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Archive for April, 2018

#TimesUp for Bill Cosby

Thursday, April 26th, 2018

BillCosbyIn a retrial of Bill Cosby’s case, a Norristown, PA jury of seven men and five women found him guilty of all three counts of sexual assault without consent and by drugging a victim who was incapable of consenting to sex. Cosby faces a maximum of 30 years in prison. There are many factors that can cause a retrial to end with a conviction. The main factor in the Cosby case was the #MeToo and #TimesUp movement which exposed other alleged sexual predators such as Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Harvey Weinstein, Russell Simmons, former Senator Al Franken, Kevin Spacey and a host of others.

For the first time, women alleging sexual assault and or harassment were viewed with less suspicion. The change in the nation’s attitudes towards sexual harassment swayed against Mr. Cosby in his retrial. Despite the inconsistencies in the victim, Andrea Constant’s accounts and a more aggressive defense by Mr. Cosby’s new lawyers, a more aggressive prosecutorial case brought in the long sought after verdict. Five other women testified in the prosecution’s case with one woman crying on the stand—despite the length of time since her encounter.

The defense changed counsel to Tom Messereau for the second trial. Messereau is known for the not guilty verdict in the Michael Jackson molestation trial. He used a more aggressive style. A more aggressive style apparently didn’t help the defense. Calling the victim a “pathological liar” and a “con artist” backfired. When I try cases, I never flat out call someone a liar, even if the evidence supports it. Often times, juries like to reach that decision on their own. The defense also likened the victim’s testimony to a “lynching”. As an African American, if I were sitting on the jury, I would have been completely offended by that characterization. Mr. Cosby’s case or the victim’s accusations do not amount to a lynching comparison. He is not facing a capitol crime for which he could receive the death penalty.

Cosby was seen laughing at times. While that may be his personality, I always tell my clients that any facial expression should be flat without smirks, laughing or any other emotions showing. I guess Mr. Cosby’s lawyer failed to give him that advice. Jurors are watching a defendant’s every move. The defense should know every little thing adds up.

The testimony took twice as long in the retrial. The deliberations were swift—suggesting that the prosecution’s case was believed by most of the jurors going into deliberations. When the victim was asked why did she agree to take the stand again, she replied two words—“for justice.” This time, justice was won for Andrea Constand and all the other victims sharing in her story. #TimesUp for Bill Cosby.

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is an attorney, legal analyst and former Baltimore prosecutor.

Starbucks Coffee Summit Won’t End Their Racism

Monday, April 23rd, 2018

StarucksKevin_Johnson_resizedStarbucks CEO Kevin Johnson wants the two black men arrested at a Philadelphia Starbucks and the former manager, Holly Hylton, to meet. Johnson apologized to Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, the two African American men. And Starbucks intends to close all 8,000 U.S. stores on May 29 to hold a workshop for its employees on what it calls “unconscious bias” training or what I like to refer to as conscious racism.

In suggesting the meeting between the manager and the two Black men, Johnson says the former manager is suffering and needs to reconcile with the two men. That’s like Trump saying he felt there were very fine people on both sides of the aisle during the Charlottesville Neo Nazi rally. I am sorry but how does Johnson sympathize with the white privileged racist abuser? She is the abuser and Nelson and Robinson are the aggrieved parties. You cannot have it both ways.

Last week Hylton, the now former manager, called the police on the two men within two minutes after they arrived at the Starbucks while waiting for a business associate. After the incident was taped by a bystander, the video went viral with millions of hits. It has sparked yet again another conversation on race in America. Meanwhile, the two men arrested were detained at a Philadelphia jail for hours before the prosecutors declined to press charges. Does Johnson feel sorry for Hylton because she lost her job? Is that justification for Starbucks to suggest to convene a meeting between the parties? I hope the Starbucks CEO feels sorry that the two Black men will now have an arrest on their record—even though no charges were filed. Being a Black man in America is difficult enough but with an arrest charge, it is strike two.

While there are often two sides to every story, there is only one reason for the manager’s actions—racism. Yet, I am sure she now feels remorse too. Her remorse is most likely directed towards what happened to her—not to the two individuals. In the process, she had to either resign or was fired from her job. A video about her actions went viral for the world to see. And I am sure that she feels badly that the incident may have a bearing on her future employment if an employer Googles her name. It won’t be nearly as bad as future employment opportunities for Robinson and Nelson with an arrest on their record.

