John Legend Wants Louisiana To Get Rid Of The "White Supremacy" In Its Constitution
Maybe you know John Legend best for his music, his acting, or even his social media comedian extraordinaire and model wife, Chrissy Teigen. However, he's also a social justice warrior, and he's got the chops to prove it. Most recently, Legend wrote an op-ed outlining how Louisiana laws uphold white supremacy — and also how voters this election can change that.
The specific law that Legend points to is almost unique to Louisiana, as Oregon is the only state that has it on the books. In those two states, a defendant can be convicted with only 10 out of 12 jurors agreeing to a guilty verdict. This system is allowed by the non-unanimous jury rule, which the Marshall Project explained as a "vestige of bigotry" — and this is exactly what Legend's op-ed, which appeared on Tuesday in The Washington Post, delves into.
White men were the only people to take part in Louisiana's constitutional convention in 1898, Legend explains, and they explicitly included numerous laws that aimed to "protect the purity of the ballot box and to perpetuate the supremacy of the Anglo–Saxon race in Louisiana." 120 years later, many such measures have since been struck down. However, the law meant to keep African Americans' influence in juries minimal — the non-unanimous jury rule — is still on the books.
As Legend writes, then, the result of that law is "a state justice system in which felony trials are held without the full participation of African Americans." According to an investigation that Legend cites from the New Orleans Advocate, this law combined with prosecutors' ability to strike potential black jurors from the jury pool makes it so that African Americans have much less of a voice in the criminal justice system in the state.
In many cases, including one that Legend describes in his piece, black defendants have been convicted by non-unanimous juries where the dissenting juror or jurors were also black. According to the Innocence Project New Orleans, a black man named Kia Stewart was falsely convicted of second degree murder on very flimsy evidence — and the conviction came because of the non-unanimous jury rule, which led to at least one black juror's voice being lost. Only after he served 10 years for a crime he didn't commit, Stewart was released.
The op-ed also has an upside, though. Legend explains that Louisiana will have a ballot measure in the upcoming midterms asking whether voters support a constitutional amendment to get rid of that law, thereby requiring cases to be decided with a unanimous jury.
"It’s time to come together, reject prejudice in all its forms and build a future in which everyone is valued and supported," Legend writes, referring to the opportunity that Louisiana voters will soon have. "The 1898 constitutional convention was about denying voice to the expression of all of Louisiana’s citizens. This ballot question in November is about giving Louisiana her voice back."
Writing on this subject actually isn't a departure for Legend, who also founded the FreeAmerica project to work on fixing the criminal justice system. He's not going to stop in his creative ventures — but now he's just making his voice even louder in the discussion about criminal justice reform.