Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen, who presides over criminal cases that frequently involve racial considerations in Pulaski County, has written an essay on “cultural competency” in the Trayvon Martin murder trial and posted it on his website.
What he means, among others, is this:
One wonders how, in 2013, a six-person jury was selected that included no African-Americans in Seminole County, Florida. One wonders how and why the prosecution team did not address the reality of racial profiling, racial prejudice, and racial stereotypes during jury selection in order to be able to intelligently decide whether to challenge prospective jurors for cause on account of racial prejudice, or to exercise peremptory challenges for prospective jurors considered unacceptable. One wonders whether the prosecution team included anyone skilled in cultural competency and inclusion.
Griffen said the prosecution apparently decided to treat the law as color-blind.
However, law is not color-blind. Law, as the great Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously said, is about experience. Culturally competent law practice requires that one understand societal realities and experiences and the legal implications they evoke. To do otherwise is to engage in wishful thinking at best. At worse, taking a “color-blind” approach to law in a legal dispute with cross-cultural issues amounts to cultural incompetence, however skilled the lawyer might otherwise be viewed.
Griffen concludes that justice wasn’t done in the Martin case.
Trayvon Martin’s death should have been investigated and prosecuted by lawyers who were culturally competent. The shameful truth is that it wasn’t. The more painful truth is that this is the level of legal work communities of color, women, people who are gay, lesbian, trans-gender, and bi-sexual, immigrants, and other marginalized persons have come to recognize as business as usual from the professionals licensed by society to handle and decide disputes about justice.
I will hazard a guess that comments on the importance of understanding race in criminal trials — as advocated by an African-American judge — will someday be cause for comment, not likely positive, by a party in his court. Griffen, of course, is familiar with resistance to his robust exercise of free speech.