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Why Charleston Church Killings Are All About Race

Friday, June 19th, 2015
Clementa Pinckney

Clementa Pinckney

Dylann Roof goes into Emanuel African Methodist Church, a historically black church, kills  the Pastor and 8 persons during Bible study and some people raise the gun control issue.  I understand about guns and gun control legislation.  The facts of the Charleston church killings are about race hatred in America.  And any discussion of gun control in these particular killings dilutes and diminishes the real reason of racial hatred towards blacks.  No one ever said 911 was about faulty security checks in airplane flying schools from which the terrorists learned how to fly airplanes but never learned  how to land them.  No one said Columbine school killings and the Boston Marathon bombings were about making home grown bombs.  No one said the 1963 killings of 4 little girls bombed at a Birmingham church was about bombs.


To be black in America means being a target for terrorism and hatred whether blacks want to be or not. Being black in America means no place feels safe without possible harassment, petty police stops, or death lurking in unknown places.  From playing loud music (Jordan Davis), walking home in a gated community ( Trayvon Martin), riding the subway (Oscar Grant), seeking help on a porch (Renisha McBride), swimming at a pool party (McKinney, Texas teens), walking in the neighborhood ( Freddie Gray), seeking help after a car accident ( Jonathan Ferrell), standing on a city street (Eric Garner),  playing on a playground ( Tamir Rice) to being anywhere in America ( African Americans)  nowhere is off limits for race to play a major part in life or death situations for African America.

I watched and read President Obama’s words on Roof’s  killings of 9 innocent blacks as he acknowledged the issue of gun violence while secondarily commenting on  the issue of race and “the dark part of our history”.  I had to pause to reflect on why a stronger statement about race as the culprit was not made.  We need to stop sweeping race under the rug as the culprit when race is the real reason for some killings. We need to value the humanity of African Americans and recognize that a pattern of racial hatred appears in many settings these days.  Sometimes the events like killings in a Charleston church remind blacks of a return to what was believed to be a bygone era.  Yet, sometimes in 2015, it appears like 1950’s. On Twitter, many African Americans expressed their views about race and the Emanuel AME church killings.  Several particular tweets struck me as summing up the present situation in America for African Americans:





And after Roof was captured, we find that by his own words, his acts of terrorism were out of racial hatred.  Roof, by his friends’ accounts, said blacks were taking over the world and something needed to be done to save the white race. And a survivor of the church massacre stated Roof spoke these words, ““I have to do it. You’re raping our women and taking over the country. You have to go.” And so let’s not water down the real reason for the killings with talks of gun control, mental illness or any other lame excuse.   Let’s speak the truth on this one.  The Charleston shootings of 9 innocent people in Emanuel AME church was all about race by a home grown American terrorist.



Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, legal analyst and former prosecutor.  She appears on Al Jazeera America, MSNBC,   BET, C-Span, NPR, PBS, CCTV- America, Fox 5 (WTTG) and TV One among others, speaking on legal news and crime issues.


Why Charleston Church Shooting Should Matter to Everyone

Thursday, June 18th, 2015
Clementa Pinckney

Clementa Pinckney

As I watched the news late Wednesday night unfold mostly online about Emanuel AME Church in Charleston and killing of 9 people during a Bible study meeting including –Pastor and State Senator Clementa Pinckney, I had a multitude of thoughts and emotions. My initial thoughts were how history repeats itself.  As a history major, I immediately thought of the tragic 1963 bombing of the historic Birmingham, Alabama 16th Street Baptist church where four little black girls lost their lives due to a bomb and hatred.  As many may recall, that was among the first scenes in the movie, Selma.  Then my thoughts immediately questioned as to why there were so few national media outlets initially covering the breaking news.


Some responses I received on Twitter about the initial lack of media coverage  were maybe the media was waiting to see how the news developed since few facts were known.  In the 24/7 news cycle, this was the most breaking news of the day and perhaps the entire year.  Even though it was not initially known how many people had lost their lives, a church shooting should generate immediate non-stop breaking coverage.  The juxtaposition of a church as a place of peace and calm and a shooting occurring there should have resulted in most media outlets to cover it immediately.  And the fact that the Emanuel AME church has a rich history since  its start in 1816  as a church that helped  freed slaves, with one of its leaders, Denmark Vesey, made it all the more important.  Vesey started a known failed slave revolt in 1822.  Emanuel AME church is the oldest black church south of Baltimore.   It was frequented during the Civil Rights era by Martin Luther King, Jr. And Pastor and State Senator Pinckney was a key legislator who recently helped pass the South Carolina bill requiring that police wear body cameras.


