“On November 6, we’re gonna have an opportunity to undo an historic wrong in the State of Louisiana. Over 130 years ago a Constitutional Convention was convened for the purpose of maintaining white supremacy in the State of Louisiana: For 130 years people have gone to prison for crimes they did not commit when convicted by a jury of only 10 people, when two people on the jury believed they were innocent. This is a historic wrong, it has to change, vote yes on 2,” said an organizer at a rally in Congo Square in New Orleans. (UnanimousJury.org)
There has already been unprecedented early voter turnout in Louisiana–perhaps because of this most important constitutional amendment to require that juries be unanimous in felony trials.
“We need to put an end to a racist policy that has been in existence for 120 years…if the jury is not unanimous it is neither fair nor is it impartial. Vote Yes for unanimous juries,” said Loraine, a Baton Rouge activist campaigning for Yes on 2. She is involved in various organizations including the Party for Socialism and Liberation.
“Originally, when it became a territory in 1803, Louisiana required unanimous verdicts, but during Louisiana’s 1898 Constitutional Convention, out of an apparent concern that Black citizens might now be serving as jurors, non-unanimous verdicts were formally adopted as law with lawmakers declaring that their mission was ‘to establish the supremacy of the white race.’ That was 120 years ago, and that law still stands,” explained Professor Rebecca Hensley in an Op Ed piece she published in Hammond. She has been a lifelong, anti-racist, anti-prison activist who worked on the case of Angola 3 for many years.
For decades Louisiana had the highest number of people per capita tied to the system of mass incarceration–higher than anywhere else in the world. Recently this dubious honor has been taken by Oklahoma as the state has sought to ease overcrowding, releasing large numbers of prisoners.
Some may question why conservative forces are standing behind Yes on 2 like the Koch Brothers and other right-wing think tanks. However, we know the capitalist class is not suddenly seeing prisons as morally wrong. However, prisons like any other commodity can be overproduced; sectors of the ruling class have moved away temporarily from fully endorsing the most egregious mass incarceration policies. That is not to say that they won’t turn back to using these same techniques.
Despite the dollars pouring in, it is on-the-ground activists who are making the difference. One study showed that after voters engage in a brief conversation to understand this proposed constitutional amendment the number of voters in favor grows from 50 percent to 56 percent. Centers have been set up around the state for the distribution of lawn signs and phone bank parties.