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Archive for April, 2014

Clippers Owner Donald Stewart and Lessons Learned

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014

LA-Clippers-owner-Donald-Sterling-jpgThey say that crime doesn’t pay and Donald Steward learned that racism  in the NBA doesn’t pay either. Today NBA Commissioner Adam Silver fined Steward $2.5 million plus banned him from the NBA for life for his racist rants on tape about blacks.  He will now have a lifetime, of what’s left of his, to ponder what went wrong.   Just when I think we as a country are going backwards in terms of racism,  the rare moment occurs when we get it right.  And today Commissioner Silver got it right by making the courageous move to ban Stewart for life. None of the league owners openly supported Stewart. And everyone from President Obama to Snoop Dog had something to say about the racist remarks made on April 9.

The lessons to be learned from NBA Commissioner is that swift, harsh and costly sanctions matter when it comes to racism.  Often in America, we say nothing about racist remarks or talk quietly in our own perspective corners.  Stewart’s remarks were so outright outlandish that they left practically no one willing to stand up for him.  You know it’s bad when  the other owners didn’t say a word in support of him.

While racism has no place in this country or the world for that matter, we sometimes seem to become accustomed to hearing negative racist remarks being made today about minorities, affirmative action, voting rights, civil rights and a host of other issues affecting blacks and Hispanics.  But Commissioner Adam Silver denounced Stewart’s remarks and countered what Attorney General Eric Holder labels as a nation of “cowards” for failing to have the hard discussions on race.  Silver not only held the hard discussion in his press conference, he dealt the harsh sanction.

No NBA owner has ever been banned for life.  And only one NBA owner has been sanctioned.  Doing the  right thing takes courage.  Silver was only in his position for two months before this incident raised its ugly head.  No one could really fault him if he had just suspended Stewart for a lengthy time and fined him.  It’s hard to buck history.  Saying that he will ask the NBA Board of Governors to force Sterling to sell the Clippers, shows the extent to which Silver reveals a no tolerance policy on racism in the NBA.

By banning  Stewart for life, Silver sets the tone for other organizations to have the courage to follow the same course when confronted with such obvious blatant racism.   And Stewart did not learn anything from his prior incidents of legal entanglements involving racism and lawsuits.  In 2009, he settled the largest housing discrimination suit brought by the Justice Department for his failure to rent apartments  to blacks and Hispanics.  And 5 years before, in 2003, he settled another case brought by a non-profit organization for the same reason for $5 million.  Although, Silver stated he only relied on the comments made in relation to the NBA, these acts could not have been erased from his memory.

There are troubling aspects to the Stewart incident which involve the NAACP. Troubling is the fact that the NAACP gave him 1 Lifetime Achievement Award and was about to award him another one in 2014.   Just as much as Stewart had a slave or plantation mentality in regards to his black players,  the NAACP needs to adjust its policies and mentality on awarding persons who give money but their prior acts show a history of discrimination and racism.   Having to pay out the  largest housing discrimination award in 2009 brought by the Justice Department should not be qualifications for  a lifetime achievement award or two by the NAACP.  One should be known by their actions and not by their money.  In the future, I hope the NAACP will re-think how they make awards. That’s their lesson to learn.

We have not seen the last of Donald Stewart. He does not intend to fade quietly in the sun.  So there will be more to follow.  But today, the good guys got a win.  Thank you Commissioner Silver.

5 Reasons We are Not Post Racial

Sunday, April 27th, 2014

UnionRallyGroupRacism is a part of the legacy and history of the U.S.  which continues today. For those persons who think that we are post racial, here are 5 reasons that show racism is prospering well in the U.S. The top three are from this week in the news with the Supreme Court’s decision on affirmative action ban in Michigan,  comments by  Cliven Bundy on blacks being better off in slavery to Clipper’s owner Donald Sterling’s desire to  forbid African Americans at Los Angeles Clipper games.

