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Archive for December, 2013

Happy New Years from the Best of LegalSpeaks Blog

Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

Happy New Years from the Best of Legalspeaks Blog

2013-debbie-hines-newsAs we look towards the 2014 New Year with hope and anticipation of peace, prosperity and justice for all, I wanted to share the top ten LegalSpeaks blogs of 2013.  They are listed in chronological order starting with the most recent.

 

From the Supreme Court fight ending the Defense of Marriage Act led by an 83 year old woman,  Edie  Windsor, to the New York federal court Judge Shira Scheindlin declaring New York City’s Stop and Frisk Law unconstitutional, the Florida all-women jury finding George Zimmerman not guilty in the death of Trayvon Martin and to the killing of Renisha McBride, an African American young woman seeking help outside a white stranger’s doorstep in a Michigan suburb, there were plenty

of legal cases and issues in the areas of race and gender. And in the criminal justice and civil system, there is still much work left to be done to truly have justice for all.  Reading these posts will show the best and worst of 2013 in the areas of race and gender in the law.

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

2.      How Standing on the Street Became a Crime for 3 Black Teenagers

3.      Renisha McBride’s Killing Cries for Justice and Answers

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

5.      Pres. Obama Delivers the Right Touch on Trayvon Martin

6.      Trayvon Martin: A Case of What Ifs

7.      Racial Profiling and Stop and Frisk are the Same Old Song

8.      A  Woman Leads the Fight for Marriage Equality

9.      A Glance Back at Women’s History Month

10.  Gender Pay Gap and Women Lawyers

 

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial attorney and former prosecutor who addresses issues of race and gender in the law. She is frequently seen in the media on BET, C-Span, News One, RT- America, CBC-Canadian, Fox 5 News, WUSA 9,  NBC 4, the Huffington Post and the Baltimore Sun. 

Top Ten Civil Rights Moments of 2013

Thursday, December 26th, 2013

supcourt_buildingBET News defined the top ten civil rights moments in 2013 in all areas from the 50th Anniversary on the March on Washington, the Trayvon Martin case to moments in unexpected areas such as in pop culture, education, retail issues and beyond. 2013 was a year that like many others before it, shows that in the area of civil rights, our work is hardly finished.

These top 10 civil rights moments as highlighted by BET News illustrates that despite having an African American President serving his second term, the issue of race is still defining our society in all areas. And we are not post racial—however that term is defined. Here is the video clip. As a trial lawyer and former prosecutor, I weigh in and provide commentary on the issues in the videos, discussing the top ten civil rights moments of 2013. The video is divided in 2 parts. Part I is below and Part II follows it.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013
Debbie Hines, Author

Debbie Hines

As we celebrate Christmas and the holidays, my wish is for everyone to have a happy, safe and prosperous season.   I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has supported this blog.  Your support has meant the world to me.

 

Peace, Happiness and Joy to all in the upcoming year!

 

May you all find the purpose for your life and follow it!

 

Happy Holidays,

 

Debbie Hines, Esq.

Founder, LegalSpeaks

The Top 10 Events of 2013 Affecting Minorities and Women

Monday, December 23rd, 2013

UnionRallyGroupThe Inauguration of President Barack Obama stands out as the top event of 2013.  Despite voter ID laws to disenfranchise minority voters, President Obama was sworn into his second term on January 20, 2013 (Official date). It seems that  the inauguration was light years ago with everything that has happened since January, 2013.  From government shutdowns to the Affordable Health Care web site fiasco, this has hardly been a banner year for President Obama.  The second term of President Obama is off to a shaky start in its first year.  Yet, I still shudder at the thought of a Mitt Romney presidency and its effect on the “47%” of Americans that he despised.

 

The Affordable Care Act, despite its lackluster performance thus far, still remains the most major piece of legislation in the Obama administration.  While it is not the public option that I and many others had hoped for, it still affords many persons health insurance coverage who would not be able to qualify or obtain health insurance due to either pre-existing illnesses or high cost of insurance.  It is not a perfect piece of legislation.  There are many issues  from relying on young adults to keep the cost low to many previously privately insured persons having to lose their insurance.  In the long run, it will still save more lives than without it.

 

Mary Bara made history by becoming the first woman CEO of General Motors and the first woman to lead an American car manufacturer.  She stands with a few select women who have become CEO’s of major corporations.  The glass ceiling is still tough for women to reach.  Bara joins 23 women who are currently heading Fortune 500 companies

 

The automobile capital of the U. S., Detroit, filed for bankruptcy.   Even the turning around of the automotive industry could not save the city of Detroit.  Detroit had been in decline for many years.  Sadly, it was difficult to see this major urban city file for bankruptcy.  With many of its residents having fled to the suburbs and few coming into the city, there just was not enough of a tax base to offset the city’s losses.  That plus ineffective leadership over the years helped to spiral the city into further decline. The city could not pay its bills or effectively run the city. It was recently discovered that rape kits had not been tested for years due to the inability of the city to afford to test them.  A sad state of affairs for this once prosperous city and home to Motown and the auto industry.

