A road rage incident at an intersection 5 miles southeast of New Orleans left former New York Jets running back Joe McKnight dead. The white man accused of shooting him, Ronald Gasser, was charged with second-degree murder. Gasser’s fate will be decided by a jury with just one black woman on it. Will there be justice for McKnight?
Gasser, 56, is accused of gunning down 28-year-old McKnight after a “mutual road rage” car chase during which they allegedly gave each other the finger and called each other names. Gasser’s trial for second-degree murder began Friday. He pleaded not guilty and claimed that the shooting was in self-defense.
On Monday the jury watched a videotaped interview that took place between detectives and Gasser just one day after he fatally shot McKnight. Gasser told detectives that he was sitting in the driver’s seat of his vehicle, and McKnight was on the passenger side with his hands and upper torso “primarily in the vehicle.”
In a prior interview, Gasser had said that he shot McKnight after McKnight made an aggressive lunge toward him. Physical evidence showed that McKnight was not as close as Gasser claimed he was when the shooting occurred, but will that make a difference to the jury?
As Aviva Shen points out for In Justice Today, Jefferson Parish—Louisiana’s largest county and also where the trial is taking place—faced accusations of racism immediately following the Dec. 1, 2016, shooting. Although Gasser confessed to shooting McKnight three times in broad daylight, he was initially released without any charges by the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office.
Then-Sheriff Newell Normand claimed in a Dec. 6, 2016, news conference that race wasn’t a factor in the case, then proceeded to read from messages full of expletives and racial slurs that he said had been directed at him and other officials as a result of their handling of the case.
This is the same Jefferson Parish where former Sheriff Harry Lee said in 2006: “We know the crime is in the black community. Why should I waste time in the white community?”
Jefferson Parish is a county where blacks make up more than 25 percent of the population, but only one black woman is on the Gasser jury.
From In Justice Today:
Jefferson Parish has a habit of keeping black residents off juries. A 2003 report by the Louisiana Crisis Assistance Center, a capital defense nonprofit, found that Jefferson Parish prosecutors removed black prospective jurors in felony trials at more than three times the rate they removed white ones. Though racial discrimination in juries is unconstitutional, the Louisiana Supreme Court has studiously ignored most challenges.
The high rate of exclusion means that 80 percent of criminal trials in Jefferson Parish have no black representation on the jury, according to the civil rights nonprofit Equal Justice Initiative.
We know that this is by design. Louisiana as a whole has one of the worst track records when it comes to its criminal-justice system. It is one of just two states in the country that allow nonunanimous jury verdicts—a system that was put in place to nullify black influence on juries.
As In Justice Today notes, white men who kill black men in the U.S. are eight times more likely to have that killing ruled as justified.
So, with just one black woman on a jury full of white people—what does that mean when it comes to justice for Joe McKnight?
We will be lucky if we see any justice.
Read more at In Justice Today.