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Will All Black Face Wearing Politicians Stand?

Wednesday, February 6th, 2019

VA AG Mark Herring- Creative Commons

In the few days since we discovered that VA Governor Ralph Northam wore black face in a 1984 medical school year book photo while standing next to a costumed KKK member, VA Attorney General Mark Herring admits to wearing black face in college. Herring apologized.

As an African American, I know this racist problem is something that is not indicative of just Virginia politicians, Democrats or Republicans. It is indicative of white America. While many white Americans may not have worn black face, many still do not understand the pain it causes for many African Americans. And the racial backlash against African Americans continues today, without one having to wear black face.

The fact that whites believe it is appropriate to post photos wearing black face whether in college, medical school or elsewhere shows the race divide in America. These photos cut to the core of emotional pain for many African Americans. While for many white Americans, wearing black face is hilarity at the expense of Blacks.

Megan Kelly was fired from the Today show because she commented that she saw nothing wrong with wearing black face. Obviously, she was not alone in her thinking. VA Governor Ralph Northam faces resignation calls by nearly every politician except former Congressman Jim Web (D.VA).

Just as sexual harassment was once common place in the work place and elsewhere, it was never acceptable to women. Likewise, wearing black face may have been acceptable in certain white circles, it was never acceptable to African Americans. Just as women are not being too sensitive about sexual assaults, blacks are not being too sensitive about racism in America.

White actors and musicians during the time of slavery and up to an including into the 1900’s would cover their faces in black dye and create stereotypical and racist portrayals of slaves and African Americans. The representations would show blacks as being inferior to whites, being sub- intelligent with a low IQ and being less than human, childlike and acting like buffoons. The white Black faced actors and musicians played parts and sang in ways to dehumanize and ridicule African Americans, making them the butt of jokes for white audiences. These portrayals were funny to whites but degrading to African Americans.

For those who miss the racial tone of black face, consider the fact that many African Americans dress up in costume on occasion disguised as white persons. Most Blacks do not feel the need to smear white shoe polish on their faces in caricature. There is an undeniable racist element to black face.

There is nothing illegal about the use of Black face by white Americans. However, to many African Americans, it amounts to a betrayal by those politicians who they believed to be an ally on race issues. On a grading scale, the black face by Herring does not rise to the level of Ralph Northam’s photo complete with KKK member. However, we don’t need to give grades for racially insensitive and racist photographs. What we need are discussions.

Both Herring and Northam’s depictures of black face show the real need for discussions on race in America and white privileged thinking. Former Attorney General Eric Holder, speaking during Black History month in 2009, said that we are a “nation of cowards” on issues involving race. We never see the need to discuss race until the next event occurs. And then we punt on it until the next event. I suspect the same will be true of these incidences.

Maybe it’s time for all politicians who used Black face, laughed while someone else used black face or ever thought about using black face step forward. And maybe, it’s time to begin the race discussion in earnest. Like talking to your child about sex, it’s a very difficult topic to discuss. The race discussion is a necessary albeit a difficult and painful one.

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is an attorney and former prosecutor. She appears regularly in the media on topics of law and politics intersecting at race and gender.

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.

Dear Police: Black People are Humans Too

Tuesday, September 27th, 2016



September proved to be a killing month of African Americans at the hands of police. Thirteen year old Tyree King running away from police in Columbus, Ohio, Terence Crutcher in Tulsa, Oklahoma with hands upon while being shot, Keith Lamont Scott, suffering with a brain traumatic injury in Charlotte, North Carolina and Alfred Olango, suffering from an epilepsy attack in San Diego County, are the most recent and notable names known in the media. The Guardian and Washington Post have kept as accurate a tally as possible since there is no federal database of police shootings and killings. In 2016, almost 800 persons have been killed at the hands of police. In 2015, it was 990. It averages roughly 1000 lives taken each year by police. From the period of 2005-2015, 54 police officers were charged with either manslaughter or murder. That averages out to 5 police officers charged per 1000 killings each year.


It seems as if the recent wave of police killings of unarmed blacks are coming fast and furious in September. It really never seems to let up, leaving many African Americans and those persons standing on the side of justice, swirling with an array of emotions from anger, sadness, sorrow, numbness, stress, tension, anxiety and a host of every other imaginable emotion. I know at times, I have gone through the entire gambit of emotions.
There is much talk and little action being done. While Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump spoke on the recent killings, neither said what they would do as President to change the culture of racism and injustice. Trump during the first Presidential debate stated he would bring back stop and frisk. Stop and frisk measures were declared unconstitutional because the outrageous practices racially targeted blacks and Hispanics, in addition to doing nothing to deter crime. Trump proudly announced his endorsement of the Fraternal Order of Police which actively supports police officers who have shot and killed innocent persons. And Clinton mentioned during the debate that systemic racism must be addressed. How to stop the killings of unarmed blacks is the big question.


The silence among fellow police officers is what is most troubling to me. Silence is the same as condoning the shooting deaths of unarmed African Americans. Charlotte’s Police Chief said the video of the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott did not “definitively” show a gun was shown. Few officers ever speak out against injustice. In the shooting death of Walter Scott last year in Charlotte, NC another police officer supported former officer Michael Slager’s account that Scott had a gun pointed. It was not until video taken by a bystander revealed both Slager and his partner lied. Scott was running away at the time with his back towards the officer. More officers need to speak the truth. If as some contend, that it is only a few bad ones, one would think other officers would be more vocal and speak out. The code of blue appears more powerful than standing with justice. Zero tolerance by police departments is another way to bring justice to an unjust situation. Police are being provided with body cameras but many somehow conveniently find it impossible to always wear them or turn them on. There are now police officers who are finding ways to prevent a dash camera from video. If police were given no warnings to wear and turn on body cameras or else termination, perhaps they might remember to wear and use them. Instead police are given free pay and leave time when a killing occurs and placed on administrative duty—a paid vacation or desk duty.


