Legal Divas of Color: 10 Ladies Rise in Alabama

Legal Divas of Color: 10 Ladies Rise in Alabama

Photo Credit: Andre WagnerEvery Black History Month, I have done a series on this blog on the topic of “Legal Divas of Color”. The intent is to highlight African-American women who are doing great things in the legal field. Many serve as an inspiration to me to keep fighting the good fight and pushing the boundaries as far as they can go. It is also a reminder that the term “diva” is not a pejorative term; a diva is a woman who is strong, self-assured, and commands her worth.

When one thinks of the state of Alabama, sadly what comes to mind is the long history of racism and segregation. One thinks of the work of Dr. Martin Luther King; the actions of brutal police officers; and the last state in the country to overturn miscegenation laws as required by the Supreme Court.

However, Election Day 2016 showed that times are slowly changing in this southern state. 10 female attorneys of color rose to the highest positions that one can hold in the legal field in Jefferson County. The newly elected District Attorney is Lynneice Washington; and nine women of color were elected judges in Jefferson County. The nine new judges are Javan Patton, Debra Bennett Winston, Shera Craig Grant, Nakita “Niki” Perryman Blocton, Tamara Harris Johnson, Elisabeth French, Agnes Chappell, Brendette Brown Green and Annetta Verin.

District Attorney Lynneice Washington ran on a progressive platform of reforming/reducing the use of the death penalty, creating alternatives to incarceration for low level offenders, and creating a citizens-police advisory board. In doing so, she defeated the incumbent who had been appointed to the position after the retirement of his successor.

Photo Credit: Lynneice Washington campaign

These wins are even more significant when you look at the fact that the current administration carried Alabama, and defeated Hillary Clinton resoundingly.

In this day and age, there seems to be a resurgence of the “tough on crime” rhetoric coming from the Justice Department and the White House. These policies have proven to be ineffective, leading to mass incarceration and no rehabilitation to be found in the criminal justice system. Now, there is a rise of a more progressive approach to criminal justice, which has shown to be effective in reducing recidivism and integrating people back into their communities. This is why it is more important than ever to elect progressive district attorneys and judges so that the whole defendant is being considered, as well as what is right for the victim, and the community at large. Local politics have become more critical in criminal justice than national policy. Groups such as the ACLU, and activists such as Shaun King are mounting voter education campaigns on this critical issue.

The wave of power seen in Jefferson County, Alabama is absolutely historic. I look upon these wins as hope for the future!

Congratulations ladies for being Legal Divas of Color.

Please see the bios of the nine judges here as well as a great piece detailing the District Attorney Lynneice Washington’s plans for the future of her county.

Diversity Discussions: The Role of Prosecutors of Color

Diversity Discussions: The Role of Prosecutors of Color

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I was recently interviewed by Fusion  on my path to becoming a senior African American prosecutor.  In examining the criminal justice system as a whole, it is extremely important that all of the actors (judges, police, defense attorneys and prosecutors) reflect the community they serve.  The article revealed some disturbing statistics; in addition to the previously reported statistic by the Women’s Donor Network that 95% of elected prosecutors are white men, Fusion found:

In counties in the U.S. where people of color represent between 50% and 60% of the population, only 19% of prosecutors are prosecutors of color.

  • In counties where people of color represent between 80% and 90% percent of the population, only 53% of the prosecutors are prosecutors of color.
  • Only in places where 90% of the population are people of color does the prosecutor pool reflect the diversity of the community.
  • Overall, in the 276 counties in the U.S. where people of color represent the majority of the population, only 42%, or less than half, of the prosecutors in these counties are prosecutors of color.

This is why I am tireless in my efforts to bring more people of color into the career of prosecution.

Melba Pearson, a past president of the National Black Prosecutors Association (NBPA), is a woman of color and an assistant state attorney in Miami. She didn’t fully realize how powerful the role of prosecutor was until she became one — somewhat by chance.

Growing up, Pearson was pressed by her father to study the civil rights movement. He noted that heroes like Martin Luther King, Jr. were able to accomplish their work partly because “they had amazing defense attorneys to get them out of jail,” she said. “That’s something really ingrained in me since I was young.”

Read more here.

“My Life as a Black Prosecutor” via Marshall Project/Vice.com

“My Life as a Black Prosecutor” via Marshall Project/Vice.com

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I was approached as then President of the National Black Prosecutors Association to write an article for this collaborative project between the Marshall Project and Vice. It’s important to note, in a world where 95% of elected prosecutors are white, that diversity is a critical issue, especially in the upper echelons of the profession.  As we explore criminal justice reform, issues in policing and lifting up communities of color, it is even more critical that prosecutors reflect the communities they serve.

“The only way to help your people is to be a defense attorney.”

My father was the first to tell me that, but definitely not the last.

He went on to explain that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and all the civil-rights leaders of the 1960s had great lawyers to call whenever they got jailed for protesting. Without these lawyers, my dad explained, African Americans would never have advanced toward equality.

When I was in college and law school, I was also told that as a black woman, the only way to look out for “my people” and defend the Constitution was to become a defense attorney — and more specifically a public defender.

I followed that path, interning with the Legal Aid Society in New York City while I was an undergrad. A couple of the attorneys I met there formed their own shop, and I later interned for them during law school. But during my final year, I got an offer to become a prosecutor in Florida.

I accepted and never looked back.

Read the rest here.

 

Study: 95% of elected prosecutors are white

Study: 95% of elected prosecutors are white

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!

WPIX 11 New York

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NEW YORK – A new study by the Reflective Democracy Campaign shows little diversity among elected prosecutors. Just 4% are men of color, and 1% are women of color. 78% are white men.

“I think that excluding women and people of color from that really important function in the criminal justice system is just bound to lead to inequality,” said Brenda Choresi Carter, Director of the Reflective Democracy Campaign.

Prosecutors can charge a defendant with a felony, or bring no case at all. When negotiating plea deals, they can push for a heavy prison sentence or probation.

“We have to be mindful of the fact that we have a tremendous amount of power that we are not to abuse,” said Melba Pearson, President of the National Black Prosecutors Association.

In just two weeks, the NBPA will hold a jobs fair for young black lawyers.

“We do see…

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Diversity Discussions: The New York Times

Diversity Discussions: The New York Times

20140323-142740.jpgThis week, I was quoted in an article in the New York Times regarding a recent study that reveals 95% of elected prosecutors are white. As President of the National Black Prosecutors Association, I am proud to lead an organization that has been fighting to recruit and retain African American prosecutors for 32 years.  Diversity in the criminal justice system is one of the key components to  earning and maintaining the trust of the community. Read the article here.