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T. Stamm

Biased Judge Rushes Negro Boys to Chair

No Reliance on Capitalist Justice
Only Mass Pressure of Workers Can Save Scottsboro Boys

(December 1933)

From The Militant, Vol. VI No. 54, 9 December 1933, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

For the third time in three years a jury of “his peers” has found Heywood Patterson guilty of the rape of Victoria Price, locally notorious prostitute, and condemned him to death. The capitalist beast, is determined not to give up its prey. The wheels of justice are moving now with greater speed than they did last April at the last trial, almost as fast as the San Jose and St. Joseph lynch mobs did, and Clarence Norris is standing trial a second time for the same “crime”. By the time this reaches the press the verdict will be in and the trial of the third or maybe even the fourth Scottsboro boy will be over.

The “Impartial” Jury

The jury which tried Patterson and the juries which will try the other defendants are supposed to be made up of impartial men who have no fixed ideas about the innocence or guilt of the boys. They are all white men, and if you wish you can believe that they have no prejudices against other men just because their skins are black. These jurymen are all local residents in a none-too-numerous community where the Scottsboro case has been the subject of discussion for years. How many sat in the courtroom during the previous trials? Leastways we are asked to believe that these men heard a good deal of argument on the case, participated in it, read the editorials in the Southern papers urging them to “lynch the damned niggers”, and still have open minds. One has to be as simple and trusting as a child to believe this fairy tale out of the capitalist propaganda book. These men are all set against the Scottsboro boys no matter what they say they believe or don’t believe.

If there was one among them who had any lingering doubt, the way Judge Callahan ran the trial would have removed it. Callahan was fair. He gave the defense its day in court. Sure, he didn’t allow the Jew lawyers from New York to play tricks on the court. He defended Southern womanhood. Yes, sir.

Cards Dealt from the Bottom

There isn’t a white farmer in the neighborhood who could have held his opinion of Patterson’s innocence against the bias of the upright justice’s charge to the jury and his bewildering judicial hair-splittings. Callahan dealt cards from the bottom of the deck. That’s what he is there for.

Callahan does his job well. There’s nothing raw like the stuff Horton pulled and the speeches prosecutors Knight and Wright made in the last trial. It’s all strictly according to Hoyle. Callahan is carrying out the order of the Supreme Court to do it over again and cut out the mistakes.

Callahan made one serious slip. In his charge to the jury which consumed an hour and a half of Patterson’s life he FORGOT to remind the jury that if they found the evidence insufficient to prove the charge against Patterson they could bring in a verdict of acquittal. Strange omission! Convenient memory! Only when reminded by the defense counsel and the prosecutor did he perfunctorily add this detail.

That slip gave the whole show away. What of that? Bias is no ground for acquittal in the higher courts. The learned justices do not arrive at their decisions by obvious facts and simple considerations. For them the question is not whether Callahan showed bias. They will take out their legal yardstick and see whether what Callahan said or did denied the defendant, who is presumed innocent until proven guilty, a fair trial by violating this statute or that law or is not in accord with the decision of judge so-and-so in this-and-that case. You can be as lunatic on the bench as Rolph of California is in the governor’s chair, but if you want your stuff to go over with the boys higher up you have got to make it appear that you are sticking within the law. If you do they will give you the official o.k.

Learned from Massachusetts

And whoever heard of a high court saying straight out: the man is innocent, release him? Where and when did that happen? In the Mooney case? In the Sacco-Vanzetti case? Where? When? The cards are stacked against the boys all the way up the line.

The strategy of the capitalists is plain. They want to give the country another ‘”fine lesson”. “In California”, they want to say, “and in Maryland they do it with the rope and the faggot; but in Alabama they are civilized. There they burn innocent men in the electric chair according to the law. But first they torture them in jail for years, holding out a ray of hope to them and snatching it away again. They learned that from what Massachusetts did to Sacco and Vanzetti.”

Between St. Joseph, Mo., and Scottsboro there is no essential difference. Scottsboro is a legal version of St. Joseph. Priests can approve it with undisturbed consciences. Editors can congratulate the nation on the triumph of law and justice. The pious, the patriotic, the reformers can all sleep easier. Capitalism can breathe more freely.

The Meaning of “Justice”

Scottsboro should open the eyes of the last doubting Thomas to the meaning of justice in capitalist courts. It ought to burn the lesson home that only the workers can get the boys off; only the workers organized in a powerful movement of mass demonstrations.

When the workers put a pressure mi the capitalists by protest demonstrations the judicial fossils will discover that any number of laws and statutes and decisions have been violated, by Callahan, by the governor, by the president, by god himself. That is the way the boys can be saved from death. That is the way they have been kept alive thus far. That is the only way they can be snatched free from the blood lust of the bourbon tiger. There is no other way.

That is where the defense made a major strategical mistake. The mass movement which has kept the boys alive for almost three years has been allowed to die down. Here and there they get up a demonstration, but the militancy and the numbers of the early days of the movement are gone.

Playing Down Class Issue

The policy of playing down the class nature of the case was carried out in the courtroom. There was no talk of the misery of the southern workers which drove the nine boys to roam the country on freight trains looking for work to supplement the pittances their mothers’ drudgery eked out. No word was said of the frightful oppression of the negro masses. It was all a strictly legal question with the defense. At least that is how they fought it.

On the legal plane it is all in favor of the capitalists. It is their court, their law, their judge. WE are there on sufferance because of the hard fight we put up for two years on three continents to save these innocent boys from death or life imprisonment. When we fail to bring that fight right into the courtroom we give the judge a chance to put on a show of a fair trial, we thereby say in effect that the capitalists are right, that justice is above the classes equal and impartial.

Change of Strategy Needed

Without losing any more time we have got to change this strategy. If the boys are to be saved the workers must be mobilized. How? There are four million organized in the A.F. of L. There are a million in the railroad brotherhoods, several thousands more in the T.U.U.L., I.W.W., independent unions, Socialist Party, Communist Party, etc. There are a number of defense organizations. We think that all of these organizations should be asked to come together in one united front movement to fight for the immediate, unconditional and safe release of the Scottsboro boys.

When the united front conferences are organized we will be there to participate in the work. And we are going to insist on one thing; the first duty of the movement is the mobilization of the workers in mass meetings, demonstrations, parades, in every form of protest that is known to the working class.

The banner of the working class is stained with the blood of Sacco and Vanzetti, with the blood of hundreds and thousands of its sons and daughters, done to death under the wheels of the capitalist juggernaut. It is woven of the sufferings of thousands more, of Mooney and the historic though, so far, unsuccessful struggle to set him free.

If the working class will inscribe on its banner the immediate, unconditional and safe release of the Scottsboro boys, and organize to fight for their freedom they can be set free.

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