Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Defense of Dr. Ossian Sweet by Clarence Darrow

Appeal for Justice

Eventually, Darrow got to the heart of the argument for the defense. The prosecution witnesses had lied.

"I think every one of them lied, perjured themselves over and over and over again to send eleven black people to prison for life Every policeman there knew that crowd was after Negroes."

His arguments destroyed the contention that the crowd was not a mob, not threatening, but simply benign "Noble Nordics," as he called them. Even with this denunciation of the police and the crowd, he knew well that he had to avoid demonizing the residents of Garland and Charlevoix Avenues.

"It does not mean that around Garland and Charlevoix, there are living people who are worse than other people picked from the community I would not be afraid to go there to live, you would not need to be afraid to go there to live, but it means that almost instinctive hatred of the whites for anything that approaches social equality is so deep and so abiding in the hearts of most white people that they are willing to perjure themselves in behalf of what they think is their noble, Nordic race."

His concluding statements faced the reality of "the race problem," but asked the jury, within the limits of the ingrained prejudices contained in all of them, to provide his clients with justice.

"Ask yourself this question, gentlemen, if you could settle [the race problem] as you wanted to how would you do it? How would you do it? If I were asked the question as to how I would do it, I could not answer it.

"I ask you gentlemen in behalf of my clients, I ask you more than everything else, I ask you in behalf of justice, often maligned and down-trodden, hard to protect and hard to maintain, I ask you in behalf of yourselves, in behalf of our race, to see that no harm comes to them. I ask you gentlemen in the name of the future, the future which will one day solve these sore problems, and the future which is theirs as well as ours, I ask you in the name of the future to do justice in this case."

The courtroom was silent, stunned. It was reported that Judge Murphy's eyes welled with tears. Clarence Darrow had once more mesmerized his audience.

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