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50th Anniversary March on Washington with Women and Diversity

Sunday, August 25th, 2013

MarchWDCThe 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington bore little resemblance to the 1963 March on Washington in both style and substance.  Not surprisingly, no one filled the shoes of Dr. Martin Luther King in addressing the tens of thousands  present on August 24.  There was mostly no urgency in the tone of the speakers in  addressing the issues of jobs, freedom and justice. In comparing the differences and similarities of the 1963 March on Washington with the 50th Anniversary of the march, there were notable diverse differences and also stark similarities. Women were mostly absent from the 1963 march.   Gays were silenced and diversity was absent in all other ways.  In 2013, the program was one of the most diverse, discussing the stark reality of  continued loss of freedoms for many Americans, mostly minorities.

In 2013,  women were front and center on the program.  Fifty years ago, although the mother of the civil rights movement, Dr. Dorothy I. Height, sat on the podium alongside of the men of the major civil rights organizations, she was not able to utter a word.  Myrlie Evers, widow of Medgar Evers  was on the 1963 official program to give a tribute to women fighters for freedom but she was unable to attend due to a scheduling conflict.  No woman spoke on the official program although Josephine Baker spoke at a preliminary part of the program.  Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson and opera singer Marian Anderson sang on the program because singing was an acceptable role for women in 1963 versus speaking.  

In 2013, there was no shortage of women speakers from all areas, including civil rights organizations, social justice organizations, labor unions and government representatives. From Myrlie Evers- Williams, who made it this time, to Congresswoman Marcia Fudge, Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Patricia Rosier, President of the National Bar Association,  NAACP’s Chairperson Roslyn Brock and their National Legal Defense Fund’s Sherrilyn Ifill, Barbara Anwire, Executive Directive of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, Melanie Campbell, President of National Coalition of Black Civic Participation, Maria Teresa Kumar, President of Voto Latino,  and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, women were present this time,  to name just a few notable ones.

Most notable of all of the speakers was the diversity in 2013 which was missing in 1963. Fifty years later, the March on Washington had women, men, children, whites, blacks, Hispanics, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, gays and lesbians from every walk of life.  And there is a strength in the numbers of diversity present at the 50th anniversary march.  Until those present from yesterday’s march, recognize and focus on their collective strength  and act on it, the conservative minority will be able to continue to erode away the rights and freedoms of many Americans, particularly minorities.

The stark difference in the two marches was the lack of a sense of urgency or a call to action in 2013.  The 50th anniversary should be more than a commemoration or love fest of rousing speeches, prayers and songs. It needed a sense of urgency for everyday persons to get involved to address voting rights, gun rights, criminal justice disparities for blacks and Hispanics, Stop and Frisk, Stand Your Ground, workers’ rights and education reforms. There is another event, Let Freedom Ring Commemoration and Call to Action scheduled for August 28, 2013, marking the actual anniversary date of the 1963 March on Washington. Presidents Obama, Clinton and Carter will give remarks. And hopefully that event will address the specific calls to action for people to take. That was mostly missing in yesterday’s march.  People need to know how they can make a difference.

Unfortunately, the stark similarity and reality in the two marches is the continued fight to protect basic American freedoms and our voting rights. Despite having an African American president and U.S. Attorney General, our work is far from done.  I attended the march with an 8 year old child who will be of the generation to carry the torch. In another 50 years, there will probably still be battles to win to continue to create a perfect union.  Let’s hope she is not continuing to fight to protect the same voting rights issues and lack of freedoms for all Americans.

Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, former prosecutor and founder of LegalSpeaks blog who addresses issues on race and gender in law and politics. She also speaks on hot legal and political topics and local and national headline legal trials.  She regularly contributes articles to the Huffington Post and Women’s Media Center blog.  She has appeared in national and local media including the Michael Eric Dyson Show, ABC, CBC, Fox and NBC affiliates,   Arise America, RT America, CBC- Canadian TV and XM Sirius radio.   

New York Judge Halts Stop and Frisk

Monday, August 12th, 2013

racial-profilingOn Monday, July 12, a New York judge put a halt to stop and frisk laws which disproportionately discriminate against Blacks and Latinos.  While the law is not always perfect, the issues of liberty and justice for all must co-exist with the right to fight crime. And in the New York laws of stop and frisk, the liberty and justice for all got lost in the process of stopping and frisking over 4 million persons with the vast majority being black ( 53%) and well over 20% being Latino.

