Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Please welcome Marion County's newest Circuit Court Judge, The Honorable Dale W. Penn
7/28 - CLE - The Struggle For Fair Housing In America, Presented by Ron Silver, Assistant United States Attorney
Assistant United States Attorney Ron Silver's presentation The Struggle for Fair Housing in America was the highlight of the Mary Leonard Law Society’s summer continuing legal education program held July 28, 2010. Silver, who has been as Assistant United States Attorney since 1982 and was awarded the Oregon Trial Lawyers’ Public Justice Award in 2002 for his Fair Housing work, interwove two themes: first, how the Supreme Court shaped Fair Housing laws through its view of State Action; and second how communities and legislatures struggled with prejudice and equal access to housing.
Silver opened the event by placing the struggle for fair housing in the historical context of population shifts during the early twentieth century. In reaction to those demographic changes, many city enacted ordinances mandating segregated housing. Silver then described the development of Supreme Court case law and of fair housing legislation, continuing to present-day struggles to enforce the law.
At the heart of Silver’s presentation was a description of Michigan v. Sweet, a murder trial driven by segregated housing in Detroit. In 1925, Dr. Ossian Sweet, an African American, bought and tried to move into a house in a white neighborhood. Knowing that other African Americans who had moved into predominately white neighborhoods had been confronted with violence and forced to leave, Sweet asked for police protection. He also arranged for nine men, all armed with guns, to accompany him and his wife to their new house.
For two nights after the Sweets moved in, a large mob of whites gathered. On the second night, as the police stood by, the crowd threw rocks at the Sweets’ house, breaking windows. Shots were fired from the house, and a man in the crowd was killed. The police arrested all 11 occupants of the house. After lengthy interrogation, Henry Sweet, Ossian Sweet’s younger brother, admitted firing a gun.
All of the occupants of the Sweet house were charged with murder, and the NAACP arranged for Clarence Darrow to defend them. After the first trial ended in a hung jury and a mistrial, Henry Sweet was tried alone for murder. In that second trial, some witnesses admitted both that a large crowd had been present and that the police had told them to deny that fact.
In a six-hour closing argument—which Silver condensed and dramatically delivered in less than 30 minutes—Darrow eloquently challenged a jury of 12 white men to consider their prejudices and the role of race in the case. Darrow asked the jurors to consider whether, if the occupants of the house had been white and the mobs outside had been black, anyone in the house would have been charged with murder. The jury found Henry Sweet not guilty, and the other defendants were all released.
Mary Leonard Law Society extends a very special thank you to Ron Silver for his engrossing and educational presentation and a special thank you to Naegeli Reporting for its sponsorship.
Kate Lonborg clerks for Judge Darleen Ortega at the Oregon Court of Appeals.