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Archive for November, 2013

Thanksgiving: A Time for Giving Thanks

Thursday, November 28th, 2013

gamma_2On this holiday, I wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving. I am so thankful for all of you who have encouraged me on my journey to be a progressive voice, to express opinions on race, gender and class in the law and politics. I am thankful for my friends, family, both here and in heaven, colleagues, acquaintances, teachers and spiritual leaders. Everyone has in in some way shaped me into who I am today. I am not where I want to be but I am thankful to be alive and still trying to be the person that I aspire to be.

On this day, I have to reflect on life itself and being thankful to be healthy and alive. Often these are just clichés but last year, a dear college friend became ill around Thanksgiving and one month later died from cancer. She was one of the most vibrant and energetic people I have known. And so to be able to be thankful for good health and to be alive is a blessing.

I am thankful most for having my mother in my life who encouraged me to be thankful in all situations and to be giving to those less fortunate, in whatever ways that are possible, large and small. She is a force that has encouraged me to be all that I can be. I am thankful for her and my teachers and spiritual leaders who taught me that to whom much is given, much is required.

I am thankful for all my family ancestors who came before me who shaped this country as slaves and helped me to form my attitudes on social justice. And I am thankful for my family and relatives who have given me support, love, encouragement in both good times and bad times, particularly my brother.

I love you all and am thankful to have all of you in my life. You have all shaped who I am in some way. You have all taught me that life is indeed a journey and not a destination. And I am thankful that I am still on that journey.

Be blessed, be well and Happy Thanksgiving!

Women’s Media Center Announces its 2013 Progressive Women’s Voices Class

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013

November 26, 2013

Debbie Hines, Author

Debbie Hines

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Women’s Media Center announced today the 20 women who have been selected for its WMC Progressive Women’s Voices class, the organization’s premiere media and leadership training program. Among those chosen are Debbie Hines, Washington, DC trial lawyer and founder of LegalSpeaks blog.

“The Women’s Media Center works to make sure that who defines the story, who tells the story, and what the story is about, represents women and men equally. This group of dynamic women are part of our strategy to expand the media talent pool,” said Julie Burton, President of The Women’s Media Center. “Our trainees will receive advanced, comprehensive training and tools to position themselves as media spokespersons in their fields and will be promoted through WMC SheSource — a brain trust of top women experts used by media outlets worldwide.”

Since the inception of WMC Progressive Women’s Voices, the Women’s Media Center has trained over 130 thought leaders, journalists, and advocates who have gone on to become strong voices in the media. Former graduates include frequent cable news commentators Sally Kohn, Maria Teresa Kumar, Zerlina Maxwell and many others.

“It gives us great pleasure to welcome 20 amazing women from around the country, to join the network of over 130 WMC Progressive Women’s Voices alumae, who are amplifying women’s voices and directly engaging with media at all levels to ensure that a diverse group of women is present in newsrooms, on air, in print, and online – as sources and subjects,” said Janice Ferebee, Director of Programs for the Women’s Media Center.

The Women’s Media Center welcomes the WMC Progressive Women’s Voices Class of 2013:

Lauren Anderson, Brooklyn, NY, is the owner of LC Anderson International Consulting and a former FBI Executive, and, a National Security and Crisis Management expert.

Heather Arnet, Pittsburgh, PA, is the CEO of the Women and Girls Foundation (based in PA). She first made national headlines when she led a successful “Girlcott” of Abercrombie & Fitch in 2005.

T.F. Charlton, Medford, MA, is the founder and editor of Are Women Human, a religion and pop culture blog focusing on the intersection of race, gender, and sexuality.

Emma Davidson, Columbia, SC, is the Associate Director for Strategic Mobilization at the New Morning Foundation, leading the advocacy efforts to bring responsible reproductive health policies to South Carolina.

Anna Therese Day, Boise, ID, is an independent journalist and social media researcher. Her specialties include American foreign policy in the Middle East and North Africa, women’s issues, and youth organizing.

Emily Douglas, Brooklyn, NY, the senior editor at TheNation.com, where she also blogs, is also a frequent contributor to the Women’s Review of Books.

Julia Drost, Washington, DC, serves as the Policy & Advocacy Associate for Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) Women’s Human Rights Program.

Noreen Farrell, San Francisco, CA, is the Executive Director of Equal Rights Advocates (ERA), a national non-profit legal advocacy organization fighting for the civil rights of women and girls.

Debbie Hines, Washington, DC, trial lawyer and Principal of the Law Office of Deborah K. Hines, maintains a boutique law practice in Washington, DC, where she focuses on representing clients in civil and criminal litigation in federal and state court rooms throughout the country.

Viviana Hurtado, Ph.D., is the founder of the women-empowering and award-winning The Wise Latina Club website and co-founder of the education and literacy organization Latinas for Latino Lit (L4LL), home of the Latino Children’s Summer Reading Program, powered by Google.

