The GOP Senate, Emmett Till and jury nullification
Prior to the impeachment of Donald John Trump on one count of abuse of power and one on obstruction of Congress, Trump lashed out in a rambling, unhinged letter screeching that he was being treated worse than the Salem witch trials. Prior to the vote on the House floor, a Republican Congressman compared Trump’s treatment to Jesus Christ’s treatment at the hands of Pontius Pilate. Another compared the occasion to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Well, in looking forward to what the GOP-controlled Senate will do at a Trump impeachment trial, it made me think of a historical event as well: the 1955 murder of Emmett Till.
On August 24, 1955 in Money, Mississippi, Till allegedly whistled at a white woman working in a store. Four days later, the woman’s husband, Roy Bryant, and his brother in law, J.W. Milam, kidnapped the boy, tortured him, shot him in the head, tied a large fan around his neck with barbed wire and pushed his body into the Tallahatchie river.
Bryant and Milam went on trial for murder three weeks later after being identified as the ones who took the boy at gunpoint. After a four day trial and 67 minutes of deliberations an all white jury acquitted Bryant and Milam.
Historically, jury nullification allowed the killers of many black men and women to go free in the South. Blacks couldn’t serve on juries and most black witnesses were too afraid to come forward and accuse white defendants. So across the south when charges were actually brought against white defendants courtrooms held these show trials where the acquittal of the white defendant was all but guaranteed.
The uproarious support in the black community of the 1995 O.J. Simpson acquittal stemmed largely from a feeling of payback, that an obviously guilty defendant walked free based on jury nullification. To be sure, many thought Simpson innocent and framed. But I suspect most were just shocked that jury nullification had worked in a black’s favor.
In the end, justice loses. We all lose.
Now we’re poised to see jury nullification on a national scale. With Donald Trump’s impeachment, we have Sen. Mitch McConnell telling Fox News and other outlets that he’s coordinating with the White House, and that he’s not impartial. We have Sen. Lindsay Graham saying he’s not going to be impartial. It doesn’t matter to them that the Constitution calls on Senators to take an oath for impeachment trials pledging to do “impartial justice.” There’s no impartiality to be found among today’s elected Republicans.
In a Washington Post-ABC News poll released Tuesday 71% of Americans (and 64% of Republicans) think Donald Trump should allow senior administration officials to testify during an impeachment trial.
Sen. McConnell has rejected calls for witnesses. Could it be like a story in the conservative Wall Street Journal which said this week that Republican Senators fear opening the door to witnesses will make it harder to acquit the president? Rejecting the facts and nullifying the process will be much easier without witnesses telling us the truth in public.
The intellectually honest and consistent position would be for Republicans to simply say, “Yes, Donald Trump has abused his power and obstructed Congress but we don’t want to remove him because we’re afraid it will incite his base and lead to us losing our jobs. If he were a Democrat, we’d impeach him for this in a heartbeat.” After all, when you strip away the tired process arguments, the ridiculous debunked conspiracy theories, Rudy Giuliani’s delusions and GOP grandstanding, that is the raw truth of the Republican position.
And this brings us back to the Emmett Till case. Following their acquittal in the murder of Emmett Till, his killers gave an interview to Look Magazine for $4,000 and admitted the killing, knowing they couldn’t be tried again due to double jeopardy laws. The nauseating article ends with, “The majority –by no means all, but the majority – of the white people in Mississippi 1) either approve (of the killers’) action or else 2) they don’t disapprove enough to risk giving their ‘enemies’ the satisfaction of a conviction.”
I think that’s where we are here.
But no matter what sham trial Republicans rig in the Senate to cover up Donald Trump’s (and their own) corruption, the Scarlet I of impeachment will be there for history to see that we knew he was guilty as hell. The corrupt Republican Senate knows it, too.