And the city’s argument failed before  Judge Shira A. Scheindlin of Federal District Court in Manhattan.  The case will not end stop and frisk which is legal when applied legally and under the law. New York’s law failed in that regard.   The Court held that New York’s stop and frisk  law violated the constitutional rights of minorities.  Judge Scheindlin in a 195  page opinion, at times, scolded the police and senior management for failing to even discuss at meetings the disparity in the application of the law which affected approximately 80% of minorities among those who were stopped.

The judge scathingly wrote that the  Deputy Police Commissioner for New York City looked with a blind eye at the application of the law towards minorities.  Judge Scheindlin concluded her opinion by stating that  the idea of universal suspicion is what Americans abhor and what Black men in America must fight constantly. In a separate opinion, Judge Scheindlin will order measures to change the practices, including a monitor to  oversee changes including cameras to be used by the police.

In an earlier post, I discussed how Stop and Frisk practices in New York affected black men.

 In 2010, the NYPD recorded over 600,000 stops with 84% of them being black or Latino.  And the argument of reducing the crime rate while harassing and targeting innocent persons does not hold water or statistics.  Today Judge Scheindlin did not address the issue of reducing crime but only the unconstitutionality of the statute.

The statistics do not really get to the heart of the real problem.  They don’t tell the whole story. The problem is how young blacks and Latinos routinely feel humiliated, degraded and embarrassed at times for doing daily everyday tasks like coming out of their homes, walking in their neighborhood, going to work,  going to church, the gym, visiting family and friends and God forbid standing in groups of two or more.   And Judge Scheindlin did address the effect of these unconstitutional laws on black men who  she says must universally face unreasonable stops by police and be subjected to frisks, humiliation and embarrassment.

The Plaintiffs in the case chose to present their case over 2 months before a non-jury trial.  Change takes time and change does not occur immediately.  The court’s opinion is a recognition of a change that is well overdue.  A defiant Mayor Bloomberg vows to appeal calling the opinion dangerous and saying the judge “ignored the real-world realities of crime”. What is dangerous is New York’s  stop and frisk policy which violates constitutional rights. And the judge focused on protecting the constitutional rights of  black men and Latinos. Mayor Bloomberg has it  all wrong here.

Racial Profiling and Stop and Frisk are the Same Old Song

Saturday, August 10th, 2013

racial-profilingFrom slavery days where free blacks had to show their papers or risk becoming the property of a white slave owner to today’s stop and frisk laws in New York, racial profiling is so ingrained in our society that it is now the norm.  I won’t say it’s the new norm because racial profiling has been going on for as long as blacks have been in America. There is no simple fix and there is no such thing as “post racial” society. As the Motown Four Tops song says, it’s the same old song but with a different beat this time.

In May, 2010, a lawsuit was filed against the New York City Police Department to stop storing in a database the names and information of persons who were stopped and frisked, arrested but without a criminal conviction. And just last week, the New York Police Department agreed to purge those names and information in their database, in compliance with a 2010 law.   It’s ironic that the courts and a lawsuit had to get the police to be law abiding and compliant with the law. The settlement mandates that the purge must take place within 90 days.  This is just one of several lawsuits involving New York City police Department’s Stop and Frisk law. One case has yet to go to trial.  The federal class action is on behalf of hundreds of thousands of persons.

The New York Police Department unabashedly and apologetically failed to see the problem with the Stop and Frisk laws.  That goes ditto for Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the staunch supporter of the law.  In 2010, the NYPD recorded over 600,000 stops with 84% of them being black or Latino.  And the argument of reducing the crime rate while harassing and targeting innocent persons does not hold water or statistics.

The statistics do not really get to the heart of the real problem.  They don’t tell the whole story. The problem is how young blacks and Latinos routinely feel humiliated, degraded and embarrassed at times for doing daily everyday tasks like coming out of their homes, walking in their neighborhood, going to work,  going to church, the gym, visiting family and friends and God forbid standing in groups of two or more.   

It was not until I read a heart wrenching  December 17, 2011 New York Times Op Ed by  Nicholas K. Peart, a young black man  who told of his encounters with Stop and Frisk with the police, that I fully grasped the emotional issue and toll on our young black and Latino men and boys. Peart tells of being warned by his mother at age 14 to always carry ID and not panic if he were stopped by the police. He was stopped by the police three times, frisked, searched, ID’d and let go on for no apparent reason other than the police could legally do it.  His New York Times Op Ed sadly speaks of his first stop and frisk as almost a rite of passage and adds real voice to the statistics. Imagine not being able to walk down the street as a young black man in New York without fear of being stopped, frisked, cuffed, arrested for no reason and you have the gist of the Stop and Frisk law.   And Peart tells of the fear, horror and humiliation felt by those who experience it.

