"What will the verdict be?"
- Robert Pacilio
Systemic racism has America on edge. In Robert Pacilio’s newest novel Whitewash, Duke Ellis, a former Klansman turned politician, uses racial slurs and physical threats as part of his 2016 campaign against the incumbent Congressman James Curtis—a member of the Black Caucus. After Ellis’ vitriolic speech to his fervent supporters, many of the most militant vandalize the home of Congressman Curtis, as well as set fire to a cross on his lawn. Did Ellis’ speech incite a riot that evening? Were his words protected as ‘political speech’? Whitewash questions the boundaries of protected speech. Can the First Amendment be applied to ‘hate speech’? Is Duke Ellis’ intent on the night of his rally a factor in whether his words were criminal in nature? And in the end, who is responsible for hate crimes?
Twelve jurors come face to face with all these questions as they deliberate the fate of Duke Ellis in court on Federal charges that Ellis ‘incited a riot.’ Whitewash is told through the eyes of a retired teacher Anthony Rossi sitting on his first jury as he works through the testimony presented with the other eleven jurors--five women and six men. Each juror’s experience with sexism and racism plays into their deliberations. Meanwhile, Deborah, Anthony Rossi’s wife, experiences the trial as ‘breaking national news’ on television, with all that it involves: media frenzy, unruly protests, and even political interference.
Whitewash places the reader into a front row seat in the courtroom: where the witnesses, the lawyers, and the jurors debate what happened and why. What verdict will be reached? How might this Duke Ellis’ trial affect political speech, the media’s coverage, and social platforms like Facebook, Twitter and emerging websites? The verdict will be debated by those who believe in the First Amendment’s guarantee of ‘free speech’ verses those who argue words alone can constitute ‘hate crimes’ that no free society should tolerate.