Read This Book The lawyer who wants to redefine public safety
Do you feel safe — in your home, your community, your school, your workplace? What would make you feel more or less safe? What does being safe even mean?
When we think about feeling “unsafe,” we might picture a robber breaking into our house at night or chasing us down a dark alley. In Zach Norris’ new book, We Keep Us Safe, he encourages us to redefine our notions of public safety — to not just include the exceedingly rare case of destructive, stranger-based violence, but to encompass both physical and psychological well-being, and the everyday, persistent violence inflicted by economic systems that leave people lacking the means to achieve their basic needs. As the executive director of the Ella Baker Center, a NYU law graduate and long-time activist, Norris brings both philosophy and real-life experience to the table in encouraging us to broaden our notions of safety.
It’s true, we are deeply unsafe as a society — because we fail to take care of the majority of people living in poverty, under a punitive system of mass incarceration, without providing people the opportunity to build stable lives. Norris notes that our current punishment-focused system isn’t making us safer — and if anything, it significantly destabilizes the economic status of millions of citizens, and makes us collectively weaker. His argument is that we need to address the systemic roots of harm: structural racism and disinvestment, and a punitive system that dehumanizes and isolates people instead of fostering accountability. Real safety, he argues, will be achieved when we invest in a “culture of care” that includes and dignifies all people.
Read the story on Forbes
Watch This I want to be the advocate I never had
Annel Becerra is law student at Columbia Law and a ChangeLawyers℠ Scholar.
Podcast of the Week What would a world without prisons look like?
Mass incarceration is now widely regarded as a prejudiced and deeply harmful set of policies. Bipartisan support exists for some degree of criminal-justice reform, and, in some circles, the idea of prison abolition is also gaining traction. Kai Wright, the host of the WNYC podcast “The United States of Anxiety,” spoke about the movement with Paul Butler, a law professor and former federal prosecutor who saw firsthand the damage that prosecution causes, and sujatha baliga, a MacArthur Foundation fellow and a survivor of sexual violence who leads the Restorative Justice Project at the nonprofit Impact Justice. “Prison abolition doesn’t mean that everybody who’s locked up gets to come home tomorrow,” Butler explains. Instead, activists envision a gradual process of “decarceration,” and the creation of alternative forms of justice and harm reduction. “Abolition, to my mind, isn’t just about ending the prisons,” baliga adds. “It’s about ending binary processes which pit us as ‘us, them,’ ‘right, wrong’; somebody has to be lying, somebody’s telling the truth. That is not the way that we get to healing.
Public interest lawyer Bryan Stevenson lives in Alabama and is the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, which works to combat injustice in the U.S. legal system. The new movie, Just Mercy, is an adaptation of his 2014 memoir of the same name. He says that the fact that his state honors Lee at all — let alone on the same day as King — is a sign that America has not acknowledged the evils of its past.
Listen the story on The New Yorker
More of This This prosecutor is on a quest to solve gun violence
On August 14, Philadelphia police tried to serve a man named Maurice Hill with an arrest warrant for a drug charge. Hill had an extensive criminal history that included robbery, aggravated assault, and illegal possession of a gun. He was also armed with an AK-47. As police moved in, he started firing, and by the time he surrendered, eight hours later, six officers had been wounded.
The next day, the federal prosecutor for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Bill McSwain, blamed the confrontation not on Hill, but on the preeminent public official charged with upholding the law in Philadelphia. “The crisis was precipitated by a stunning disrespect for law enforcement,” McSwain said in a statement. “There is a new culture of disrespect for law enforcement in this city that is promoted and championed by District Attorney Larry Krasner.”
It is the kind of accusation that Krasner, 59, has grown accustomed to hearing ever since he won election in 2017. The left-wing prosecutor, who emphatically rejects the tough-on-crime philosophy that has prevailed for decades in cities across the country, has been called pro-criminal and anti-police, the “worst district attorney” in America, and a stooge of liberal billionaire George Soros.
Despite McSwain’s attempt to blame Krasner for the Hill shooting, court documents uncovered by The Appeal showed that Hill had repeatedly been released following arrests because he had acted as an informant for the local federal prosecutors’ office—that is, at the behest of McSwain’s predecessor. And Hill surrendered only after his attorney got in touch with Krasner, who went to the scene to persuade Hill he’d be safe if he turned himself in for arrest.
Still, Krasner doesn’t expect the attacks against him to stop. That’s because he is the most prominent—some would say the most radical and pugnacious—figure among a new crop of prosecutors who are seeking to reshape a broken criminal justice system. Unlike traditional prosecutors, Krasner does not measure success by accumulating convictions and toting up lengthy prison sentences. Instead, he has promised to address abuses by the criminal justice system and imprison fewer people for less time. And he thinks all of that can drive down gun crime.
Read the story on The New Republic
More of This Too Judge reverses conviction of border volunteers who helped immigrants
A FEDERAL JUDGE in Tucson, Arizona, reversed the conviction of four humanitarian aid volunteers on religious freedom grounds Monday, ruling that the government had embraced a “gruesome logic” that criminalizes “interfering with a border enforcement strategy of deterrence by death.”
The reversal, written by U.S. District Judge Rosemary Márquez, marked the latest rebuke of the Trump administration’s crackdown on humanitarian aid providers in southern Arizona, and the second time in matter of months that a religious freedom defense has prevailed in a federal case involving the provision of aid to migrants in the borderlands.
The defendants in the case — Natalie Hoffman, Oona Holcomb, Madeline Huse, and Zaachila Orozco-McCormick — were fined and given probation in March of last year for entering the Cabeza Prieta Wildlife Refuge in the summer of 2017 without a permit, driving on a restricted access road and leaving food, water, and other humanitarian aid supplies for migrants passing through in the summer heat. They were the first among a group of volunteers with the faith-based humanitarian group, No More Deaths, to go to trial for their aid work in 2019.
Read the story on The Intercept
Say It Louder Harvey Weinstein’s walker reinforces harmful stereotypes of people with disabilities
Jasmine E. Harris is a professor at the law school at the University of California-Davis.
Harvey Weinstein’s walker is playing a featured role at his trial. The decrepit-looking Mr. Weinstein, body hunched as he slowly rolls forward, contrasts sharply with his former image as a domineering Hollywood power broker now accused of rape and predatory sexual assault.
Whether Mr. Weinstein needs a walker or the assistance of aides to help him in court because of recent back surgery, as his lawyers claim, is beyond the point. Seeing him lean on the walker or appear to struggle without it does more than just capture attention. The image creates impressions and can reinforce prejudices.
To the judge, jurors, lawyers, reporters and onlookers the walker conveys an image, accurate or not, of physical weakness and dependence — what I call the “the aesthetics of disability.” These physical and behavioral markers of disability produce visceral responses in jurors and the public that can lead them to be more (or less) sympathetic when weighing a defendant’s liability, public responsibility and, in the end, punishment.
Disability aesthetics play a critical role in jury deliberations because, unlike race, gender, socioeconomic status or sexuality, people believe disability is fundamentally different and warrants differential treatment. Jurors swear an oath to decide the facts given to them based on the evidence presented. They also rely on their “common base of knowledge and experience,” as one court put it, to judge the credibility and persuasiveness of witness testimony.
But their common base of knowledge and experience about disability is at best incomplete or inaccurate, and so, by default, jurors will rely on a flawed set of beliefs when they see victims and defendants who appear in someway disabled. While wheelchairs, walkers and other mobility devices are often associated with dependence, many people use them to achieve greater freedom of movement and overall independence.
Read the story on NY Times