Phronie Jackson, MPH, Washington, DC, is Project Coordinator of the Act Against AIDS Leadership Initiative (AAALI) for the National Council of Negro Women, Inc. , where she uses her more than 17-years of public health experience to develop community and worksite wellness programs and women’s health programs, nationwide.

Shirvana Jorawar, Washington, DC, is the Reproductive Justice Program Director for the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, where she directs reproductive justice priorities for the country’s only national organization dedicated to social justice and human rights for Asian American and Pacific Islander women and girls.

Shanelle Matthews, Oakland, CA, is a journalist, blogger, and all around digital enthusiast, currently the Communications Strategist at the ACLU of Northern California, where she is tasked with creating visibility for their legal and programmatic work.

Vanessa Perez, New York, NY, is Assistant Professor of Latino Studies and Affiliate Faculty in the Women and Gender Studies Program at Brooklyn College, City University of New York.

Gael Sylvia Pullen, Seal Beach, CA, is a global technology evangelist for women and girls, and founder of Girls Fly!, and Sylvia Global Media Network (SGMN).

Debjani Roy, New York, NY, is the Deputy Director at Hollaback!, a global movement working to end street harassment or sexual harassment in public spaces.

Diann Rust-Tierney, Washington, DC, is the Executive Director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

Sarinya Srisakul, New York, NY, is the president of the United Women Firefighters, representing the women firefighters and fire officers of the FDNY.

Wagatwe Sara Wanjuki, Cranford, NJ, is a survivor, writer and activist who got her start organizing for social change by advocating for a better sexual assault policy at Tufts University.

Maysoon Zayid, Cliffside Park, NJ, is a comedienne, actress, and writer, as well as the co-founder of The New York Arab American Comedy Festival, a frequent contributor to The Daily Beast, and, a member of UCP of NYC Women Who Care committee.

Mass Incarceration is not the Answer, it’s the Problem

Monday, November 18th, 2013

supcourt_buildingProsecutors and defense attorneys are viewed as being on opposite sides in the court room. For those prosecutors who truly care about justice being served, they realize that justice is not served in the court room by prosecuting cases that should never have been charged and sending people to jail who need social services, alcohol or drug counseling or mental health services and not jail time. And it is difficult for prosecutors seeking justice and criminal defense attorneys, with their divergent views, to ignore the disparity in the criminal justice system.

It is difficult to ignore that on any given day in any given urban city court room, that the court houses are filled with African Americans, mostly men. From Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Baltimore, Washington and other urban cities, the court rooms, jails, probation offices and parole offices are filled with African American men. This disparity exists even in cities like Washington, DC with changing and higher white demographics. Surprisingly, most of the crimes are for misdemeanors and not for violent felonies. In most states, misdemeanor dockets or court rooms are 4 to 5 times higher than felony courts.

Black men make up approximately 6% of the U.S. population but represent over 40% of the prison population. The massive number of black males in the criminal justice system whether pending trial, on trial, awaiting sentence, on probation or parole or in jail exceeds the amount in slavery in 1850. And that’s why the mass incarceration of African Americans is referred to as the “new slavery”.

The media portrays the most violent crimes. The perception is that African American men commit the most heinous crimes and mostly on each other. While there is no denying that crime occurs among African Americans, the vast majority of those facing trials in the system are not for murders, rapes or other heinous crimes. The majority are facing trials and jail for misdemeanors. Approximately 1 million convictions are for felonies whereas 10 million on average are for misdemeanors.

When I prosecuted, I recall being first assigned to the misdemeanor unit whose courtrooms overflowed with defendants. My first cases that I recall were of young black men stealing items like deodorant from the CVS. In the book, How Can You Represent Those People edited by Georgetown Professor and former criminal defense attorney, Abbe Smith, the stories by 15 lawyers, including those representing clients charged with a minor theft for stealing a birthday card for a brother, to a woman who solicited an undercover cop to perform oral sex in exchange for food tell of a system that needs to be revamped. These types of cases are routinely found on a court’s misdemeanor docket. Often defendants will plead guilty rather than risk a trial. In fact, almost 95% of all criminal cases end with a plea.

And that’s where the problem begins for many young black men. Once someone is in the criminal justice system, it becomes a slippery slope. Being on probation requires attending probation meetings with a probation officer. And if an emergency happens or transportation problems occur, the person becomes subject to a probation violation facing jail for what started as sometimes an almost laughable minor crime. I recall in Baltimore, there was a judge who put almost everyone on probation. The only problem was the probation was usually for 5 years. And 5 years is a long time to avoid having any unforeseen problems occur which may cause a probation violation and jail time. Five years would be a long time for anyone to be on probation on a job without any infraction occurring. Five years is an eternity to be on probation without an infraction occurring—which may not be another crime but missed appointments.