 

August 28 marked the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for jobs lead by Martin Luther King, Jr.  It was a reminder that while we have accomplished much in the area of civil rights, we still have a long way to go.  Today African Americans still have the highest unemployment rate in the country.  And there’s a new voting rights fight going on fifty years after the Voting Rights Act was signed into law.  Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act was struck down by the Supreme Court which mandated that the Justice Department pre-clear any changes to voting laws in states and towns where there had been a pervasive pattern of racial discrimination in voting.  And new GOP enacted voter ID laws are springing up to disenfranchise blacks and Hispanic voters. While Jim Crow is gone, his practices remain in 2013.

 

The Trayvon Martin killing reminded many African Americans that racial equality in the court system still eludes justice for African Americans.  Many African Americans still feel the pain of a not guilty verdict for George Zimmerman.  President Obama spoke out against the verdict and to the country on why African Americans view the case through a set of different eyes and through a different lens than many white Americans. And if the case proves anything, it is that race issues are difficult for this country to discuss.

The Defense of Marriage Act was declared unconstitutional on June 26, 2013 which means that same sex couples who are legally married in their own states  can receive federal benefits such as Social Security, health insurance,  retirement savings and other federal benefits afforded to heterosexual married couples.

 

Edward Snowden made worldwide news by revealing through leaked documents that the NSA is snooping and spying on conversations with our allies and enemies and  possibly our citizens under the guise of preventing terrorism.  And a recent federal court has said the federal government has gone too far in collecting the cell phone data of users without first obtaining a search warrant.  While many persons, particularly minorities, have often suspected the government of intrusive surveillance activities, Edward Snowden put a real face to it.

 

Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first black president, died on December 5, 2013.  Mandela lead  South Africa through its period of apartheid, serving 27 years in jail to becoming a symbol of peace and forgiveness.  No few words can ever describe the magnitude of the effect of Mandela on the world.  President Obama said, “we’ve  lost one of the most influential, courageous and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this earth.”

 

New York’s Stop and Frisk law was declared to be unconstitutional after hundreds of thousands of blacks and Hispanics were stopped and frisked on a yearly basis for no reason other than for the police to maintain quotas.  In almost 90% of the stops, there was no illegal activity. Mayor Elect De Blassio will drop all efforts by the city of New York to fight the ruling upon his swearing in as mayor.  New measures will be presumably enacted to prevent future discriminatory tactics by the New York police department.

 

Honorable Mention

While neither political or legal, the Baltimore Ravens won the 2013 Super Bowl.   As a lover of football and a Baltimore native, the Ravens made the list.

All I Want for Christmas is Racial Equality in Our Criminal Justice System

Monday, December 23rd, 2013

racial profilingAs a child, Christmas was a time for wishing for your best dreams, hopes and wishes to come true. As an adult, we learn that it takes more than wishing, hoping and dreaming to realize our dreams.  It takes hard work and effort.  So as we enter this holiday season of giving and dreaming, my wish is for everyone to work towards fixing our broken criminal justice system.

 

The criminal justice system is hardly just or fair for many African American and Hispanic men.  In fact, it is just the opposite. As a former prosecutor, I have seen firsthand the systemic injustices perpetrated particularly on African American men, when it comes to arrests, charges and convictions. Last week, President Obama pardoned 13   persons and commuted the sentences of 8 others who were serving racially discriminatory sentences for crack cocaine. And earlier, Attorney General Eric Holder   announced two initiatives that lessened the strict and archaic guidelines on sending blacks to jail for a disproportionate amount of time for crack cocaine.   Attorney General Holder said recently in a speech, “too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long, and for no truly good law enforcement reason.” 

 

And on any given day in any given urban city, court dockets are filled with mostly blacks and Hispanics, many on mostly simple misdemeanor charges.  Although black men make up roughly 6% of the United States population, they make up over 40.2% of the prison population.  As author of the New Jim Crow and professor Michele Alexander states, there are more black men in the criminal justice system today than there were as slaves in 1850.    Contrary to what some may believe, it’s not because blacks commit more violent crimes and thereby deserve a life in prison.

 

The road to an unjust criminal system starts long before an arrest.   For example, it starts with stopping, frisking and harassing black and Hispanic men most often for no legitimate legal reason.  The New York City law on stop and frisk was recently handed a near death blow in the courts.  The law targeted and routinely stopped hundreds of thousands of young black and Hispanic men yearly  with 9 out of 10  completely innocent of any crime. And Mayor Elect de Blassio is ready to put it out to pasture upon his taking office.  And the injustice doesn’t end with a stop, arrest, a conviction or time served in prison. It continues after a prison release and time served with revocation of voting rights for felons.