And so due to the lack of initial media coverage, I tweeted:

“Dear Media Outlets, #BlackLivesMatter and so should coverage of #Charleston church shootings.”

One would think the media would not need to be reminded. And while there were some well -meaning folks who tweeted back that blacks should not “make” this about being black. That’s the very point. This church killing is a hate crime, as announced by Charleston officials, and therefore is everything about being black.   No black person is trying to “make” it about blackness, it is about black people.  And I will go one farther—if the suspect were black who committed the same crime in a white church, every media outlet in America would have likely covered it non-stop from the very beginning.


Many persons were reminded of the 6 killings at the Sikh mosque in 2012 and how so few media outlets ever covered the killings in detail.   It is as if minorities in America do not deserve the same coverage by the media’s account as white Americans.  It is only when blacks are seen in a bad light that the media runs non-stop breaking news —as in the recent unrest in  Baltimore due to the death of Freddie Gray.  Then the media could not get enough coverage of what was occurring in Baltimore—ditto for Ferguson unrest too.  But when blacks are the victims of crime and not the perpetrators, the main stream media seems slow to cover live breaking news as it unfolds.   The shooting incident in Charleston occurred roughly at 9:00 pm.  Yet, it was several hours later that many networks covered it. And this leads to the point that Black lives do matter.  And Blacks deserve to have news covered just as if it were a black man killing 9 white persons.  I can’t help but say that the media would have been running non-stop coverage if the reverse were true.  So when people online say, let’s not make this be about being black.  I say it’s all about being black. And therein lays the media’s problem.


Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, legal analyst and former prosecutor.  She appears on Al Jazeera America, MSNBC,   BET, C-Span, NPR, PBS, CCTV- America, Fox 5 (WTTG) and TV One among others, speaking on legal news and crime issues.


How the Law Affected Rachel Dolezal’s Thinking on Race

Tuesday, June 16th, 2015
Rachel Dolezal via Facebook

Rachel Dolezal via Facebook

When I first heard about Rachel Dolezal, now former President of the Spokane, Washington NAACP chapter, I didn’t know what to think about her perceived  appearance changes from that of  a white woman to successfully posing as a black one, until outed by her parents.  As I read further about her, I realize the law played a significant part in her changes.    Rachel Dolezal, for those who haven’t kept abreast, has been masquerading, my words, as a black woman, for the past several years after leaving Howard University where she obtained a Master’s degree.  On the other hand, she tells Matt Lauer on the Today Show that she identified as being black since as early as grade school.


Law suit records filed by Ms. Dolezal in 2002 shows she considered herself to be white. While at Howard University as a graduate student, she filed a law suit against Howard for alleged discrimination against her as a white woman.  In 2005, the D.C. Court of Appeals ruled against her case for alleged discrimination  on her  allegations in the way she was passed over for a teaching assistant position, instructor position and for failing to receive financial aid, due to being white.  The case upon its dismissal resulted in the court ordering her to pay several thousand dollars in the costs that Howard University incurred in the lawsuit.  Sometime after the lawsuit, Rachel  Dolezal began  changing her appearance to perpetrate being  a  black woman.  She had no problems with going to a historically black institution as a white person. She had no problems with wanting to teach there as a white person.  The only problem arose was when she was allegedly denied opportunities she deemed were denied to her on account of her race—being white.   Then she decided a switch was in order—posing as a black woman.


When I read her lawsuit and then her subsequent decision to perpetrate being black, I realize Rachel Dolezal  is an opportunist. When the opportunity arises, she is whatever race will advance her career.  I  believe she is sincere in working on social justice causes affecting African Americans.  I doubt her sincerity in identifying herself as black—her words not mine.  If her lawsuit against Howard had been successful, I believe Ms. Dolezal would have never made a switch.   As a lawyer, I understand that the law will make you sometimes do crazy things.  But deciding to change your appearance from white to black based on the law, I must admit is a new one to me.  Despite Ms. Dolezal’s statements, I believe that her outcome in the lawsuit against Howard University was  a turning point for her in regards to race and her changed appearance .


The most ironic part of all is that Ms. Dolezal would likely have been a much greater help to  the  cause and issues facing African Americans if she had not disguised herself as a black woman  As a white woman, she could have accomplished even greater heights in the discussion on race and race issues in addressing  white Americans.  But I don’t think she fully wanted to do that as much as she wanted to advance her own career path.   And there is nothing wrong with advancing one’s career. She unsuccessfully sued to advance her career. And she later changed her appearance to advance her career. When someone goes to the extremes that Rachel Dolezal did in furtherance of their career, the word opportunistic is what comes to my mind.