  • Southern whites  can no longer attack blacks with dogs as they did during the Civil Rights era. But they can send a black man to jail for a felony conviction for harming dogs while a  16 year old white teenager, Ethan Couch, is allowed to avoid jail after his defense of “affluenza” for killing 4 people while drunk driving.  His blood alcohol level was 3 times the legal limit. A psychologist testified earlier this year that Couch’s wealthy upbringing caused him to not be able to realize the consequences of his actions. The prosecutors in the case of  Ethan Couch asked the court for a 20 year sentence—still a small amount of time for the drunk driving  deaths of 4 people. In February, 2014, a Texas judge instead chose to send Couch to an expensive rehab facility paid for by his wealthy parents—hence the “affluenza” defense worked.

Meanwhile NFL player Michael Vick received over 2 years in jail plus a felony conviction for harming dogs. At the time, many people were more outraged about Vick’s transgressions than if he had committed a murder or 4 murders.   Vick was not allowed to get away with using a defense to show that dog fighting was a part of his childhood background way of life. Syracuse University Professor Boyce Watkins wrote the book on this called “Rich White Kids Have Affluenza, Poor Black Kids Go to Jail.

 

  • Trayvon Martin, a young black teen holding a bag of Skittles and an Iced Tea cannot walk back home in Florida without being gunned down by  George Zimmerman, a vigilante, wanna be cop. And then a jury sets him free.  Despite the jury and many in America thinking that Trayvon Martin’s case was not about racism, it was all about racism occurring on the streets and in the court room. No black teen could have ever gunned down an unarmed person and remained free.

 

 

  • On April 22, the Supreme Court in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, ruled that Michigan  may change its constitution to ban affirmative action in state colleges and universities.  The Supreme Court held that the purpose of the decision had nothing to do with affirmative action. It thereby sidestepped any discussion on affirmative action.  It rested the decision on the voters’ collective right to change laws affecting the ability of colleges to determine admissions of minorities.  Justice Sotomayor disagreed saying in essence the  opinion disregarded racism and its effect on minorities. In many of the  7 other states that have banned race based programs in admissions, college admissions of African Americans and Hispanics have significantly dropped.

 

  • In the case of Cliven Bundy, fact is stranger than fiction.  On  April 23, Cliven Bundy, a Nevada rancher embraced by many conservatives, who has been embroiled in a fight with the Bureau of Land Management over cattle grazing rights on government property, was recorded commenting that African Americans, who he refers to as “Negro”, would be better off today as slaves. He goes on stating , “They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton..” The whole interview can be heard here.

 

  • On April  26, the  owner of the  Los Angeles Clippers, Donald Sterling, urged his girlfriend, in a recorded tape, to refrain from bringing any blacks to their games and he doesn’t want any blacks there, including Magic Johnson. The NBA has promised to look into the remarks and to verify the recording. And President Obama weighed in on the reported remarks while in Malaysia describing them as “incredibly offensive racist statements”.  The remarks grew steam on social media with the hashtag #BoycottClippers.

Despite what some may few as isolated incidents, all of these accounts are part of the continuing legacy of slavery and  racism in this country.  It is also the failure of Americans in what Attorney General Eric Holder describes as  our “cowardice” in failing to have real conversations on race to address the issues confronting us.

Supreme Court Guts Affirmative Action in Michigan Colleges

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

supcourt_building

The Supreme Court by a vote of 6-2  decided to  uphold Michigan’s ban on affirmative action in its admission policies in state universities and colleges which was passed by Michigan voters to amend the state constitution. The two dissenters were Justice Sotomayor and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Usually swing  voter Justice Kennedy sided with the majority this time.  Justice Elena Kagan did not sit because of a conflict while the U.S. Solicitor General.  The majority opinion stated the issue was whether voters had a right to nullify affirmative action in college admissions and side stepped the whole issue of affirmative action.   The court gave voters the final say in making the decision.  A lower court had ruled the opposite.

