Retrying Race

This Essay investigates the renewed prosecution of long-dormant criminal and civil rights cases of white-on-black racial violence arising out of the 1950s and 1960s. The study is part of an ongoing project on race, lawyers, and ethics within the criminal-justice system. Framed by this larger project, the Essay explores the normative and sociolegal meaning of that resurgent prosecution. My hope in pursuing this inquiry is to better understand, and perhaps begin to refashion, the prosecutor’s redemptive role in cases of racial violence. Both descriptive and prescriptive in nature, the inquiry addresses race in relation to law and community. Grappling with the historical violence accompanying that troubled relationship, the Essay employs the notion of race cases to decipher juridical forms of white-on-black violence, parsing their content and tracing their genealogy in selected criminal and civil rights prosecutions of the 1950s and 1960s. The central purpose of this inquiry is to ground the justification for retrying race cases in the discretionary ethics of the prosecution function and the normative jurisprudence of criminal justice.