Jamila Johnson pt1: Shining a Light on Louisiana’s Racist Jury System
July 10, 2024
Jamila Johnson pt1: Shining a Light on Louisiana's Racist Jury System

I sat down with Jamila Johnson, a longtime friend who recently moved to Louisiana, to explore her inspiring journey of self-discovery and advocacy. Jamila shares her decision to leave Seattle’s echo chamber following the 2016 election and her bold move to Louisiana to work for the Southern Poverty Law Center. Her story is a testament to the power of stepping out of one’s comfort zone to gain a deeper understanding of the world.

“A verdict of eleven people is no verdict at all. So in a country where we believe you’re innocent until you’re proven guilty for a swath of people, and we eventually found 1500 people who were sitting in Louisiana’s prisons, they never got a constitutional determination of their guilt or their innocence.” 

Jamila recounts her efforts to help Louisiana heal from the injuries caused by Jim Crow laws, focusing on her work to end the non-unanimous jury system. This episode delves into the historical context of these laws, their impact on the black community, and Jamila’s relentless fight for justice. Her dedication led to significant changes in the state’s legal system, although the journey was fraught with challenges.

“The ultimate thing that they want is for their loved ones to have a fair trial, but also for their loved ones to be home. But there’s a certain weight that comes with understanding and fully being part of a conversation about why they were in prison and why they were convicted… just carrying that weight from 120 plus years before and a constitutional convention that was specifically geared to, as [Justice] Kavanaugh explained it, to convict more black people and to silence the voices of black jurors.”

Listeners will be moved by Jamila’s account of advocating for those wrongfully convicted under unconstitutional laws and her tireless work to bring justice to those affected. Her story is a powerful reminder of the importance of understanding different perspectives and the impact one person can make in the fight for equality and justice.

00:00:32 </After the 2016 election, Jamila chose to leave Seattle for Louisiana

00:05:08 </Jamila applied in the middle of the night for a job in Louisiana

00:07:14 </Louisiana passed what I call the Jim Crow jury system in 1898

00:15:02 </There are still people being convicted with non unanimous jury verdicts in Louisiana

00:23:55 </Working in prisons can be both brutal and beautiful

About Jamila Johnson

Jamila Johnson (she/her/y’all) is a Senior Counsel. Jamila joined the Lawyering Project after almost a decade in private practice and nearly six years litigating around the remains of slavery and Jim Crow in Louisiana’s criminal systems. Jamila was the Deputy Director at the Promise of Justice Initiative (PJI), where she ran its End Plantation Prisons Project. For two years, she was PJI’s Managing Attorney for its Jim Crow Jury Project. There she led a mass post-conviction project during the pandemic for those in prison with non-unanimous jury verdicts. Before that, Jamila was a senior supervising attorney at Southern Poverty Law Center and a shareholder at Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt. She holds a law degree from the University of Washington School of Law.

Jamila is actively licensed to practice in Louisiana, Oregon and Washington. Jamila resides in New Orleans, Louisiana and is unreasonably enthusiastic about crawfish season.

Jamila’s Links

About Tracy Crowley

Tracy Crowley has always been an entrepreneur. Whether it was making gowns for fellow Army wives, taking portraits in black and white, or working on her other businesses, she is always learning something new.

That passion for learning something new and giving something back collide nicely in this podcast.

Join Tracy for Good Life Stories, where simple curiosity brings out great stories, every single time.

Check out Tracy’s new book! https://tracycrowley.life/

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