 

And the flip side of the racial inequality is the fact that often preferential treatment is given to white defendants who commit violent acts or murder, particularly when committed against black victims.  The recent cases involving Renisha McBride and Trayvon Martin are not an anomaly, in my opinion.  They are part of the problem of racial injustice in the system.  Whites are given the benefit of the doubt, before an arrest or charge.   On  November 2, 2013, Renisha McBride, a  19 year old African American woman was shot and killed in  Dearborn Heights, a suburb outside of Detroit, Michigan as she sought help and rang the doorbell and knocked on the door of  Ted Wafer, a white man who claims he suspected she was a burglar.  Wafer shot and killed her. Most burglars are not going around knocking on doors or ringing door bells. The prosecution took two weeks to bring charges against Wafer once the killer asserted his “Castle doctrine” defense of protecting his home.  Wafer was not charged until November 15.

 

And in the Trayvon Martin killing which occurred on February 26, 2012, George Zimmerman was not arrested and charged until April 11, 2012, amidst public outcry in the African American community.   Trayvon Martin was profiled, pursued and ultimately killed due to his race.   A jury perceived Trayvon, the teenager, to be the aggressor even though he was the one being followed and pursued by an adult. Despite what some well-meaning folks may think, this case was all about race and our broken system.  Many African Americans believed that it speaks to the heart and core of what is wrong with the criminal justice system.

All I want for Christmas is to fix our broken criminal justice system.  It will take time and hard work.  But it will first take an acknowledgment in our society that our criminal justice system is broken and desperately needs to be fixed.   There’s a saying that if it’s not broken, don’t try to fix it. Well, our criminal justice system is broken and badly needs to be fixed.  And until America fixes our broken criminal justice system, we cannot be truly free as a country.  As Martin Luther King, Jr. said over 50 years ago,   “no one is free until we are all free”.

 

How Standing on the Street Became a Crime for 3 Black Teens

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013

racial profilingOver the Thanksgiving holiday, three Rochester New York teens were arrested while waiting for the school bus to take them to their school’s basketball game. Their coach was almost arrested too as he came to intercede on behalf of the teen boys. The crime the boys allegedly committed according to the police was impeding pedestrian traffic or otherwise known as disorderly conduct. There has been an outcry online about the case. These are teens who plan to attend college and were playing sports and involved in after school activities. These were not teens engaged in any rude, unlawful or “disorderly conduct” whatever that legal term actually means.

The case has been discussed on TV and radio. Most recently, I appeared on the Roland Martin Show to discuss my viewpoint. Unfortunately, the case of these teens is not an isolated incident. These stops and arrests of law abiding black teens take place in every city and perhaps every town across the U.S. on a daily basis. When I prosecuted, I often saw disorderly cases without any other crime involved. Honestly, I think some police arrest black teens when two or more are gathered together, in the hopes of finding illegal drugs or weapons. Whatever the reason, it did not start over Thanksgiving and has been going on for quite a long time. And many persons who live in predominant black communities in certain areas, know this is how the police act towards many black teens.

The majority of disorderly cases are eventually dismissed for lack of evidence or a fine is paid to get out of jail for a bogus charge. Sometimes the defendants charged are given 6 months to stay out of trouble and then the case is dismissed. The problem with this scenario is the harm has been caused with the arrest. The arrest puts these young black teens in the criminal justice system. And by doing so, regardless of the outcome, it lessens their opportunities in life. And it increases their chances of being accused wrongfully of something in the future. Once an individual is in the criminal justice system, it is more likely presumed that a crime did occur.

There are more blacks under the criminal justice system now than there were slaves in 1850, according to research. That includes people who are awaiting a trial, on parole or probation or in prison. And research further shows that the vast majority of the cases are misdemeanors, contrary to popular belief. But once a black man is in the criminal justice system, he is looked upon as a criminal regardless of the outcome. The mere arrest raises the suspicion of wrongdoing and thereby decreases chances and opportunities that he might have otherwise enjoyed. The scar of the arrest, regardless of the outcome creates a slippery slope for black men. Opportunities for certain jobs and higher education are lessened, among other things.

As a former prosecutor, when I was faced with someone charged with only a disorderly conduct, I knew that it was a police fishing expedition that did not catch any bait. On most occasions, I dismissed the charges as the crime itself is vague and not generally able to be proven. So the police charged them with the one thing they had in their arsenal—a disorderly conduct, nuisance or disturbing the peace charge. They are one and the same. All of these charges are meant to harass in most cases. Now that is not to say that there are not legitimate cases of disorderly conduct. But the reality is every time that two or more young black teens are standing together and refuse to move due to legitimate reasons is not grounds to arrest them. In fact, it is a civil rights violation to harass young black males simply because they are young and black. Many police officers have not read that memo yet.