American Justice on Trial

American Justice on Trial : People V. Newton

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On the 50th anniversary of the Black Panther Party, Pearlman's new book American Justice on Trial: People v. Newton compares the explosive state of American race relations in 1968 to race relations today with insights from key participants and observers of the internationally-watched Oakland, California death-penalty trial that launched the Panther Party and transformed the American jury "of one's peers" to the diverse cross-section we often take for granted today. The book includes comments from Newton prosecutor Lowell Jensen, pioneering black jury foreman David Harper and TV journalist Belva Davis, as well as from Huey Newton's older brother Melvin Newton, former Panthers Kathleen Cleaver, David Hillliard and Emory Douglas. It also includes comments from civil rights experts including Bryan Stevenson, Barry Scheck and John Burris. This book complements the nonprofit documentary project of the same name for which Pearlman is co-producer/co-director on behalf of Arc of Justice Productions, Inc. [].

The nation is currently reeling from multiple shocks in July 2016. First, in early July, came yet two more videotaped incidents of police shooting to death black arrestees followed by a horrific sniper attack on Dallas policemen who were monitoring one of many Black Lives Matter protest rallies. Then came, on July 17, 2016, another attack on Baton Rouge police. The carnage and proliferation of demonstrations and hostile reactions in the aftermath of these shocking events have drawn renewed national focus to fractured police-community relations in cities across country, the very issue that gave rise to the Black Panther Party a half century ago.

The two incidents did start out in similar ways. In the early morning of October 28, 1967, Oakland policeman John Frey stopped the car Newton was driving to write a ticket for an unpaid traffic fine. A shootout ensued that left Officer Frey dead and Newton and a back-up officer seriously wounded. Newton claimed to have been unarmed and the victim of an abusive arrest; no gun belonging to Newton was found. His death penalty trial the following summer drew international attention to whether any black man could get a fair trial in America.

This book scrutinizes the 1968 Newton trial and its context and poses the same questions President Obama and others have recently addressed: what has changed in this country in the last half century and what has not? How do we best move forward?


Lise Pearlman appeared in Stanley Nelson's acclaimed 2015 film "The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution" as the country's leading expert on the 1968 Huey Newton death penalty trial. Her first history book, The Sky's The Limit: People v. Newton, The Real Trial of the 20th Century? [Regent Press 2012] won awards in the categories of law, history and multiculturalism. Pearlman was an undergraduate in the first class that included women at Yale University when Panther Party co-founder Bobby Seale was tried for murder in New Haven. She then moved to the Bay Area where she attended Berkeley Law School and then clerked for California Chief Justice Donald White before practicing law in Oakland. From 1989-1995, she served as the first Presiding Judge of the California State Bar Court. Pearlman has spent almost all of her adult life in Oakland where the Newton trial took place and where she still resides.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 540 pages
  • 152 x 229 x 30mm | 785g
  • English
  • 20 Illustrations; Illustrations, black and white
  • 1587903695
  • 9781587903694

Review quote

Huey Newton perfectly captures how much can be at stake for an entire community - even a nation - in a single trial and the exceptional role played by twelve everyday men and women we trust to decide each case. For those, like myself, who recall this case from our youth, Lise has done a wonderful job in both capturing a movement and its historical context. But anyone interested in history, courtroom drama or criminal justice should read this gripping account of an all too often forgotten chapter of the 20th Century. Barry Scheck, Professor of Law Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law Co-Director, The Innocence Project The definitive book on the 1968 Huey Newton death penalty trial. Newton prosecutor, D. Lowell Jensen A clear recognition and exposition of the quest for justice and equality by one man for all people within the parameters of a trial that illuminates the racial divide of a nation. Melvin Newton, Professor Emeritus Ethnic Studies, Merritt College (older brother of Huey Newton) Lise Pearlman's book about the trial of Huey Newton captures the tumultuous times, the personalities, the fighting defense lawyers, including Charles Garry, in a way that makes it eminently worth reading. Garry's jury selection dealing with race was one of the best pieces of trial work done by anyone. Loved the book. James Brosnahan, Senior Partner, Morrison Foerster Rated among the top 30 Trial Lawyers in the U.S (San Francisco federal prosecutor in 1968) I began my long career as a criminal defense lawyer in the mid-60s in Oakland, California and witnessed many of the legal events Lise Pearlman describes. I find her account of the 1968 Newton murder trial and its political context accurate and fascinating. Fans of famous trials will thoroughly enjoy this fast-paced, well-researched book. If "THE" trial of the 20th century can be measured, her argument for People v. Newton heading the list is a strong one. Penny Cooper, Member of the State Bar of California Trial Lawyers Hall of Fame (Alameda County Deputy Public Defender in 1968)
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