Fox's 'You the Jury' April 14 revisits racist Facebook selfie controversy from 2015

Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

This was originally posted Friday, April 14, 2017 by Rodney Ho/ on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

In the fall of 2015, social media picked up on an Atlanta man's selfie with a co-worker's three year old and the string of racially-tinged comments attached to it.

His friends on Facebook called the black child a “slave” and compared him to a key slave character from "Roots" — Kunta Kinte, whose slave owner changed his name to Toby after he was kidnapped from Africa. "But Massuh, I dindu nuffin," someone wrote. Another: "He is feral."

The resulting firestorm left the man Gerod Roth without a job while his co worker Sydney Shelton had to deal with the emotional fallout.

Shelton decided to take her case to court -- TV court, that is. Fox has a new show called "You the Jury" hosted by Jeanine Pirro of Fox News. The episode airing Friday features this very case.

She is seeking damages for Roth inflicting her emotional distress.

The twist that makes this different from daytime judge shows: America - not the TV judge - gets to decide the outcome in a mass "American Idol"-style vote.

Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

In the episode I previewed, which was taped last year except for the voting results, the plaintiff was questioned first by her attorney Benjamin Crump (who represented Trayvon Martin), painting her a loving mom to her son Cayden. "He's a victim of racist comments that will follow him the rest of his life," Shelton said. "I want Cayden to see that mommy took care of it."

Crump, who is handling many of the cases on the show for either the plaintiff or the defendant, said in an interview he came in to ensure that "their lives matter and their life experiences matter. She tries to protect her son from what happened but you can't always protect your children from sick people." The so-called jokesters, he said, "don't understand words have meaning."

Roth, using Casey Anthony's attorney Jose Baez as his representative, came on this show to "clear my name." He believed he was being punished for the actions of his friends, who made most of the problematic comments. He said he told his friends online to stop the nasty comments. His "feral" comment, he said, was out of context in relation to a prior comment about "wild" children running around the office and had no racial intent. He said he apologized to her but she went to the media instead.

Since this went public, he and his family have been inundated with death threats, and his attorney revealed some especially nasty social media comments against him. He also remains unemployed after losing his office manager job at Polaris Marketing Group.

Roth brought in friends and family members (two black) to vouch he is not racist.

Crump, in cross examination, asked him why he didn't delete the post immediately. He said he was on a camping trip. He also accused Roth of purposely posting that photo, knowing his friends would use it as "red meat" to make racist statements.

As he told me, "this is their history, their habits, their patterns."

Later in the episode, unlike a regular court case, the plaintiff and defendant faced off directly without attorneys to do their own closing statements.

Things got pretty dramatic toward the end of the episode but you should watch for yourself.

"Did the media unfairly paint him as a racist?" Pirro asked on air. "Your verdict will be legal and binding."

While the case seems like it's tilted in Shelton's favor, Crump said you never know: "In America today, we have national leaders who say horrible things and still get elected."

Roth, in a follow-up email note, wrote something similar: "I mean Donald Trump is president, anything can happen in America these days, right?"

UPDATE: America, of course, voted in Shelton's favor. Pirro said given the worst comments came from Roth's friends, she didn't believe he should be held responsible but he should take a "cold, hard look" at the friends he keeps. And since this was taped many months ago and the results were live, they had to film both results and showed only the one that actually happened. Curiously, there was no dollar amount ever brought up so you have to wonder if this was merely a symbolic victory. (Roth said he can't reveal the dollar amount.)

Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

Crump sees this show as "an evolution of stuff like 'Law & Order,' 'Perry Mason' and 'The People's Court' It takes very real life issues straight from the headlines and you have the real people involved in those matters come forward. There was some gut-wrenching emotion sometimes. It's very authentic."

The April 21 case will focus on an Indiana pizza place owner refusing to serve pizza at a gay wedding. Crump represents the owner and will paint the case of a man who serves gay people all the time but feels catering a gay wedding would be an endorsement of something he doesn't believe in from a religious standpoint.

"It became very thought provoking when we argued that case," Crump said. "It will be very eye opening to many people when we peel into the layers and get into the issue."

He said the set was nothing like a regular courtroom. 'It was like a star chamber," he said. It looks more like a grandiose "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" round-table set. What struck him was the fact the judge was set 10 feet high, not the usual two feet high. And there were hundreds of audience members as well.

"You're making these arguments," he said. "It puts your mindset that this is big. You're not just arguing to the people there but you're arguing to millions of Americans who are watching."


"You the Jury," 9 p.m. Fridays, Fox