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LegalSpeaks is a progressive blog on legal-political issues with an impact on race and gender. Whether covering politics, court trials, Supreme Court arguments or the latest laws and bills affecting minorities and women, LegalSpeaks blog articulates unique and thought provoking opinions. The blog is not meant to be construed as legal advice.

Sorry Camille Cosby but Bill Cosby was not Lynched

May 3rd, 2018 | Tags: , , , , ,
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BlackManLynchedNAACPCamille Cosby broke her silence today following her husband’s conviction when she wrote a scathing attack on the justice system comparing Bill Cosby’s, conviction to a “lynching”, “mob justice” or to Emmett Till.  Cosby who was tried and convicted on three counts of sexual assaults on Andrea Constand, after a first jury failed to reach a verdict.  Mrs. Cosby’s misunderstanding of the words “lynching” and “mob justice” deserves a teaching moment for her and perhaps many others who might be confused.


The National Memorial for Peace and Justice opened on April 26, 2018 in downtown Montgomery, Alabama and is dedicated to the legacy of enslaved Blacks who lost their lives through lynching.  It depicted the over 4000 known lynchings that were held in this country of mostly African Americans from post slavery to 1950.  And when it opened, some questioned why a memorial on lynching was necessary. Comments like Camille Cosby’s show there is a need for the public to be aware of the atrocities of lynching.

First, Mr. Cosby got not only one trial but two fair trials.  The first jury deliberated over 56 hours before a mistrial was declared.  Those who were lynched in this country were neither given a trial, jury or judge to determine their fate. Instead an angry mob of white individuals hung them up to die on a tree, usually first torturing them.  Throngs of white persons, including law enforcement and children watched as the lynchings took place.  Persons were lynched for any perceived slight to a white man or woman.

The Equal Justice Initiative researched many of the lynchings that occurred post slavery in 1877 until the 1950’s. Some of those lynchings were as a result of multiple single incident lynchings—where lynching one Black person was not enough. Counties in Louisiana, Mississippi and North Carolina had the highest single but mass incidents of lynchings. Some lynchings were observed by mob crowds over 2,0000 persons attending such as ones held on the eastern shore of Maryland in 1933.  There were never any convictions or arrests.

As far as Camille Cosby’s comparison to her husband’s conviction to lynching, she and others should be mindful that many lynchings occurred on the court house lawn.  I see no resemblance there to Cosby’s trial. While Cosby was convicted of sexual transgressions over a white woman before a jury of both Blacks and whites, victims of lynchings never received a trial. Persons like General Lee in 1904 was lynched for merely knocking on the door of a white woman. In 1889, Keith Bowen was lynched by an entire white neighborhood for trying to enter a room with three white women. In 1916, Jeff Brown was lynched in Mississippi  for accidently bumping into a white woman as he ran to catch a bus.

If Bill Cosby were Emmett Till, at the first mention of a sexual assault on a white woman, he would have been lynched.  Till, 12 years old, was lynched for either looking, whistling or doing nothing at all to a white woman.  If Cosby had been comparable to Till, at the first instance of an account by a white victim, he would have been lynched.

I hate to hear when persons compare themselves or their situation to a lynching. Clarence Thomas did it at his Senate confirmation hearings when he referred to himself as being involved in a “high tech lynching”.  To make a modern day court room trial comparison or Senate confirmation hearing akin to a lynching does enormous dishonor to those  persons who lost their lives as a result of real mob justice and real lynchings. .

The reason for the Peace and Justice memorial on lynching is to honor those whose lives were taken away in brutal lynchings.  And it is also to bring awareness to what lynching and mob justice did to Black Americans. For those who cannot travel to Alabama to see the memorial, a trip to the website of the Equal Justice Initiative for its report on lynching in America will also bring awareness to our country’s ugly past.  Perhaps when Camille Cosby gets some free time on her hands away from her husband, she might want to travel or read to see what a real lynching looked like.

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is an attorney and legal/political commentator.

The Problem with the WHCD was the White House Correspondents

May 2nd, 2018 | Tags: , , , ,
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There has been a flood of comments ever since last Saturday over comedian Michelle Wolf’s roast monologue at the White House Correspondents dinner (“WHCD)’. Wolfe was an equal opportunity comedian who mocked everyone from Congress, Roy Moore, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Sarah Hucklebee Sanders, journalists, Michael Cohen, Reince Priebus and the Russian collusion. Margaret Talev, President of the White House Correspondents Association wrote in a letter that Wolf’s performance was not in the spirit of the dinner. She personally invited Wolf to the dinner. And therefore, she should have been aware of the comedic style. Imagine if I invited Donald Trump to speak at my Black family reunion with a few Hispanic, Haitian and Muslim friends. Why would I expect Trump to refrain from insulting everyone?

The whole point of the comedic performer at the WHCD is for the comedian to roast the President and the White House. One problem was that Donald Trump failed to attend last year and this year. The dinner is usually attended by the president except for the last two years. And in years past, the president gets to also address and roast the dinner attendees- followed by a comedian. This year, Trump sent Sarah Sanders. The absence of the president again presented a challenge for the dinner format.

There appeared to be outrage among some journalists about Wolf’s jokes about Sarah Hucklebee Sanders. Andrea Mitchell wanted Wolf to apologize to Sanders. Press secretary Sanders lies on an almost daily basis to the same White House correspondents attending the dinner. The indignation towards Wolf among some journalists about jokes made about Sarah Sanders shows that one of Wolf’s jokes missed the point. Wolf joked that Sanders was a disappointment for other white women—saying what’s a name for a white woman that disappoints other white women—Ann Coulter. A few white women journalists who came to Sanders’ defense missed the whole point of that joke. No matter how much Sanders lies to their face (and she does lie a lot) some white women still will come to her defense.

After seeing the criticisms directed at Michelle Wolf by members of the media, I came to several conclusions. The same journalists who attended the dinner support free speech –except if it is a comedy roast at their annual dinner. Then free speech and truth are off limits. Margaret Talev as president of the White House Correspondents Association failed to do her job. If Talev invited Wolf, she should have also fact checked her previous comedy routines – to understand what she was getting. It’s called buyer beware. And since this was year two that a president failed to attend the dinner, then maybe—just maybe a different format might have been considered in lieu of a one -sided monologue roast.

In the end despite the criticism, Michelle Wolf’s performance was the most watched on C-Span in the history of the White Correspondents Dinner—in just three days. She was the real winner. And the White House correspondents were the real losers. Michelle Wolf said she wouldn’t change a single word. And why should she?

Watch Michelle Wolf’s performance here:

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is an attorney and legal/political commentator.

#TimesUp for Bill Cosby

April 26th, 2018 | Tags: , , ,
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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

April 23rd, 2018 | Tags: , , , , ,
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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

April 18th, 2018 | Tags: , , , , , ,
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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?

April 4th, 2018 | Tags: , , , , , ,
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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.

Start @5:40- 13:53

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


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