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Archive for June, 2014

Father’s Day: A Day for Remembering My Dad

Sunday, June 15th, 2014

Every 3rd Sunday in June, we celebrate Father’s Day. Over the past years, I have had some struggles with Father’s Day. At times, I have focused on some of the bad traits involving my father. But as I have embarked on this thing called life, I have come to focus on the good. And I have finally come to accept my dad for the good that he did and the lessons that he taught me. I know that my sense of adventure and love of travel has come directly from my father. Unfortunately, his wonderful sense of direction has eluded me. Unfortunately, I acquired my mother’s poor sense of direction.

Growing up, my father would take us on family Sunday outings in the car. He loved to drive. And whenever he would say, “let’s go for a ride”, I knew I was in for a treat. My mother, brother and I would get in the car, never knowing where we were going. Sometimes, we might end up in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania and learn about the civil war. At other times, we might just drive and end up hours later at the most wonderful ice cream store. Of course, my question was always, “where are we going” or “are we there yet”. And he would never know or tell us until we arrived at a destination. We lived in the city so often a treat was driving to where we could see cows or horses. But it was always an adventure. Today I love to travel. Although my travel has been organized, I still believe my love of travel stemmed from my early years growing up in Baltimore and going for Sunday afternoon drives. I know my love of history and majoring in history in college was a direct influence of my dad on me. And although my father did not graduate from high school, he somehow knew the importance of knowing history.

One of my most important lessons from my dad and also my mother is the power and importance of voting. Although my parents often worked on election days, before there was early voting, they always voted. There was only one time that I recall that they missed voting. My dad was driving and rushing to get to the polls before they closed or speeding as the police officer would later call it. He was stopped by the police and received a speeding ticket. My parents were unable to vote that year. He talked about that mishap forever, it seemed. I understood from an early age that this thing called voting was very important. My parents would go together to vote. At times growing up, I would be allowed to accompany them. Those lessons have stayed with me for a lifetime. It is also why I feel so outspoken and compelled to protest against the conservative political forces who are trying to disenfranchise African American voters with felony convictions and disenfranchisement minorities through voter and photo ID laws.

My father worked as a laborer at Bethlehem Steel Company in Baltimore, MD. He rarely missed a day of work. He refused to let sleet, snow, rain, hail or anything except illness stop him from working. While later working in private practice of law in Baltimore, I had an occasion to visit the almost defunct steel mill. I saw firsthand the dangerous and dirty conditions in which my father probably worked. And I came to understand that my sense of hard work ethics came from my father who despite his work circumstances rarely missed time from work.

One of my last memories of my dad was as he was suffering from Dementia and Alzheimer’s. He was watching a TV show with Judge Joe Brown. And without even thinking, he said that I would make a good judge. At most other times, his memory was fading of people, faces and events. But somehow he never forgot that I was a lawyer.

Today I choose to honor my father by remembering all of the good that he brought in my life. Happy Father’s Day to all the dads and to my dad. To my dad, I will forever be your little girl.

With love, from Deb!

Post Script: Photo to follow

O.J. Simpson Trial 20 Years Later: Has Anything Changed?

Monday, June 9th, 2014

O.J._Simpson_1990_·_DN-ST-91-03444_cropOn the 20th anniversary of the killings of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson, O.J. Simpson’s ex-wife, very little has changed in terms of how Americans view race and the criminal justice system. Shortly after the murders on June 12, 1994, O.J. Simpson was arrested and placed on trial. As everyone in the world knows, he was found not guilty of the murders. Depending on one’s race is the lens through which the OJ trial was viewed. For most white Americans, O.J. Simpson got away with murder. For most African Americans, the prosecution did not do its job and O.J. was not guilty. As a former prosecutor, I did not find that the prosecution proved their case beyond a reasonable doubt—the criminal standard for a conviction.

Those sentiments on the OJ case remain the same some 20 years later. As President Obama stated about the Trayvon Martin killing and ultimate acquittal of George Zimmerman, most African Americans see the criminal system through a different lens than white America. Those words could have been said 20 years ago at the conclusion of the O.J. trial verdict. In the O.J. trial, many minorities believed the system worked for O.J. Simpson the way it had worked for many white Americans accused of a crime committed against a black man. The jury found him not guilty.

Equal justice under the law has been elusive for many African Americans who enter the criminal justice system. Michael Jackson sang the lyrics that “it don’t matter if you’re black or white”. But whether you’re black or white matters in the criminal justice system. It matters in terms of how the justice system treats people and how Americans view the criminal justice system, in terms of race.

In 20 years, not much has changed in the criminal justice system. O.J.’s trial and verdict was an aberration in so many ways. The norm is what we are experiencing today and in many past years. In the cases of George Zimmerman and Michael Dunn, both were not found guilty of killing a black teen. In Dunn’s case, the jury was hung on the murder charge of Jordan Davis so there is still hope for a conviction there. In Zimmerman’s case, he got off with what many blacks believe as getting away with murder. And ironically that was how most white Americans saw the O.J. verdict.

The O.J. Simpson trial left as many questions as answers. It opened the way for America’s obsession with court trials. It did little to explore the issues of race and the criminal justice system. That is a conversation that Attorney General Eric Holder says Americans are too coward to discuss. But until we have the discussion, African Americans will continue to see the criminal justice system for what it appears. It appears as one where equal justice depends, in many instances, on the color one’s skin. It appears as if the scales that Lady Justice holds are bent against minorities. In many cases involving blacks and a white victim or a white or non-black defendant and a black victim, it appears as if Lady Justice and her scales of justice pull open or peep under the blindfold and dispense justice according to race.

One need only to look at the statistics that send many African Americans to jail to realize something is wrong when it comes to equal justice and criminal law. African American youth are 4.5 times more likely than white youths to be detained for the same crime. While African Americans make up less than 14% of the U.S. total population, they make up over 40% of the prison population. Perception appears to be everything. But these facts speak to an unequal reality.

In the 20 years since O.J. Simpson verdict, there has not been much change in the criminal justice system. Race still matters in the criminal justice system, how we view it and how it is dispensed. And O.J.’s verdict still remains an open race discussion and an aberration.

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a practicing trial lawyer and former prosecutor who has tried murders, rapes, burglaries, robberies and narcotic crimes. She founded LegalSpeaks to address issues in law and politics affecting race, gender and class. She frequently appears in the media as an on air legal analyst.