Black Lives Matter to Public Defenders.

As public defenders, we know well the disparate treatment suffered by our clients of color in the criminal justice system. In recent weeks, our country has observed firsthand how persons of color are targeted, harmed, and sometimes killed because of the color of their skin. The national protests this past week have raised the debate about issues we bring to the courtroom every day.  As we process injustice, Martin Luther King Jr. reminds us that peace and brotherhood will always overcome racism and injustice:

I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.

Martin Luther King Jr.  also told us that “the arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Policy makers have implemented a system of mass incarceration and minimum mandatory sentences that has disproportionately affected communities of color. It has caused generational harm and decimated communities of color by robbing people of their dignity, by taking away their freedom, and undermining opportunities for education and jobs. This was true before the pandemic and has been made worse by the pandemic. Communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by the Coronavirus.

As public defenders, the events of the last three months have highlighted the need for real Criminal Justice Reform.  This is a call to action. The time for lip service is over:

  • As public defenders we know that our clients of color are detained by police more often and that has to stop now.
  • As public defenders we know that our clients of color are subjected to searches by police more often and that has to stop now.
  • As public defenders we know that our clients of color are arrested more often and that has to stop now.
  • As public defenders we know that our clients of color are charged more often and that has to stop now
  • As public defenders we know that our clients of color are held in jail pretrial more often and that has to stop now.
  • As public defenders we know that our clients of color are sentenced to longer periods of time in jail and prison and that has to stop now.
  • As public defenders we know that our clients of color are found in violation of probation and parole more often and that has to stop now.
  • As public Defenders we know that our clients of color are much more likely to be hurt or killed in a police encounter and that has to stop now.

The police need to be trained to understand what bias is so they can treat people fairly – that needs to begin now. They need to be held accountable when they violate the law – that needs to begin now. Police need to stop acting like they’re an extension of the military – that needs to begin now. They need to remember that we are neighbors and fellow citizens not thugs and hooligans – that needs to begin right now.

The police need to know that we demand change – AND WE DEMAND CHANGE RIGHT NOW.