Holler If You Hear Me: Towards a Cultural History of Courtroom Disruption and the Black Defendant, 1968-1975 (in progress)
This article examines Black defendants’ use of courtroom disruption as a defense mechanism against the prevalence of white racism and practices in the American criminal justice system between 1968-1975. Rather than categorize the cases as moments of irrational behavior by quagmired radicals, it situates the cases as a historical moment aimed at disparaging American race and politics. While some of the case were significant, either involving landmark decisions by the Supreme Court or high-profiled defendants, others were less significant cases of defendants who defied the power of the judiciary by either refusing to comply with specific court orders or openly expressing their discomfort with the progression of their criminal trial. In each case, the legal profession responded. Its major concern was not to give reason to the voice of Black defendants, but rather that courtroom disruption needed to be curbed on the narrow reasoning that there simply was no justification for conduct that disrupts official proceedings. Unfortunately, the Court was lost on precisely how to go about doing so without violating important constitutional principles, which created a looping effect on Black defendants’ claims of unfairness and discrimination. Hopelessly enshrouding the issue in hyperbolic rhetoric by referring to the courts as “palladiums of liberty” and “citadels of justice,” the Supreme Court ultimately decided this issue by approving severe sanctions against court disrupters, using as a conduit the legal proceedings of an mentally unbalanced defendant as a test case for controlling Black outbursts as well.
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