In case you missed it, here are some of my thoughts in a telephone interview on WPIX Channel 11 in NY on this study. Diversity in prosecution is critical to having a fair and balanced criminal justice system. Be sure to click on the link to watch the broadcast addressing this serious issue!
Back in November, I had the honor and the privilege of speaking as President of the National Black Prosecutors Association on a roundtable at Harvard Law. Fellow participants included head prosecutors from around the country, and forward thinkers in the criminal justice world, led by the Vera Institute. We discussed issues of racial disparity in sentencing, ways to ensure that everyone gets the same treatment for the same types of crimes/criminal history, and other ways to make our system better. See my interview here on diversity and unconscious bias in the criminal justice system.
In recent months, I have been asked regarding my opinions on issues confronting our nation regarding our criminal justice system. I’d like to share some of these discussions with all of you, and give you the chance to weigh in. My theme remains the same: diversity is a necessity. There must be diversity among the actors in the criminal justice system in order for there to be balance within our system. Perception is reality; critical messages can be lost if there is a perception that the system is unfair.
Political reporter Tony Pugh asked me what my thoughts were regarding the use of independent prosecutors to investigate and pursue cases involving police shootings.
“The true answer is to have diversity among the attorneys in prosecutors’ offices, and for prosecutors’ offices to continue working on their relationship with the communities they serve, so that there is trust and transparency in the justice process,” said Melba Pearson, the president of the National Black Prosecutors Association.
While an independent prosecutor may be a useful tool in some circumstances, “it isn’t necessarily the answer for all police shooting cases,” she said.
Some state prosecutors already have units or individual prosecutors dedicated to public officials, including police officers, who’ve allegedly committed crimes.
“This may be a good option to expand upon,” Pearson said.
New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio came under fire for regarding comments he made regarding what he has told his son about how to interact with law enforcement.
Mayor De Blasio, who is married to an African American woman and has a biracial son, stated in a recent interview:
“It’s different for a white child. That’s just the reality in this country,” de Blasio went on. “And with Dante, very early on with my son, we said, look, if a police officer stops you, do everything he tells you to do, don’t move suddenly, don’t reach for your cell phone, because we knew, sadly, there’s a greater chance it might be misinterpreted if it was a young man of color.”
The head of the New York City Police Union was infuriated, and stated that the Mayor “threw cops under the bus” and was not helping race relations.
Here’s the deal.
Mayor De Blasio a white man, and a parent, is speaking his truth.
He’s speaking of the discussion that thousands of African American parents have with their sons across the country on a daily basis.
He’s a responsible parent, making sure his child knows how to act appropriately in a police encounter. Be polite, don’t make any sudden movements, don’t do anything to escalate the situation.
He’s also being practical! As angry as Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch may be, does he really want people making sudden movements in police encounters, creating situations where officers will have to draw their weapons?
I should hope not!
Mayor De Blasio’s statement is actually helping race relations…because when African Americans make similar statements, it can be viewed as an overreaction. “Their kids must be doing something bad.” “They’re just paranoid”
But the Mayor says it…this draws attention to the fact that this is a real issue.
So before dismissing his comments, listen.
Knowledge trumps racism.
Understand what the other side is saying. Mayor De Blasio is speaking his truth. So speak yours and let’s have a productive dialogue on how to move policing forward as opposed to “us” vs “them”.
Not all kids of color are bad; not all police officers are bad. If we start from that premise, we may actually get somewhere!
See my list of my practical tips on interacting with law enforcement here.
Feel free to weigh in!
Since it is 20 days away from election day, I’m shifting my focus to politics and the law. I am a firm believer in educating yourself on the issues and knowing what you are voting for. All elections are critical, not just the presidential years!
An interesting article was published by the Associated Press today, indicating that the frustrations of the community in St. Louis have risen to new heights. There has been a movement by some African American voters in St. Louis County, in response to the events in Ferguson, to vote for Republican candidates in the upcoming election. The feeling is that the Democrats in power, from the local level to the governor’s office, have ignored the needs of the community that has supported them faithfully for decades.
The emotion that some voters have of being “used” is not uncommon. Time after time, candidates and elected officials across the country appear in the communities that need them the most only during the election cycle; they are not seen again until the next election. Certainly, those politicians should be held accountable.
But as the old phrase goes, “look deep before you leap”.
Make sure to research whoever you are voting for. Votes should not be cast out of anger, or revenge, because it is the community who suffers in the end. Take a look at each candidate, and look at where they stand on ALL the issues. If they are in the legislature, pull their voting history. Look at what organizations or charities the candidate dedicated his or her time to. These are all signs of whether or not the candidate’s interests align with yours.
If the Republican candidate appeals to you across the board, fine.
If you find that your values are not compatible, then the next best strategy is to put pressure on the leaders of your local Democratic party, letting them know that the current slate is unacceptable. Find a candidate and back them, whether via write in, or a grassroots movement. As we have seen in recent history, social media is a powerful tool in getting information, and creating campaigns. This is why it is critical to vote in your party’s primaries — the primary votes send a clear message to the party as to whether or not an elected official is on the right track.
Another article came out today indicating that a record number of African Americans are seeking elected office right now. Some of those candidates are running as Republicans. See the article here. This is a perfect example of taking charge of your destiny, and being the change you want to see.
Food for thought!