"this man has paid enough"
September 22, 2011 2:44 PM   Subscribe

This week has seen a lot of discussion of the American criminal justice system and its failings, and a lot of concern about what can be done to fix it. In 1947, a working class black man looked like he was about to have the full weight of the system brought down on him for taking justice into his own hands. But after Chicago leftists - including labor unions, religious leaders, artists, civil rights activists & others - launched a movement, James Hickman was set free after an all-white jury, in a trial presided over by a white judge, failed to convict, and the DA chose not to re-try because of the magnitude of public support for Hickman. According to a review in The Nation, a new book tells the story in a way that turns the typical right-wing biases of the true crime genre on their head. posted by univac (11 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
I wonder what happened to James Hickman afterward - a casual google does not show anything.

I also wonder if this case could have been won if Coleman was white - I bet not.

Also, the SWP drum-beating in the linked article is a little frustrating.
posted by Frowner at 3:14 PM on September 22, 2011


Just after reading the Nation piece- this reads as a case of jury nullification.

Fascinating story, so thanks univac.
posted by yesster at 3:20 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


OK just finished the ISReview piece as well. Amazing story. And yes, this effectively is jury nullification. Yay for that.

I wonder if this wouldn't have been a completely different outcome if the victim had been white. Hate to say that, but given the times....
posted by yesster at 3:29 PM on September 22, 2011


The way I read this, James Hickman got away with murder or better phrased, vigilante justice. No doubt his landlord should have stood trial for arson and murder, but taking the law into your own hands is not consistent with civilized society. Yes, times were different back then and there were other issues, mainly race, that need to be considered, but despite the fact that I appreciate the first killer being brought to justice, Mr. Hickman got away with murder. I guess in my mind I can be happy about that on a case by case basis, and in this case, I am not upset his landlord met his maker this way.

I applaud the workers who took up his cause and tried to address the plight of the blacks forced to live in conditions in slums not fit for anyone or anything. To me, that should have been the goal, to address the living conditions, not get someone off for murder.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 3:54 PM on September 22, 2011


Somewhat reminiscent of the Seattle Solidarity Network (previously).
posted by yesster at 3:58 PM on September 22, 2011


I wonder if this wouldn't have been a completely different outcome if the victim had been white

The different outcome would have been, it never would have happened.
posted by Chekhovian at 4:04 PM on September 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


That thing mentioned in The Nation article, about crime stories as a vehicle for exploring the social situations that create them, is precisely why The Wire was so good, of course. I've not read Mandel's book (though I have read other things by him and he's a sharp commentator); I presume he was describing trashier work.
posted by Abiezer at 4:13 PM on September 22, 2011


Reminds me of the story of Ossian Sweet, although the circumstances are different (Sweet acted purely in self-defense). Sweet's story is told in Kevin Boyle's Arc of Justice, which I can recommend highly to anyone interested in early civil rights history.
posted by Rangeboy at 4:22 PM on September 22, 2011


And yes, this effectively is jury nullification

How so? The concept of an insanity defense has been a staple of criminal law since 1843, and 24 US states still use the M'Naghten rules. The jury deadlocked over whether Hickman was temporarily insane or not, and later he accepted a plea bargain which avoided a retrial. Nullification is where the evidence is straightforward but the jury acquits anyway.

In Ernest Mandel’s Delightful Murder: A Social History of the Crime Story, the esteemed Belgian Marxist argues that the police procedural is, by its very nature, inherently right-wing. The genre, argues Mandel, is an exercise where, “Revolt against private property becomes individualized. With motivation no longer social, the rebel becomes a thief and murderer.” Modern culture has taken the “social bandit”, best exemplified by Robin Hood, and turned them into paragons of evil whose destruction is a precondition to civilization.

what
posted by anigbrowl at 4:28 PM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Rich people have always stayed on top by dividing white people from colored people, but white people got more in common with colored people than they do with rich people."
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:30 PM on September 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


The way I read this, James Hickman got away with murder or better phrased, vigilante justice. No doubt his landlord should have stood trial for arson and murder, but taking the law into your own hands is not consistent with civilized society.

He plead guilty to manslaughter. Pleading down to a lesser charge is normal and expected when there are mitigating circumstances, such as the temporary insanity which results from having four of your children die, especially when you know that he'll get away with it. That's why crimes like voluntary manslaughter exist: for times where someone commits an intentional homicide, but it would be unjust to convict them of murder.

There is also the issue of whether vigilante justice can be so easily dismissed when it's obvious that the criminal justice system was entirely stacked against people like Hickman.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:52 AM on September 23, 2011


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