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LEGAL SPEAKS BLOG

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.


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.

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

April 2nd, 2018 | Tags: , , , , , , ,
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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.


Stormy Daniels was no Media Storm

March 26th, 2018 | Tags: , , , ,
Posted in Legal | No Comments »

las-vegas-Everyone anticipated that the 60 Minutes interview of Stormy Daniels about her affair with Donald Trump would be a major blowout.  I even have friends living in Vancouver, Canada call to say they would be watching.  But Stormy’s interview was quite underwhelming by all accounts.

Her attorney had stated that she would be a credible witness.  Well credibility, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.  Ms. Daniels’ (not her real name) credibility on her account of meeting with Donald Trump and having unprotected sex with him while in a hotel room on their first meeting,  rang true.  Her demeanor and tone of voice in speaking sounded as if she were telling the story to a girlfriend—instead of to Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes. I have no doubt that she met Trump in a hotel room, flirted with him, had conversation and ultimately had unprotected sex with him—albeit she said that she was not attracted to him.  Her statement that Trump told her she reminded him of his daughter also rang true. Another woman who alleges an affair with Trump almost says the same exact words by Trump.  I would have concerns if my father said an adult porn star reminded him of me, right before he had sex with her.

Stormy Daniels was paid $130,000 to keep her sexual encounter a secret. And she said that she signed the nondisclosure agreement in November, 2016 because she felt it was the right thing to do.  She stated she had no intentions of kissing telling.  In January, 2018, she later signed a statement that read on 60 Minutes that she only met Trump in public.  The question was still left unanswered for me as to why she came public now.   My suspicious are that she now realizes her story for payment of a one- night affair is well worth over $130,000 and she wants to cash in with book deals, movies and interviews. Anderson Cooper asked her about this and she denied it.

Her version didn’t rang true about threats on her life in Las Vegas and that she wanted to defend herself from statements in the media.  No offense to Stormy but I don’t see how with her profession that she felt the need to ‘defend” her reputation. And Michael Cohen filed a cease and desist letter immediateley following her interview due to her attempts to connect him to a threat on her life.

In any event, as Stormy has filed a lawsuit to nullify the nondisclosure agreement, we may soon learn more sordid details.  She failed to answer if she had tapes, Emails or any other material involving Trump.  It wouldn’t surprise me if she has some other sordid proof of her relationship with Trump.  Remember Monica Lewinsky kept the soiled blue dress. That’s where I think the real value is in her story—if there is more proof to it.

And Trump and his attorney Michael Cohen may be in jeopardy of going afoul of the federal election laws.  Cohen by giving the $130,000 to Daniels far exceeded what an individual donor may give to a candidate. And Cohen’s hush money could likely be perceived as an in-kind contribution to the Trump campaign 11 days before the election—in an effort to affect the outcome of the election.

As for Stormy, a court will review the “hush” agreement to determine if it is legit. Stormy Daniels filed in court to be relieved of the agreement as it was never signed by Trump—who now seeks to enforce it.  I suspect that a court will declare that the agreement is unenforceable for that reason.

So Cohen and Trump may be in hot water. Stormy on the other hand is likely just getting started with playing with Donald Trump.  After all,  her interview clocked in at one of the most watched since 60 Minutes 2008 interview with Barack and Michelle Obama.

 

Washington, Dc based Debbie Hines is a lawyer in private practice and a former prosecutor.


Another Day, Another School Shooting, Another Killing

March 20th, 2018 | Tags: , , , ,
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assaultweapons (1)Days after the 17 minute school walk out in protest of gun violence and on the week of the Washington, DC March for Life on Saturday, March 24, another school shooting occurs.  This time, the shooting occurred at Great Mills High school in a small town in southern Maryland with the shooter, a teenage student, shooting a 16 year old girl and a 14 year old boy—all students.  They survived. The shooter died. Instead of an assault rifle, this time it was a Glock semiautomatic. Motive or target was yet undetermined.  So far, it was the 17th school shooting since January 1, 2018, according to CNN.

 

After hearing about the school shooting in St. Mary’s County, Maryland on Tuesday, March 20, I recalled the first time when  I appeared in a court case in St. Mary’s.  The court house is located in Leonardtown, MD which is a very small sleepy little town.  I am sure that nothing much in the way of crime happens in St. Mary’s. Nearby Leonardtown where the Circuit Court lies has a population of roughly 2,000. Great Mills is much larger with just over 8000 residents.  These towns in St. Mary’s are hardly metropolitan cities or even near a metropolitan city.  Once again, like Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High school, the area is one where a school shooting would likely appear to be out of the ordinary. Except in this day and time, no school is out of the ordinary for a shooting to occur.  The cycle of wash, rinse, repeat when it comes to gun violence continues in schools, churches, movies, malls and on neighborhood streets.  And the same cycle continues when it comes to actions taken by politicians to help stymie the gun violence in America.

 

As a former prosecutor, the story of guns, gun violence, shootings and death are not new news.  According to the American Bar Association, in 2013, there were over 11,200 murders with firearms. African Americans suffered 57% of all murders with firearms, even though blacks only make up 13% of the U.S. population. In contrast with other countries, in 2010, there were 17 firearm deaths in Finland; 35 in Australia, 39 in England and Wales; 60 in Spain, 194 in Germany and 200 in Canada.

We know the problem.  We also know some of the solutions.  We just lack the ability to combine gun problem with solution in a meaningful way.  There is no one solution size fits all when it comes to different types of gun violence.  One thing is for sure, more guns are not the answer.  Ditto for arming teachers.

 

Besides banning assault weapons, large capacity ammunition magazines, increasing age to purchase a firearm to age 21, denial of gun purchases due to serious mental health issues and domestic violence orders, tightening gun permit laws on  three day wait at gun shows, restricting guns at sensitive places including colleges, churches, county owned property, we need to restrict sales of guns by private individuals.

We should also look to those other countries who have so few murders, albeit they don’t have the NRA and the second amendment to contend with.   In 1996, both Britain and Australia had mass shootings.  In 1996, a lone shooter entered a school in Scotland and killed 16 -five and six-year-old children plus a teacher.  And in the same year in Australia, a man killed 35 people in a mass shooting at a cafe.  Both Britain and Australia had a major crackdown on gun laws and passed sensible gun laws.  Our legislators haven’t reached the boiling point where they will enact gun laws to save lives.

What appears different and just may work now is the pressure being exerted by the voices of young persons who have experienced gun violence all their lives.  And those voices are not limited to school gun violence but to gun violence in the urban cities and in places like St. Mary’s County.  No place is immune to gun violence.  No one is safe.

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial attorney, legal analyst and former prosecutor who is frequently seen in the media addressing gun laws and crimes.


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