Jury of His Dears

What the appeals court really said was that Lipscomb had a right to be tried where he was loved

What the court found was that Lipscomb had an overwhelming right, both from the Constitution and from ancient common law, to be tried in his own community, unless the court found powerful evidence that no impartial jury could be seated in his community. The court said Kendall had merely cited pretrial publicity in a general way without specifically showing what had been published and how it would have affected the jury pool.

The court also found merit in Lipscomb's appeals lawyer's argument that normally you move a trial because the local press coverage has turned the jury pool into an ugly lynch mob. You don't move it because the crowd is bowing and sweeping the ground with palm leaves for him.

And this is why the whole Lipscomb issue is so fundamentally political. The appeals court obviously believed that Lipscomb, like any American, had an overwhelming right to be tried in his own community, by his "peers." Doesn't mean he had a constitutional right to have black people in the jury pool. Not really. Not necessarily. Doesn't mean the jurors had to be people from his church. But he did have a right to be tried in his community--Dallas.

If Lipscomb happens to be very popular in this community; if his peers do not believe he is a traitor to his race; if Dallas, in its own weird way, loves Al Lipscomb for straddling the fence on racial issues, then that is Al Lipscomb's good fortune and the government's tough luck. That's part of what he brings to court and they don't.

His popularity, in other words, may be a thread in the fabric that makes Dallas the community it is. Neither the government nor the court can move the trial simply because they don't approve of the way the community thinks, any more than the government or the court can order the community to stop thinking that way.

I asked Lipscomb about the rich white friends who have supported him over the years under the table and on the table. I asked the question because other white people had asked me earlier in the week why Lipscomb should be pilloried, why his sins should be trotted out again every time his name comes up, when the white people who may have corrupted him go unmentioned. I asked him if he believed his white supporters had corrupted him.

He was silent for a long while after I finished my question. At the beginning of a rambling answer, he recalled for me a speech he said a white council member had made in the council chamber in the 1980s.

"Craig Holcomb said, 'Al Lipscomb not only helped the black community, he helped us [whites] also, because we were not members of the Citizens Charter Association [the old downtown oligarchy], either.'"

(Holcomb did remember saying it when I called him but couldn't recall the occasion.)

His entire response, too long to quote here, was intriguing. I asked him if he was telling me that what he did as an activist was never done for black people exclusively, that white people benefited as well from the democratization of city politics that he helped bring about, and therefore there was nothing untoward about his white support.

"Indeed, indeed," he said.

Charming. Persuasive. And I don't buy it.

It doesn't add up to a thousand dollars a month in unreported cash, free cab rides, a cell phone and a 180-degree turn on the taxicab issues. Not for me.

But who am I? Maybe Dallas does buy it. And if Dallas does buy it, if the community believes that Al Lipscomb's behavior was that of a statesman, leader and peacemaker, not a traitor or a crook, then Lipscomb deserved to have that support going for him at his trial.

That's why the ultimate question here, in terms of the community, is political, and the best way to settle it now would be to have him run for mayor. At least then we could all vote on it.

Before I left his home, we toured the Lipscomb den, walls encrusted and emblazoned with plaques, testimonials and historic photographs taken at key moments in his career. Our visit was interrupted several times by callers asking for help with landlords, asking for advice on backed-up storm sewers, asking him how he felt about issues before the city council. With every caller he was charming and persuasive, whether he told them anything useful or not.

I sure as hell wouldn't run against him.

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