A black Georgia man was sentenced to death by an all-white jury in 1987. Nearly thirty years later, the U.S. Supreme Court begins to unravel the racist jury selection that put this black man, Timothy Foster, on death row as a teenager.
Just this week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 7-1 decision in Foster v. Chatman that racial discrimination drove the selection of an all-white jury, in violation of the law.
Through an open records request, Foster’s attorneys obtained notes from the prosecution explicitly documenting that all potential black jurors were removed because of race.
“This discrimination became apparent only because we obtained the prosecution’s notes which revealed their intent to discriminate. Usually that does not happen. The practice of discriminating in striking juries continues in courtrooms across the country,” said Stephen Bright, one of Foster’s lawyer, in a press release.
Not only were the jurors’ race circled on their questionnaires, but the prosecutor had highlighted all the potential black jurors names in bright green, with a legend explicitly stating that the green highlighting “represents Blacks.”
It was clear, too, from the prosecutor’s notes that all the potential black jurors were removed because of race, with false reasons given to — and accepted by — the court. The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately found the State’s reasoning for removing each black juror “flatly contradicted by evidence” and “implausible.”
So often racism operates under the guise of something else. As Foster’s lawyer points out, it’s unusual for it to be so apparent that a discriminatory practice was the motivation, and the State fought hard to allege that the black jurors in Foster’s case were removed for other reasons. Reasons like age, marital status, age of children and career that did not extend to white jurors.
The death sentence is an outrageous, unethical form of “punishment” to begin with, and handing down a death sentence judgement by an all-white jury to a black teenager is even more so.
After the prosecution struck 100 percent of the black prospective jurors, an all-white jury convicted Mr. Foster and sentenced him to death in 1987 after the prosecution implored it to impose death to “deter other people out there in the projects.”
Racism fuels our “justice” system. A black man has been on death row for nearly three decades of his life, after being arrested as an 18 year old teenager, accused of killing a white woman. People of color disproportionately face the death penalty. Foster, like so many others, was also unable to have a jury of his peers hear his case, as people of color are also systemically excluded from juries.
And these are only some of the larger structures that prevent people of color from having access to real justice in this country.
“Jury strikes motivated by race cannot be tolerated. The exclusion of black citizens from jury service results in juries that do not represent their communities and undermines the credibility and legitimacy of the criminal justice system,” said Bright, one of Foster’s lawyers.
How many other folks are on death row, facing an unfair, racist system from the start? Timothy Foster may eventually get a fairer shake, but justice is still far away.