Now go back in time to slavery times, when freed blacks had to carry papers with them at all times and be subjected to being stopped, questioned and searched. During slavery times, freed blacks had to carry freedom papers or certificates  of freedom declaring their free status. Some freed slaves had to have an affidavit attesting to their freedom.  Many, if prudent, would file their papers with the recorder of deeds office in the county where they resided, in the event of a loss of their paper.  The fear for freed blacks of being returned to slavery  was no doubt greater than that experienced today.

Blacks no longer are subjected to slavery but to jail.  And  isn’t jail  just another word for slavery?  Racial profiling did not just begin. And it has never ended since it began.

Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer and former prosecutor who addresses race and gender issues in the law.  She is frequently seen in the media on Arise Tv, RT-America and Washington, DC affiliates of Fox, NBC and CBS.  She contributes to the Women’s Media Center and the  Huffington Post.


Is Stand Your Ground Self Defense or a Recipe to Justify Murder

Sunday, August 4th, 2013

trayvon_martin_zimmermanIn the aftermath of the George Zimmerman not guilty verdict for the killing of Trayvon Martin, one thing for sure is the  Florida Stand Your Ground law must be put on trial.   And just last week, another troubling Florida  incident occurred with Roy Middleton, an unarmed 60 year old black man, who  was shot at multiple times by two police, while standing on his own property,  due to the robbery suspicions of the officers.  The man was getting a cigarette out of his mother’s car.

Fortunately, Mr. Middleton survived and ended up with non-life threatening injuries.  And a high ranking officer, David Morgan stated that the officers followed proper protocol in almost killing an unarmed man on his own property.  “Right now we are comfortable from a training perspective that our officers did follow standard protocols,” Morgan said. And in light of the civic groups including Dream Defenders, a group that has  taken to the Florida Capitol in protests of the verdict, the Florida legislature has decided that the State legislature should hold hearings on the law to determine the following: Does the law keep the innocent safer? Is it being applied fairly? Are there ways we can make this law clearer and more understandable?” 

It is  apparent that there is misunderstanding of the Florida Stand Your Ground law from those who mistakenly think the law was not a part of the Zimmerman defense to two Florida legislators who co-authored the Florida Stand Your Ground law  in 2005 and went on record in May, 2012 saying the law should not apply to the facts of the Zimmerman case.  Former Florida Senator Durrell Peaden said that Zimmerman lost the right of the Stand Your Ground law that he co-authored when he followed Trayvon Martin. And the co-author of the law in the House, Rep. Dennis Baxley agreed with his co-author. Yet, at least two jurors, B37 and B 29 stated the law gave them no other choice but to find Zimmerman not guilty. With all the confusion about the application of the law, it is certainly worth reviewing the intent of the law and its application.

Much work has already been undertaken by the Tampa Bay Times newspaper which compiled a long list of Stand Your Ground cases and the outcome depending on the race of the person asserting the defense.  The Tampa Bay Times research proved that “if you claim “stand your ground” as the reason you shot someone, what happens to you can depend less on the merits of the case than on who you are, whom you kill and where your case is decided.” And it should not come as a surprise to many minorities that the law when asserted by blacks often results in a conviction and with whites, the opposite occurs.  In 73% of the times where there is a black victim, the defense will be successful. Yet, where there is a white victim, the defense will only be successful only 59% of the time.

Many criminal justice laws are disproportionately applied to blacks.   And even Florida prosecutors believe the  Stand Your Ground law is being stretched in ways unintended. And then there’s the heart wrenching case of Marissa  Alexander who asserted Stand Your Ground against her abusive husband when she fired warning shots at a ceiling and received a 20 year sentence for her efforts, when no one was injured. Yet, George Zimmerman remains a free man.

And there is still the outrage in the black community and those who  support  Trayvon Martin,  that an unarmed teenager did not have a right to stand his ground with Zimmerman. Instead, Zimmerman, the person who had the gun was the one entitled to the law and Trayvon Martin, the innocent unarmed teenager was expected to run home and flee for his life.  There must be a review of a law that drops all logic in supporting a self- defense law and allows a killer to justify murder under these circumstances.

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer and former prosecutor who has tried murders, sex offense crimes, drug cases, robberies and economic crimes with a high conviction rate.  She has also represented clients in court rooms throughout the country.  She frequently appears on RT America, Arise America, CBC ( Canadian),  the Washington, DC affiliates of NBC, CBS and Fox New and numerous radio outlets throughout the country addressing issues of race and gender in the law.  She founded LegalSpeaks in 2009 to address race, class and gender in law and politics.