It is disheartening to keep reading and hearing how all the gains accomplished in the courts and that includes the Supreme Court for minorities affected and still affected by racism and discrimination are being taken away by the present courts.  From voting rights,  civil rights and criminal rights,  the Roberts Supreme Court has been busy taking away the hard fought and won rights of decades ago. And now the Supreme Court suggests that if voters in a state election want to do away with an issue of civil rights, they are free to do so by putting it to the vote of its citizens.  Other states will undoubtedly  follow Michigan’s lead, now that they have the go ahead by the Supreme Court.  And other rights are at issue including same sex marriage in the future.  While voters can go to the ballot to eliminate affirmative action in Michigan state college admissions, those who want preferential treatment for children of alumnae in admission can just go to the Board of Trustees.

It’s interesting that the court stated that the issue was not about affirmative action but about whether the states can choose to eliminate affirmative action by the collective vote of its citizens.  Whenever anyone says it’s not about an issue, you can bet it’s everything about the issue.  The court cannot just decide the right of the Michigan voters to eliminate affirmative action without looking at the reasons for affirmative action which is to redress past discrimination.  And for those in this country who think the past history of racism has been eradicated by any act in this country,  they are living on cloud nine. And they need to return to the reality of the U.S.

Justice Sotomayor who once described herself as “ an affirmative action baby” wrote a scathing dissenting opinion which was 58 pages and longer than all of the majority opinions combined.   And for the first time ever, she read her dissent out loud in the court room. When she was appointed to the Supreme Court, I was overcome with emotion.  I knew that it meant someone was once again on the Supreme court who understood what it means to be a minority and was vocal about it.  Preferring to use the term “race sensitive admissions policy” in her dissenting opinion, she explains how the term “affirmative action” has become incorrectly analogous in the minds of some as being unqualified otherwise and based on race alone.

Justice Sotomayor spoke to the democratic process and the Michigan voters’ amendment of their constitution. She amply summed it up by saying that a democratic process still requires checks and balances to ensure that minorities are not oppressed by the process. Voters may make changes to their constitutions and laws but may not deny equal protection of the law to any citizen. Justice Sotomayor’s dissent relies on previous cases that ruled the majority deprives minorities of Equal Protection guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution when its governing has a racial focus targeting a policy or program that  “inures primarily to the benefit of the minority.” When the political process burdens only a racial minority, that should be cause for judicial scrutiny, says Justice Sotomayor in her dissent.

The Supreme Court is supposed to understand injustice and right any wrongs committed by injustices. Yesterday’s opinion showed that the Roberts Court has no understanding of racial injustice and is not willing to correct any wrongs committed by those injustices.  Justice Scalia stated in his concurring opinion that it would be “shameful” for the court to stand in the way of the Michigan voters who chose to nullify affirmative action by constitution amendment.  I think it is shameful that the Supreme Court turned a blind eye to past racial injustices and refused to see past its own political ideology or agenda.

Post Script:  4/30/14  BET Video in which Debbie Hines speaks on affirmative action and Supreme Court decision.

http://www.bet.com/video/news/politics/2014/affirmative-action-gets-slammed.html

Debbie Hines is a  trial lawyer who is licensed to practice before the Supreme Court. She is seen frequently in the media on air as a frequent legal analyst appearing on BET, Arise TV, C-Span, RT- America, TV One, Fox 5, NBC4 and WUSA 9 , among others.

 

Chris Brown Trial Drama Continues

Monday, April 21st, 2014
Chris Brown- Photo Joel Telling, USA 12/4/2005, Creative Commons

Chris Brown- Photo Joel Telling, USA 12/4/2005, Creative Commons

Chris Brown is never without drama. And so the drama continues in the Chris Brown assault trial saga.  Chris Brown’s bodyguard’s trial ended on Friday. Early on Monday, April 21, 2014 D.C. Superior Court Judge Patricia Wynn found Brown’s bodyguard guilty of assaulting Parker Adams.  The incident stemmed from a October 26, 2013 incident outside the W Hotel.  The victim alleges Brown hit him as he tried to photo bomb a picture with two young women.  Chris Brown denies hitting the victim.