I know that I am sick and tired of seeing innocent lives taken at overzealous and racist police officers. As Desmond Tutu once said, “ If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” And for most police officers, they have become implicit in the killings of innocent and unarmed African Americans by choosing to remain silent or condoning their fellow officers’ actions. So they have chosen to stand with injustice rather than truth. As long as police are silent and victims appear powerless, there will be more unrest in America until the boiling pot completely boils over.


Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, legal commentator, speaker and former Baltimore prosecutor. She frequently appears on MSNBC, BET, CBS, C-Span, PBS among other news outlets. Her Op-Ed articles appear in the Huffington Post, Washington Post and Baltimore Sun.

Baltimore Police Dept. is a Micro System of Our Society

Wednesday, August 24th, 2016



police-chase_mediumFollowing the Justice Department’s scathing report on the Baltimore Police department’s patterns and practices of civil rights violations and unconstitutional practices on blacks, women and the mentally ill, gender bias, inadequate training and a culture of years of profound blatant racism, there has been an outreach for ways to improve the Baltimore Police department. Improving the department will not be an easy fix after decades of malfeasance. And finding the answers will be like trying to end systemic racism in the overall society and fabric of America—only on a smaller scale.

In the fourteen months following the April 12, 2015 arrest of Freddie Gray, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) investigated the department and found the Baltimore Police intentionally discriminated against residents, used excessive force, made unconstitutional stops and arrests and targeted African Americans, youth and mentally challenged individuals. And the Baltimore Police did not limit its illegal actions to blacks but further engaged in gender bias policing when it came to investigating sexual assaults. In terms of supervision of police, DOJ found the department failed to supervise, had inadequate policies, an inadequate system to even investigate complaints against officers and engaged in retaliatory practices. In essence, the entire Baltimore police department was a dysfunctional organization that harassed and destroyed the lives of many residents, many of whom did not commit any crimes.

The Justice Department analyzed documents, spoke to police officers and Baltimore residents who had encounters from 2010- 2015. It did not review the Freddie Gray case as part of this investigation.

As a former Baltimore prosecutor, I knew of some of the patterns and practices resulting in unconstitutional arrests for failing to obey, trespassing, loitering, resisting arrest and other similar crimes.   During the time that I prosecuted, police officers were often advised that most of these charges lacked probable cause for an arrest. Yet, as I recount in a October, 2015 Washington Post Op ed, Baltimore police seemed to routinely arrest residents despite admonishments by judges and prosecutors.


The numbers involved in the report were staggering. Most of the illegal and unconstitutional practices involved a segment of the population involving two districts representing 11% of Baltimore’s population. Hundreds of residents were stopped 10-30 times, with no arrest. And for those who think African Americans commit crime in greater numbers than whites, the report disputed that misconception. In pedestrian stops, one male in his mid-50’s was stopped 30 times without an arrest. It was as if stopping and harassing blacks was a game or sport for police. I guess it really was for some officers.

In vehicle stops, the report found that whites twice as often had contraband versus African Americans. And in pedestrian stops, whites were 50% more likely to have contraband. Yet, of criminal cases, African Americans represented 86% of all criminal offenses although they make up 63% of the Baltimore population. And as reported previously, African Americans use drugs in the same amounts as whites. Yet, police arrested African American 5 times more.


In reading the DOJ report, even as a former prosecutor, I was shocked at some practices which I didn’t know existed. Police would stop individuals and ask for identification. In some cases, if no identification was found on an individual, police would detain and take the individual to police station to finger print to learn their identity. This is not Nazi Germany in the 1940’s where certain groups of people are required to have ID. Yet, the Baltimore policing, in some instances, resembled the stopping of Jews by Nazis.


One of the most egregious practices was that of public strip searches. I had no idea that such inhumane and barbaric treatment of individuals occurred. And it made me sick to my stomach to read in detail what some African Americans endured at the hands of police. One woman was stopped for a busted tail light. She was ordered to remove her clothes, bra, panties and given an anal cavity search, in full view of everyone watching on the street. She ultimately received a reprimand. In another instance, a teenager was ordered to remove his boxer shorts in full view of his girlfriend while the police publicly strip searched him-and found nothing. He filed a complaint. And later, when encountered by the same officer in a McDonald’s restaurant, the officer, in retaliation, required him to pull down his pants and grabbed his groin.


For those who think these were a few rogue police officers—think again.   If it were only a few rogue officers, the Department of Justice would not have determined a pattern and practice existed in the Baltimore police force.

And although the DOJ report analyzed police data from 2010-2015, the practices occurred over a long period of time. In Baltimore, former mayor Martin O’Malley commenced a “zero tolerance” policy in the 1990’s which many officers continued through 2015. Zero tolerance led to the illegal stopping, detaining and unlawful despicable practices outlined in the DOJ report.

All present and past Baltimore lawmakers are responsible for the broken system. The Baltimore City leadership from mayors to the police commissioners are responsible for allowing the racist, Nazi like system to exist. Baltimore paid out millions of dollars to settle many lawsuits due to unconstitutional police practices. Those settlements were authorized by the Baltimore Board of Estimates and approved by the Baltimore City Councils and Mayors.

The one hopeful reason for change is a Department of Justice consent order, once reached, will be closely monitored by a monitor, be binding on all future administrations and enforced through the federal court. I just don’t know how you prevent systemic racism in our society.

For those interested in commenting, email


2013-debbie-hines-newsWashington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, legal analyst and former Baltimore prosecutor. She appears on Al Jazeera, BET, C-Span, MSNBC, PBS among others speaking on justice, gender and race.