Say It Louder Our next Attorney General needs to be a civil rights lawyer
Ben Crump is a civil rights lawyer, and counsel to the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Jacob Blake.
As this most unusual year draws to a close, I’m reflecting on how exhausting 2020 has been for those of us committed to the fight for civil rights. We’ve known great sorrow and disappointment. And we’ve never wavered in speaking truth to power and shining a bright light on the ugliness of inequality. Now, I’m cautiously optimistic that President-elect Joe Biden and his still-unnamed attorney general will be our partner in the hard work of repairing our criminal justice system.
I’ve dedicated my career to the fight against systemic injustice and racism. The global and national outcry for change is encouraging. The marches and activism, which filled the streets with hundreds of thousands saying their names, “Breonna, George and Ahmaud,” now demand action. Even in the midst of a pandemic and rising economic turmoil, we turned out to say: “Enough!”
Attorney General William Barr’s repeated attacks on voting rights, policing reforms and the independence of career Department of Justice officials have set a bad precedent. And a president willing to use the attorney general as his personal lawyer to hold on to power has further challenged our beliefs in the DOJ and the rule of law. I’m relieved that a new day is coming.
During his historic presidential campaign, Biden ran on an ambitious criminal justice reform platform. He promised to end federal private prisons, mandatory minimum sentencing and the federal death penalty, and reexamine the cash bail system. Candidate Biden also said that the school-to-prison pipeline should be abolished. He spoke of uniting our great country and fixing a biased and broken criminal justice system that has unfairly impacted a disproportionate share of Black and brown Americans — particularly Black men.
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Speaking Of… A Native American woman as Interior secretary would be historic
Julian Brave NoiseCat is vice president of policy and strategy with Data for Progress. He was Raised in a single-mother household in Oakland, California, and is a proud member of the Canim Lake Band Tsq’escen.
On a chilly mid-November Saturday—after I had played phone tag with her chief of staff for half a week, and after she had met up with a couple members-elect about her Democratic Caucus vice chair bid—I finally sat down with Deb Haaland for dinner at a Thai restaurant tucked between mostly empty glass buildings in downtown D.C.
Haaland was getting harder and harder to schedule. The freshman representative from New Mexico had spent much of the past two years campaigning, first for Elizabeth Warren then for Joe Biden, kicking off phone banks, speaking at virtual events and fundraising. The congresswoman had been a team player, by all accounts, but now she was pivoting to run for a party leadership position in the House. She has since dropped that effort, but her name continues to be pushed by everyone from Republican colleagues to far-left activists for an even bigger role: a spot in Biden’s Cabinet to head up the agency that manages U.S. public lands, natural resources and Indian affairs.
If that happens, Haaland’s already trailblazing career would reach echelons never before touched by a Native American. A tribal citizen of the Laguna Pueblo, Haaland would not only be the first Native person to oversee the Department of Interior, which handles much of the federal government’s nation-to-nation relationship with the 574 federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native tribal communities, but also the first-ever Native American Cabinet secretary in U.S. history.
In person, Haaland downplayed the momentum that could carry her from her first term in Congress to the Cabinet. “I can’t say I’ve been angling for anything,” she said as we took our seats. “It’s nice to be thought of.”
Despite her modesty, Haaland’s consideration for the role is more than just nice for one individual. It could spell a potentially significant shift on the horizon for all Native Americans, a diverse group whose long and vexed relationship with the U.S. government has made them a strategic voting bloc—as well as an unusually nimble political force.
Read the story on Politico
More of This 1500 people are incarcerated because of “Jim Crow” juries. The Supreme Court could give them a second chance.
The U.S. Supreme Court banned so-called “Jim Crow juries” in April when it ruled 6-3 in Ramos v. Louisiana that non-unanimous verdicts were unconstitutional.
Now, the high court will decide whether the 1,500-plus people still stuck behind bars on split verdicts are entitled to new trials.
On Dec. 2, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Edwards v. Vannoy, which stems from the non-unanimous conviction of a Black Louisiana man on charges of aggravated rape, aggravated kidnapping, and armed robbery.
The case will determine whether the Ramos decision applies retroactively—not just to future cases or those on direct appeal. Depending on how the justices rule, Edwards v. Vannoy could trigger retrials, plea agreements, and dismissals among those affected by divided jury convictions, offering a largely Black inmate population a shot at freedom.
In 48 states and federal courts, the doubts of even a single juror have long been enough to result in a mistrial. But, for years, that wasn’t the case in Louisiana and Oregon—the two states that allowed split verdicts through what some now call “Jim Crow juries.”
In Louisiana, split jury convictions were a product of the state’s desire to silence Black jurors and incarcerate Black defendants, according to Jamila Johnson, managing attorney for the Jim Crow Juries Project at the Louisiana-based Promise of Justice Initiative.
Read the story on Vice
Perspective I wasn’t a superpredator. I was a 14 year old who made a bad choice.
Derrick Hardaway earned his GED and associate’s degree in prison. This spring, at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, he worked for Kenyon International Emergency Services under the chief medical officer of New York. He was released from prison in December 2016 and lives in Chicago.
If someone labels you a superpredator, people are always going to prejudge you. Once you have that label on you, you can’t escape it; it’s stuck there. I want to meet the person who actually came up with that term. I’m not a predator. I was a kid who made a terrible decision, and I was a bully who took on other bullies. But I did not prey on the weak.
I was arrested immediately after the crime, so I was in the detention center and didn’t see any of the newspaper articles about me at the time. They did have the television playing in the day room—I think it was on WGN—and sometimes my case would be on the news. It felt horrible. The way they described me, I was like, Man, you don’t even know me. I didn’t even meet a journalist in person until after I was in prison.
All these doctors and specialists came in to see me when I was in juvenile detention. It was like, Y’all are adults, and I’m a kid. But y'all don’t want to get to know me, you want to research me.
We kept trying to push the trial back so that the media coverage would fade. But when the trial started two years later, the case just exploded. I tried to look as young as possible at the trial, but I was already very tall. I also tried to keep a still face. The lawyers tell you not to react to things that people say in the courtroom, but then the media said my face showed no remorse.
Then the media said I smiled when the judge announced my sentence. Well, I was facing 20 to 100 years because of the youth of the victim. I thought I was getting 100 years, so when the judge said 45, I smiled a little bit with relief. I tried to hold it in, but I cracked a little smile.
Read the story on Marshall Project
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