American University Washington College of Law academic and author Professor Angela J Davis recently shared insights on the issues of unfettered prosecutorial power and racism in the American criminal justice system with UKZN Law School’s staff and students.

At a seminar titled: Policing the Black Man: Arrest, Prosecution and Imprisonment (which is also the title of her recently published book) Davis spoke about why this subject is close to her heart.

‘The issue of the treatment and prosecution of Black people in the justice system is important to me  because before I became a Law professor I was a public defendant and represented the poor. Social media and technology now allows us to bear witness to the murders of Black men and boys such as Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice and many others since then. The outrage and social movements for change inspired by these cases serves as a reminder that the lives of Black men and boys have been cut short with apparent impunity,’ said the academic, who lectures Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure and Criminal Defense: Theory and Practice.

Davis read from the introduction of her book which explores and critiques the many ways the criminal justice system impacts the lives of African American boys and men at every stage of the criminal process, from arrest through to sentencing.

She highlighted how the Black Lives Matter movement showed the unique experiences of Black men in the United States. She spoke about how Black men are more likely to be killed in an encounter with the police, how prosecutors exert their power on Black men accused through plea bargains, and why it is important for people to be educated about the subtle race bias that exists alongside the unfettered power of prosecutors.

‘Police have the power to bring the person to the courts door but that is as far as it goes. Prosecutors hold the power and they are not accountable to any one and even though there is a jury process most people plead guilty even if they are innocent because of the difficult and unfair system.  It is my role to continue to educate the public and hopefully we can continue to see a change,’ said Davis.

The seminar was preceded by a student guest lecture where Davis delivered a lecture to Criminal Law students.

Words: Thandiwe Jumo

Photographs: Sakhile Fayti