In 2009 when Harvard Professor Henry “Skip” Gates was arrested for trying to get inside his own house while locked out, President Obama suggested and held a meeting between the arresting police officer and Professor Gates. Gates is African American. The officer is white. It became dubbed as the “beer summit”. It served no purpose other than a publicity photo op. The arrest incident with Professor Gates also became viral with President Obama calling the actions of the police officer “stupid.” They were both stupid and racist. Ditto for the Starbucks manager’s actions. Nothing was accomplished with the “beer summit”; nothing will be accomplished with a Starbucks coffee summit.

Now if Starbucks wants to do something to effectuate change in its culture, sanctions should be made a part of any racially sensitivity training. Employees are discharged for stealing which is a crime. I am sure that Starbucks would not entertain keeping a manager who stole from their stores. Discrimination in public restaurants is also against the law. The Civil Rights Act passed in 1964 makes it unlawful to discriminate on the basis of race, among other categories, in any public accommodation such as Starbucks restaurant.

In order to affirm the importance of Starbucks understanding the deep resentment in the African American community against their actions, Starbucks should immediately change its policy to include taking immediate termination actions against any employee who is found to have discriminated against any minorities. That change in policy would speak volumes while upholding the law against discrimination.

A Starbucks coffee meeting between Hylton, the racist abuser and the abused and aggrieved two parties will serve no useful purpose—other than a photo opportunity for Starbucks. We need for Starbucks to take action to prevent future racist actions and not an Instagram photo opportunity.

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is an attorney, legal commentator, speaker and former prosecutor.

Starbucking While Black

Wednesday, April 18th, 2018

police-chase_medium Police arrested two African American men sitting in a Philadlephia Starbucks who were waiting for another mane to arrive for a meeting. A Starbucks manager called the police–stating the men had not placed an order.

Starbucks intends to conduct a racial bias, racial sensitivity workshop training at all of its 8,000 U.S. stores on May 29 in response to the Philadelphia store manager calling police and having two Black men arrested for failing to place an order–ala for no apparent reason. Starbucks CEO has since apologized in person to the two men. The arrest trespass charges were dropped by the prosecutor’s office. But the arrest remains on the two men’s record—for now. The Starbucks situation is yet another example of how implicit racial bias and racism works in this country. The simple things that a white person takes for granted and does on an everyday basis are often challenged of Blacks by white individuals. Fortunately, in this case, no one was shot and killed by police.

I applaud Starbuck’s attempt to make amends for the wrongs. However, they would need to do far more than a one day workshop given by former Attorney General Eric Holder, Sherilyn Ifill and others. Racism has existed in the U.S. since the first Blacks were brought here in the 1600’s. And it permeates and exists on a conscious and subconscious level throughout society. Blacks understand it. Whites often fail to understand and try to find another reason for why an incident like this one occurred.

If Starbucks wants to take the corporate lead on implicit racial bias training and conduct continuous ongoing training year-round with follow-ups, site visits by secret customers to assess stores’ compliance, sanctions for failing to adhere to policy, then I think some progress could be made. However, if Starbucks plans nothing further for the rest of this year, then I wonder if this is a ploy to protect their brand.

I discuss these issues and more on the Bill Press morning show on April 18, 2018.

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is an attorney, legal analyst, speaker and former Baltimore prosecutor.

Martin Luther King, Jr. 50 Years Later: What’s Changed?

Wednesday, April 4th, 2018

Martin_Luther_King_Jr_On April 4, 1968 civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated while standing on the Lorraine hotel balcony in Memphis, Tennessee. In the wake of 50 years since his assassination, with the Trump era, white supremacy uprisings, police shootings of unarmed African Americans, disenfranchisement of Black convicted felons and mass incarceration, many are left wondering if anything has changed in 50 years or changed for the worse. In order to reflect on the 50 years, one must begin with a look back at the years before Martin Luther King’s rise in civil rights era.

Martin Luther King, Jr. led the civil rights movement from approximately 1955 until his death in 1968—a short 13 years. In those 13 short years, King’s leadership with others accomplished more than had been accomplished in the 350 years since Blacks first arrived in the U.S. Throughout the U.S. African Americans were treated as less than 2nd class citizens. Separate but equal was the law. In the year before King’s rise, the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that separate but equal was no longer the law in public education. Before Linda Brown’s case, Blacks were denied the right to attend public schools with whites.

Beyond schools, discrimination and desegregation existed in public accommodations in all forms of transportation, hotels, restaurants, parks, swimming pools, stores and anywhere the public and whites were involved. The biggest impediment to Blacks was the denial of the right to vote under Jim Crow laws in the south. In many areas, Blacks were not allowed to register to vote or required to pay a poll tax or take an absurd test—such as guessing the number of jelly beans in a jar. While many Blacks fled the south to the north for better opportunities, still discrimination waited for them in the north.