Whatever genuineness she may have had in advancing issues facing blacks was significantly tarnished  when I heard of her two timing both sides of the aisle, whenever appropriate.   When it was appropriate to be white and sue Howard University for tens of thousands of dollars, she was a white woman.  When she lost her case, she decided to accomplish her career goals by reinventing herself  disguised as a black woman along with black husband, make believe black father and son.   Now that her mother has outed her as a white woman, I only wonder what’s her next move.  Unfortunately for Ms. Dolezal, she did not realize her support of issues vastly affecting African Americans would have been just as valid  and perhaps more so in her own white skin.


 Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, legal analyst and former prosecutor.  She appears on Al Jazeera America, MSNBC,  BET, C-Span, PBS, CCTV- America,  Fox 5 (WTTG) and TV One among others, speaking on legal news and issues.


McKinney Police Incident Makes Me Ask if it’s 1950 or 2015

Sunday, June 7th, 2015

police-chase_mediumAs I was attempting to relax and unwind on a Sunday afternoon at my local Starbucks, I happened upon the McKinney, Texas police video taken on Friday, June 5 of excessive force used once again on blacks. This time, it was an out of control police officer using excessive force and treating black teenagers at a Texas community pool as if they were visiting a whites only pool in the Jim Crow south in 1950. The only thing he needed to be truly reminiscent of the 1950’s were the police dogs, batons and hoses. I hope we will not ever go back to those days. The video is set forth here.

The back story is apparently police were called to a community pool for a disturbance. The video shows the clearly disturbing activity was the police and the treatment of young blacks in bathing suits and pool attire. Gawker spoke with the individual filming the video.

There are so many issues that can be addressed by the video starting with the excessive force by an out of control angry police officer used towards what appears to be law abiding teenagers. Then there’s the question of how verbally abusive the police officer acted towards the crowd of black teenagers. And notice in the video that none of the black teenagers acted inappropriately towards the officer at any time shown. There’s the level of lack of respect, profanity and over the top excessive force towards a young girl in a bathing suit. There’s not much threat a tiny teenager in a two piece bikini can be to a police officer. And yet, the officer depicted in the video held her down while she lay crying on the ground with him on top, exhibiting extreme force on her small body. As an African American, it’s difficult to explain the actions of this police officer to black teenagers. How does one prepare black teens for police encounters of this nature? There is no way. The only bright side is no one was killed.

While there may be some that will say the video does not show the entire incident, it shows almost 8 minutes of what I view as despicable behavior by a McKinney, Texas police officer. And it should warrant investigation, suspension and ultimately firing. Of course, the latter is not likely to occur. While others may state this was the behavior of just one police officer, the problem is there are so many officers like the ones in McKinney across the country when interacting with minorities. And I saw comments on Twitter that indicated the teenagers disobeyed a police order to leave the scene. Even assuming if that is the case, there is nothing that justifies the use of force, tackling and out of control excessive force behavior by the officer.

When I see the video through my lens as an African American and a former prosecutor, I see a police officer that needs to be terminated. Unfortunately, there are so many others like him across the country. Many police departments in this country need a total reorganization from top to bottom to weed out the bad actors. When I see incidents like the McKinney one, I see how deeply racism is embedded in this country.  And then I  realize how difficult it will be to rid this country of police brutality towards minorities. I  wonder how everyone is not outraged at how some police officers treat blacks in 2015. And then I have to wonder to myself if it’s 1950 or 2015 in the minds of many police officers in America.


Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, legal analyst and former prosecutor. She often appears in the media addressing issues on law and race on Al Jazeera America, MSNBC, BET, CCTV- America, C-Span, NPR, PBS, RT America and others. She often contributes to the Huffington Post.



What Are Lawyers Saying About the Freddie Gray Case

Sunday, June 7th, 2015
Baltimore Circuit Court House via Flickr by Kirsch

Baltimore Circuit Court House via Flickr by Kirsch

In a little less than a month, the six officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray will be arraigned in Baltimore Circuit Court. There are a number of questions outstanding in this case –more will crop up as more details emerge – but some big ones have already developed.

Former Baltimore prosecutor Debbie Hines says, “Without having one of the police officers testify against the others, the prosecution doesn’t have a witness who can say this is exactly what happened, this is what officer Goodson said, this is what officer whatever said. She doesn’t have that,” Hines says.

