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Exhibition Drawing Justice: The Art of Courtroom Illustration

Race-Based Crimes

For most of the twentieth century, trials involving vicious attacks on African Americans exposed virulent racism in the United States. Courtroom artists have been on hand to capture seminal moments from various trials where biased juries either acquitted the accused or handed out lenient sentences for heinous crimes. Two trials typifying questionable justice were those for the murder of voting rights activist and NAACP leader Vernon Dahmer by members of the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi and the trial of white vigilante, subway shooter Bernhard Goetz in New York City. By the 1990s, attitudes began to shift and community leaders called for stiffer sentences—as in the case of James Byrd, Jr., an African American who was dragged behind a truck to his death by white supremacists. The case contributed to the creation of the 2009 Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

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