholas is Pastor of Lincoln Memorial United Methodist Church, 641 Masten Ave. in Buffalo.