Baltimore NPR affiliate WYPR reporter Chris Connelly asked some thought provoking questions on the Freddie Gray case of lawyers who have experience on both sides of the aisle with criminal cases to get their perspective.

For more on NPR affiliate’s discussion with criminal defense attorney Dwight Pettit, University of Maryland Professor Byron Warnken and attorney and former prosecutor Debbie Hines, visit Baltimore NPR affiliate WYPR site at:

Setting the Record Straight in Baltimore

Saturday, June 6th, 2015
Marilyn Mosby-  Official Photo as State's Attorney

Marilyn Mosby- Official Photo as State’s Attorney

As the media  often inaccurately portrayed the events in May which occurred in Baltimore following the arrest of 6 officers for the homicide of Freddie Gray, as a former Baltimore prosecutor, I would like to set the record straight.  The overall general perception displayed on air in May was the entire City of Baltimore was ablaze during the looting and civil unrest.  Next the media portrayed a police force afraid of being charged by the State’s Attorney  and arrested for doing their jobs.  With the greatly increased homicide rate in May, the perception is the police are at a loss for answers.

First, most of the City of Baltimore experienced little fallout from the looting and civil unrest.  Looting and fires were limited to a very small area of the city of Baltimore.  Hours on end on cable TV showing footage of the events following Freddie Gray’s funeral and the following days depicted an entire city out of control.  In fact, the area in which the looting, protests, and civil disturbance occurred was a very small area of the entire city amounting to probably less than two miles in total.   Those participating in the looting and unrest were travelling on foot—diminishing the areas affected.   The Mayor of Baltimore, Stephanie Rawlings Blake, did not help the media’s depiction as she was shown on at least one network giving out food and water—stating that her people couldn’t get to grocery stores.   While that was true as it pertained to residents living in the limited impacted area that did not have vehicles or access to vehicles, it did not apply to the entire city.  Many lower socioeconomic communities in Baltimore and elsewhere are limited by the radius of their community when they do not have access to transportation other than public transportation.


After the unrest ended and the charging of the six police officers, an increase in homicides occurred making May, 2015, the worst monthly record in homicides in 40 years.  The misconception is that the City of Baltimore is spiraling out of control and the police are at a loss for a solution.  In reality, the Baltimore police are a large part of the problem.  With homicides substantially increasing, there was also a parallel, by some estimates,  50% decrease in arrests.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that the two are related.  Baltimore City Police Commissioner Anthony Batts went on air stating that the increased homicides are related to the looting of pharmacies and taking prescription drugs.  Batts also stated the activity is related to gangs.   However, the Police Commissioner felt his men and women in blue were doing their jobs properly.  The misconception is the failure to recognize that there is a work slowdown among Baltimore police. Residents in the Western District are stating the police went from excessive police presence to almost zero presence after the six officers were charged. It’s as if the police are saying if they cannot be warriors in the community, they will not protect the community.  The likely unfortunate reality is many police probably do not want to protect and serve the residents of Sandtown and the surrounding West Baltimore community.


The other misconceptions are that Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby has some ax to grind with the Baltimore Police and should be removed from the case due to multiple conflicts.  It is ironic that some media portrayed a possible conflict with Mosby for doing her job while failing to acknowledge that the police failed to do their job after the charges were announced on May 1.  While Mosby is doing her job by seeking justice in the case of Freddie Gray, the Baltimore Police have, according to many Sandtown residents, neglected to do their job.   Many media outlets place emphasis on the fear of the police being arrested, as stated by Gene Ryan, President of the local Fraternal Order of Police.  Mosby is at a disadvantage in terms of media perception as she refuses to try the case in the media.  So what is often being reported and portrayed in the media is a misconception of Mosby having multiple conflicts of interest, being at odds with the police, while the police are portrayed as bystanders afraid of being arrested and jailed by Mosby in a city winding out of control.


The events in Baltimore will continue to unfold as there are many pending legal motions filed by both sides in the murder case of Freddie Gray.  My wish is the media will investigate and accurately portray the events that occur in Baltimore as the case unfolds.


Post Script: If you have a perception of Baltimore from the media, please share in the comments. I will set the record straight.


Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, legal analyst and former Baltimore City prosecutor.  She appears on Al Jazeera America, MSNBC, BET, C-Span, PBS, CCTV- America, Fox 5 (WTTG), NPR and RT America among others, speaking on legal news and issues.