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Young Blacks and Latinos 'lynched' in Manhattan

Alton H.Maddox | , Jr. | 4/12/2011, 4:39 p.m.

There were no Black politicians in Alabama when the Scottsboro Boys were convicted of raping two white, female hobos near Scottsboro, Ala., in 1930. Accordingly, there were no Blacks either on the grand jury that indicted them or the petit jury that convicted them. The denial of the right to vote for Blacks in Alabama prompted the Supreme Court to reverse the second convictions in Norris v. Alabama.

Similarly, there were no more than two Black attorneys in Alabama in 1930. All of the Black law schools in the nation combined had fewer law students than the enrollment at Harvard Law School alone. Alabama had no law school for Blacks. George Lewis Ruffin was the first Black lawyer trained in a university law school. He graduated from Harvard Law School.

Most Blacks were allowed to practice law after serving an apprenticeship under a white lawyer or a preceptorship under a white judge. Some Blacks also attended night law schools. Initially, the Scottsboro Boys were represented by white, junior prosecutors. This prompted the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse the initial convictions for lack of counsel in Powell v. Alabama.

Since 1930, little has changed in the law or in politics for Blacks. Even though David N. Dinkins became the first Black mayor of New York City in 1989, his election only aggravated the fate of the Black and Latino defendants in the Central Park jogger case. Dinkins joined Mayor Edward I. Koch and Donald Trump in taking shots at the young men. Black preachers were holding prayer vigils at the hospital where Patricia Meili was receiving treatment for the rape.

When Colin Moore, Robert Burns, Joseph Mack and I stepped up the to plate to represent some of these defendants, we knew or should have known that we would be nailed to the cross. Three of us were later disbarred and Joseph Mack was suspended from the practice of law.The atmosphere in this case was reminiscent of the Supreme Court case of Dempsey v. Moore involving the 1999 rebellion in Elaine, Ark.

If a Black lawyer had gone to Scottsboro, Ala., to represent the Scottsboro Boys, he would have been lynched on the courthouse steps. If all of the Black lawyers in New York City had stepped forward in 1989,the boys in the Central Park jogger case would have never been convicted of any crime. Among Blacks, fear remains a constant factor.

Donald Trump's money and his loose tongue made it impossible for these boys to pick an impartial jury and to receive a fair trial. He poisoned the jury pool. There is a federal bailout plan for poisoned assets. At the very least, the New York Legislature should extend the statute of limitations to allow the Central Park Six to sue the pants off of Trump.

In convicting the Central Park Six, there was a private-public partnership. New York's judicial system, which a blue-ribbon commission found in 1991 to be "infested with racism," must take the ultimate blame for these wrongful convictions. First, it allowed for the appointment of Justice Thomas Galligan instead of the random selection of a possible fair-minded judge.