Many people did not understand the racially different reasons for how blacks felt about the George Zimmerman trial versus many whites. The treatment of the criminal justice system towards blacks as defendants and the experience of many blacks or family members in the criminal justice system accounted for the outrage about Zimmerman’s case. And recently, the murder of Renisha McBride, a 19 year old African American, echoed the feelings of how whites are treated in the system versus black defendants. While it did not take 44 days like in Zimmerman’s case for Renisha McBride’s alleged killer to be charged, it did take 2 weeks. For blacks who commit even the most innocent of crimes, like stealing a birthday card, the benefit of the doubt of whether to charge is almost never an option. African American men are almost always charged for even the most lesser crimes.

In America, until there is an end to mass incarceration of blacks, the U.S. criminal justice system will have failed its goal of being a just system. This past weekend, I guest hosted After Words on C-Span 2 , where the many problems with our failed criminal justice system were discussed from the viewpoint of former defense attorneys and now Georgetown University Law Professors, Abbe Smith and Vida Johnson. To gain more insight on the topic, please watch the 1 hour show of what’s broken with our system and what needs to be fixed.

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, former prosecutor and speaker who appears frequently in the media, including BET, C-Span, RT America, Fox5 News, WUSA 9 and the Huffington Post.

Renisha McBride’s Killing Cries for Justice and Answers

Thursday, November 7th, 2013

GunRenisha McBride, a 19 year old woman, becomes the latest African American victim who was shot and killed after being mistaken for someone “up to no good”. McBride’s misfortune occurred while she was attempting to seek assistance following a car accident in Dearborn Heights, Michigan. According to reports, after her cell phone battery died, McBride stepped on the porch of a house in Dearborn, allegedly seeking help somewhere around 2:30 AM on November 2. Instead of receiving the help she needed, she ended up being shot in the head and died. Unlike Detroit, Michigan, its suburban neighbor Dearborn Heights is majority white. The person shooting and killing her has not been charged.

McBride’s case is not occurring in isolation. In September, 2013, 24 year old Jonathan Ferrell, a Florida A and M college graduate was shot 10 to 12 times by the police in Charlotte, North Carolina after he knocked on the door of a stranger seeking assistance in the early morning hours following an accident. As he ran towards police seeking help, he was shot and killed. And we all know too well that Trayvon Martin was shot and killed after buying candy and iced tea after being mistaken for someone “up to no good” by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman. And like George Zimmerman, the person who shot Renisha McBride was arrested and then released.

African Americans are more prone to being suspected of criminal activity by whites when doing nothing wrong or merely seeking assistance. But more alarming is what appears to be the recent trend towards taking innocent black lives by those who take justice in their own hands along with their racial bias and often supported by the law with Stand Your Ground laws. Suspecting blacks of criminal activity where none exists is nothing new and has been going on for decades. In New York, it’s sanctioned under Stop and Frisk Laws; in Maryland and other places, it’s called driving while black, where a disproportionate number of blacks are stopped for suspected illegal activity while driving. And now in Stand Your Ground states, it’s called shoot blacks first and ask questions later, resulting in acquittals or no charges being filed. Michigan where McBride was shot has a version of the Stand Your Ground law of shoot first if one believes they are in imminent fear of bodily harm or death.

McBride’s case hits home with an African American woman being shot and killed for seeking help in a white neighborhood after dark. And her case like similar ones begs the question of why do people feel they can take the life of another person instead of waiting for the police to handle the situation. Of course, in Ferrell’s case, a police officer was the one who shot and killed Ferrell after the neighbor’s alarm contacted the police. That officer has been charged with manslaughter.

I’ve recounted the story of my brother who needed assistance after a health scare issue while driving. As he called me to ask for advice, he saw a police officer and asked me if he should flag down the officer. Instinctively, I said no fearing the police might not see my 6’2″ tall brother of 275 pounds as in need of help but disoriented and thereby suspected of being up to no good. McBride’s story hits home for me. I am aware of the issues facing black men in our society whether stop and frisk, driving while black or being black in a white world. I wanted to believe that if I, as an African American woman was in need of help in the middle of the night, that a kind stranger would help me, regardless of their color or mine. Now I need to add to a growing list of concerns that I might be killed for merely asking for help like McBride.

Unfortunately, at the end of the day for many white persons, blacks are always up to no good. From Stand Your Ground laws where blacks are often the victim to Stop and Frisk laws where blacks are targeted, many of these laws are not protecting African Americans in their community but targeting them. As of the writing of this article, the person who shot McBride had not been arrested. McBride’s family is seeking justice and calling for action.

On Twitter and in other social media outlets, many persons are calling for action in the case of Renisha McBride. And regardless of one’s race or color, there should be wide spread support for an investigation into McBride’s case. Justice should be color blind.

Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, former prosecutor, speaker and writer on race, gender and class in the law. She appears frequently in the media, including BET News, C-Span, Huffington Post, RT America and CBS, NBC and Fox affiliates.