King’s nonviolent protests and the civil rights movement moved the nation as Blacks were seen on TV being beat by police as they led peaceful protests for the rights to be treated equally as whites and to e able to vote. Congressman John Lewis (D. GA) was one of those who almost lost his life in the fight for voting rights.

By 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson urged lawmakers to pass the Civil Rights Act. It was signed into law on July 2, 1964 and outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. It prohibited unequal application of voter registration requirements, racial segregation in schools, employment, and public accommodations.. The following year, Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act which was designed to protect and enforce the voting rights of Blacks as afforded in the Constitution. A core provision of the act required under Section 5 a preclearance requirement, which prohibits certain jurisdictions from implementing any change affecting voting without receiving preapproval from the U.S. Attorney General or the U.S. District Court for D.C. to show that the change does not discriminate against protected minorities. Unfortunately, in 2013 Shelby County v. Holder, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the coverage formula as unconstitutional, reasoning that it was no longer responsive to current conditions.

By 1968 at the time of King’s death, he was advocating for a living wage for workers. He was assassinated in Memphis, while he was there to protest with sanitation workers on adequate wages. Before his death, he had sharply criticized the Vietnam War.

When I hear folks say that not much had change since King’s fight for civil rights, I must differ. While many things are still present in the U.S. due to racism, such as a resurgence of the KKK and white supremacy, there is a difference. King came into prominence in the 90 years post slavery. In those 90 years, over 4000 Blacks were lynched. Many Blacks were systemically lynched on the court house lawns as a means of perceived white justice. Other Blacks were lynched or killed at the hands of prominent members of white society for perceived indiscretions against whites. Emmitt Till’s violent death in 1955 was the wake up call for the beginning civil rights movement. The death of Emmitt Till had a profound effect on King and moved him to action to start the Montgomery bus boycotts.

Today King’s dream of full citizenship for African Americans is still being fought and waged on many fronts. From the disparate police shootings of unarmed African Americans, mass incarceration of Blacks, disenfranchisementof voting rights for convicted felons in states and restircive voter ID laws for others, the struggle continues. The Trump era’s attempts to set back gains accomplished by President Obama are battles waging daily.

Perhaps the greatest testament to King is his fight for the reality that voting and voting rights are paramount for African Americans. The ability of African Americans to be able to vote, albeit with restrictive voter ID laws aimed to deter voting, enabled the election of Barack Obama. And the same ability of many Blacks to remain home on election day in November, 2016 ushered in the Trump era.

King’s death did not end the dream. It moved the dream into a new era—that must be fought continuously by a new generation. We are not back at square one but we must continue the fight.

I appeared on BBC News to discuss the death of Martin Luther King, Jr.—50 years later.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w172w71nbqg1f2r

Start @5:40- 13:53

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is an attorney, speaker and former prosecutor.

Stephon Clark’s Killing and a Demand for Justice

Monday, April 2nd, 2018

GunOn March 18, 2018 Stephon Clark, a 22-year-old Black man, father of two children from Sacramento, California was one of the more than 230 persons shot and killed by police in 2018. Mr. Clark was unarmed when he was shot and killed in his grandmother’s back yard. Mr. Clark’s family attorney, Benjamin Crump, arranged for an independent autopsy. The autopsy conducted revealed that Clark was shot 8 times in the back. A total of 20 rounds were fired at Mr. Clark. These autopsy results contrast with the statements of the officers who claim they feared for their lives. Mr. Clark was not armed but only possessed a cell phone.

Every year on average, there are 1000 persons killed by police in the U.S. Clark’s shooting death has once again caused outrage over the killings of unarmed Black men to be shot and killed by police in the U.S. Blacks are shot and killed by police at a rate of almost 3 times that of whites. Since 2005, there have only been roughly 80 arrests or charges of police officers. There have been even fewer convictions. Only 13 officers have been convicted of killing unarmed persons from the period of 2005- 2017. Even with convictions, the sentences on average are relatively light from probation to a few years. The exception was the Walter Scott case where the former officer received a sentence of 20 years for shooting unarmed Scott in the back multiple times as he ran away.

Following Mr. Clark’s death, I appeared on Al Jazeera to discuss the silence of the Trump administration, Clark’s case and the disparity of Blacks systemically killed by police in the U.S.

Debbie Hines on Stephon Clark shooting from Debbie Hines on Vimeo.

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is an attorney and former prosecutor.