Chris Brown and his bodyguard have said on prior occasions the victim was trying to board Chris Brown’s bus when the bodyguard punched him to protect Chris Brown. A limo driver had a different version which Judge Wynn found credible.  The limo driver testified in court that Brown hit the victim as he attempted to take the picture and then the bodyguard threw punches. Brown’s bodyguard intends to appeal his conviction which could take a year to decide.

Now the legal maneuvering begins on how the Chris Brown trial will play out.  Brown wants his bodyguard to testify in his case. However, the bodyguard’s attorney says he will appeal the bodyguard’s conviction. Chris Hollosy, the bodyguard, will not waive his right to self-incrimination to testify in Chris Brown’s case. Without immunity, anything that the bodyguard says in Chris Brown’s case can be used against him in his case—either sentencing or appeal.   And no one can compel him to testify if he does not receive immunity from the government. Immunity would prevent anything he says from being used against him in his case. The Brown case was delayed until Wednesday morning for the lawyers on both sides to reach an agreement on Hollosy and immunity, if possible.

There’s no guarantee the government will offer Hollosy immunity.  The real problem for Chris Brown is that he is on no bail status.  An appeal could take one year. So Brown and his attorney want Hollosy to testify for Brown but they obviously don’t want Brown to wait a year in jail for his testimony.  It is up to the government as to whether or not they will grant immunity to Hollosy.  Of course, if the bodyguard is not offered immunity and thereby effectively prohibited from testifying on behalf of Chris Brown,  more legal drama could occur.  At the end of the day, this is a trial before a judge.  And the same judge who heard the limo driver and found him credible will be the same judge to hear Chris Brown’s case.  I find it doubtful that she will change her opinion of the limo driver if the bodyguard testifies.

At present, Chris Brown’s trial is scheduled to begin in D.C. Superior Court on Wednesday morning at 10:00 AM. He is represented by Mark Geragos. We’ll see if it goes off without a glitch. Stay tuned for updates.

 

Are Oscar Pistorius and Chris Brown One and the Same?

Sunday, April 20th, 2014
Chris Brown- Photo Joel Telling, USA 12/4/2005, Creative Commons

Chris Brown- Photo Joel Telling, USA 12/4/2005, Creative Commons

The Oscar Pistorius trial is on hiatus in South Africa until May 5. Meanwhile the Chris Brown trial starts in a Washington, D.C. courtroom on April 21.  Although both cases are miles apart, in reality, they may be closer than one might think, in terms of anger management and violence. Oscar Pistorius is on trial for killing his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp who in texts professed her fear of him  due to his anger and temper.  And Brown is in DC and faces jail time on his 2009 probation case for assaulting then girlfriend Rihanna, if convicted in the D.C. assault case. These 20 something young men appear notorious now for their tempers.

Chris Brown’s D.C. case stems from an incident on October 26, 2013 when he allegedly assaulted a man who photo bombed a photo that Brown was taking with two women.  The 20 year old victim allegedly sustained a broken nose. In November, Brown was ordered to 90 days at a residential anger management facility stemming from his issues resulting from shattering his mother’s car window with a rock and his probation case.   Before he could complete the 90 days, his anger management stay was halted when he violated the rules of the facility. And now he’s in DC tomorrow facing assault charges before Superior Court Judge Patricia Wynn.  If convicted, he faces a maximum of 180 days and a $1,000 fine.  The alleged victim has also filed a $3 million civil lawsuit.

Chris Brown denies the assault charges. And when he enters D.C. Superior Court, he will be presumed to be innocent.  And the probation case involving Rihanna will have no impact on the trial. Ditto for his incident involving his mother’s vehicle—as long as he does not take the stand  in his defense. If he does take the stand, which is unlikely, the prosecutor could cross examine Brown on his anger issues to show his character.

