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Protesters on Trial - Criminal Justice in the Southern Civil Rights and Vietnam Antiwar Movements

NCJ Number
S E Barkan
Date Published
207 pages
This book compares the political trials during the Southern civil rights and the Vietnam antiwar movements and analyzes the use of such trials as a method for impeding or promoting social and political change.
In the civil rights movement, the criminal justice system was used by officials to harass activists. Arrests and prosecutions intimidated Southern blacks and their allies and forced the movement to spend large amounts of time, money, and energy defending its members against criminal charges. Because little chance of acquittals existed at the trial level due to regional hostility, defense lawyers concentrated on building a proper record for appeals to the Federal courts. As a result, trials were perfunctory proceedings in which the crucial issue of racism rarely surfaced. In the antiwar movement, the courts offered less hostility and greater opportunities for mobilization. Judges were more likely to permit political and moral arguments, and defendants, often acting as their own attorneys, transformed many trials into forums for their antiwar views. In addition, juries were much more willing to acquit. This book presents an analysis testing pluralist and Marxist approaches to the study of law and protest. It is argued that the legal experience of the civil rights movement supports an instrumentalist version of the Marxist approach to the study of law and protest, while the antiwar movement supports a class struggle version of Marxist theory. Footnotes, an index, and approximately 372 references are provided. (Publisher abstract modified)