Tennessee Black Man Gets a New Trial for Confederate Relics in Jury Room

·3 min read

Prejudice is a weapon. In many cases, it’s used against Black people. But in this one, it benefited a Black man.

According to the New York Times, an appeals court in Tennessee ruled that Tim Gilbert, a Black man convicted of aggravated assault by an all-white jury, will get a new trial because the room where the jury deliberated was biased towards Gilbert.

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The room where the jury made their decision on Gilbert’s future had a portrait of the President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, and other Confederate memorabilia per the report from the New York Times.

In the south, a lot of Confederate statues, relics and street names are being taken down or renamed. So it’s good to see that these Confederate relics are also being used to show racial bias against Black people in the justice system.

From The New York Times:

The decision was issued amid a broader rethinking of the racist and Confederate symbols that have, for generations, dotted town squares, universities and courthouses across the United States. It also comes amid a greater awareness about racial bias seeping into the criminal justice system.

Mr. Gilbert, 56, who was arrested in 2018, and his lawyer argued that having both the grand jury and the trial jury deliberate in the “inherently prejudicial” room — which had been named after the United Daughters of the Confederacy — violated his right to a fair trial, an impartial jury, due process and equal protection, according to court documents.

The three-judge appeals court agreed and reversed a 2020 lower court ruling that denied Mr. Gilbert’s request for a new trial. The 31-page appeals court ruling discussed the power of symbols, flags, in particular, to communicate messages about a government’s identity and values.

“The flag displayed in the jury room is no different,” the court ruled. “Its original purpose was to ‘knit the loyalty of those in the Confederate states ‘to a flag’ that conveyed the political ideals of the Confederacy.”

The ruling explored the ideals of the Confederacy by examining documents created at the time of the rebel government’s founding. Articles of secession identified the reasons behind the decision of the Confederate states to leave the union, the ruling said, and considered the right to hold Black people in chattel slavery as central to Southern life.

The prosecution tried to argue that the Confederate memorabilia did not influence the ruling per the story from The New York Times.

But, c’mon now. Monuments of Confederate generals and leaders greet people who enter courtrooms and other government buildings all across the south. How are jurors supposed to be unbiased when there are literal symbols that represent bias, racism, and slavery?

From The New York Times:

Michael Working, who was president of the Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers when the group filed a brief in support of Mr. Gilbert’s position said the ruling put the onus on the government to prove that the deliberation room was free of coercion and influence, not on the defendant to prove that it wasn’t.

And clearly when you have a portrait of the President of the Confederacy, who was a racist and believed that slavery was his god-given right, it’s hard to argue that there wasn’t bias in that room where jurors deliberated on the fate of Mr. Gilbert.