Brown and Pistorius appear to be consumed with anger issues.  And both need to get help.  For Pistorius, it may too late if he is convicted in the killing of Reeva Steenkamp.  He could face years in jail. For Chris Brown, these cases and incidents may be the tip of the iceberg. Anger management issues are not a laughing matter. And these issues are not to be ignored.  For Brown, I hope that he will get the help that he needs.  Society has a way of looking the other way when it comes to entertainers and celebrities.  Tomorrow as in the past in D.C. and elsewhere, Brown’s fans will flock to court to get a glimpse of him in court.  Chris Brown is not performing in a court room tomorrow. He is appearing as any other defendant accused of a crime. And he should be treated the same way.  And if convicted, I hope that a Judge once again will require that he get anger management help.  Who knows maybe the third time will be the charm.

 

Oscar Pistorius and His Domestic Violence Valentine’s Day Killing

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

GunIf it were a movie, the killing of Reeva Steenkamp by Oscar Pistorius could be called the Valentine’s Day Domestic Violence Killing. The killing of Reeva Steenkamp by Oscar Pistorius appears to be a classic case of domestic violence.  He stands trial on premeditated murder of her death. By Reeva’s own account in her text messages read into evidence by the prosecutor, their short 3 month relationship had been rocky with outbursts of jealousy and temper tantrums by Oscar.  One text said she was scared of him.  And her Valentine’s Day card professed her love for him.  There was no similar card by him given to her. A love relationship wrought with feelings of fear of a lover coupled with a lover’s jealousy and anger is a recipe for domestic violence and disaster.  The cycle is usually feelings of love, jealousy, anger, rage, abuse and then remorse with the cycle repeating again.  For Reeva, there is no repeat.  Her life ended on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2013.

For Oscar Pistorius, there is the ongoing and appearing never ending cycle of remorse.  His crying, sobs, weeping and emotional outbursts in the courtroom are indicative of an abusive lover who now feels remorse for what his violence has caused.  There is more than one sign of domestic violence in this case.  In addition to Reeva’s text telling Oscar that she feared him, her actions of being locked in the bathroom on the night she died show fear.  If you were to ask 1 million women, if any of them lock themselves in the bathroom when staying at their lover’s home, I bet the answer would be zero.  The only logical explanation is that Reeva feared Oscar on February 14th –a day known for love. Neighbors heard arguments earlier in the evening  before the killing occurred. Others heard shots followed by a woman’s screams and followed by more gun shots.  Logically, if true, it shows that Oscar Pistorius knew his intended target—Reeva, was in the bathroom.

The whole defense seems so bizarre that Pistorius thought an intruder was hiding in the bathroom.  Then again, the arguments and reasoning by an abusive lover or spouse never seem to make sense.  It is reported by the World Health Organization that anywhere between 40% of women killed  worldwide are killed by their loved ones as a result of domestic violence. According to World Bank data, women worldwide between the ages of 15-44 are more likely to be a victim of rape and domestic violence than cancer, motor accidents or war. A U.S. government study shows that 1 in 4 women will be the victim of domestic violence by a boyfriend or husband. Violence is defined as pushing, punching, hitting, slapping   or attacking with a weapon.    These startling facts are also reported in the United Nation’s Secretary-General’s  In-depth Study on Violence Against Women, 2006.  None of these facts will bring back Reeva Steenkamp.   Awareness may help to save the lives of other women in similar situations.

In an age, where women who do report sexual violence or abuse are treated less as a victim and more as the reason for the problem, makes it difficult for many women to come forward and report domestic violence.  Yet, somehow the wash, rinse, repeat domestic violence cycle of love, hate, anger, abuse and remorse must end.  If not, there will be many more Reeva Steenkamps who die too early at the hands of the one they profess to love.

 

Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer and former prosecutor who represents victims of domestic violence and prosecuted defendants who commit domestic violence.  She is a Huffington Post and Women’s Media Center contributor.