Perspective My parents raised me while they were incarcerated
Chesa Boudin is the district attorney of the City and County of San Francisco.
Toward the end of a weekend trailer visit to my incarcerated father in New York State in 1992, when I was 12, I had an emotional meltdown—and not for the first time. Trailer visits are occasional overnight accommodations provided to family members of people serving long sentences who’ve kept a good disciplinary record. On that particular weekend, I’d brought a stack of homework that I had to complete before school on Monday. We’d had a couple of happy days together, cooking epic meals of fresh vegetables, tofu, and brown rice, playing chess and cards, watching movies—even as I refused his advice to do my homework the whole time. (Sound familiar?) On the second and last night, I had a temper tantrum: I didn’t want to do my homework, or at least that was the trigger for a lot of pent-up emotion. The joy of every prison visit was punctured by the grim realization that I was going to have to leave, and that my dad would not be coming with me. In a fit, I threw all my homework out the window into the dark, windy yard. In that otherwise banal act of rebellion, I created a terrible dilemma for my father. He could leave the trailer to chase down my papers in the dark before they blew away, violating a prison rule and risking a discipline violation, or “ticket,” which would not only tarnish his perfect record but also forfeit future visits with me. Or he could protect himself and our access to the trailer visits by doing nothing, sending me home the next day without my schoolwork. He put me first.
When I was 14 months old, my parents, David Gilbert and Kathy Boudin, dropped me off with a babysitter. They never came back. That day, while I was playing, my parents drove a van used as a switch car in a bungled armed robbery. Though neither of my parents was armed or intended for anyone to get hurt, two police officers and a security guard were killed. My parents were arrested and charged with felony murder—an anachronistic legal doctrine that allows prosecutors to punish almost any participant in a serious crime resulting in death, no matter their role, with murder. In one of the countless capricious outcomes of the criminal justice system, my mother ended up serving 22 years while my father received a minimum 75-year sentence. Though they played nearly identical roles in the crime itself, my father refused legal representation and went to trial, ultimately getting convicted of all the charges and receiving the maximum possible sentence. By contrast, my mother had excellent lawyers and, on the eve of her trial, pleaded guilty for a negotiated sentence. After 39 years, my father remains incarcerated. Absent a change in law or a grant of clemency from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, he will not be eligible for parole until he is 112 years old.
I don’t remember that tragic day, of course—getting picked up by my grandparents or, weeks later, being taken into a new family that already had two young children, who were now my older brothers and would become, in time, my loving defenders and greatest supporters. But I do remember, from my earliest days, waiting in lines to get through metal detectors, steel gates, and pat searches just to see my parents, just to give them a hug. I did not understand that my parents’ crime had been organized by the Black Liberation Army, and that they were in it not for money but because of a misguided vision of radical racial solidarity. Yet, even as a small child, I noticed that the lines at the prison gates were mostly made up of Black and brown women and children. Those kids and I had all paid a price for our parents’ mistakes, and for our country’s retributive obsession with prisons.
Read the story on The Nation
More of This The lawyer who does social justice poetry on the side
Three weeks before George Floyd lost his life at the hands of Minneapolis police, a Whitby, Ontario-based lawyer wrote a poem called “I Can’t Breathe.” It was inspired by the death of Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed Black man who was fatally shot while out for a jog in Georgia, but its message and devastatingly prophetic title gave it a new relevance when Floyd uttered the same exact phrase moments before dying under the literal knee of the law.
Performing under the name Pen Moodz, Hamud Mbarak began sharing his perspective through spoken word poetry on his Instagram channel. When another of his pieces, “Maybe If It Was Me,” went viral, he spun it into a charity, printing shirts that read “Know Justice, Know Peace,” which were picked up and worn by members of the Los Angeles Lakers, including J.R. Smith.
You’re a lawyer by profession and a poet by choice. So who’s the first guy, Hamud?
Hamud is an individual who’s determined and built upon the principles of perseverance and self-belief. My belief in myself has never wavered. I would’ve quit this game a long time ago, you know? I started law school in 2010 and I literally qualified 10 years later in 2019. Today I’m actually the in-house counsel for a tech firm that sells software and hardware.
And who is Pen Moodz?
Yeah! Yo! Let’s Go! [Laughs.] So, I had an individual in my family who got really sick and it was a very challenging time for my family. And I’m the type of person who keeps their circle extremely close and tight, and even within that I don’t really show much. So my only outlet to deal with my own mental health was to write. And I would just write in my Notes on my phone, just expressing my emotions, my dark, and sometimes scary feelings that I was facing and contemplating. It’s ironic, but it was actually on world mental health day in September, 2019 that I shared my first piece. That was the beginning of my spoken word journey. Today, Pen Moodz speaks truth to power.
Where did “I Can’t Breathe” come from?
I saw the death of Ahmaud Arbery earlier in the year and I wouldn’t put my mind to it because I didn’t want it to bring me down to the depths… I didn’t want to go to that dark spot. But then on May 6, LeBron James catches it, posts on his Twitter and it goes viral. Now the entire community, the world is paying attention to it. And not only that , but it’s happening in the middle of a pandemic, so I had no choice but to engage with it. I went to sleep that night angry, and then I woke up at 5:30 in the morning and I was livid. And the only way I knew how to deal with my own emotions and to process my thoughts was to write. So I wrote a poem called “I Can’t Breathe” three weeks before George Floyd was killed.
Read the story on Complex
Say it Louder The killing of George Floyd is about to go to trial. Black people must be on the jury.
Paul Butler is a lawyer and writer focused on issues of policing, criminal justice and race.
Jury selection begins this week in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin who is charged with killing George Floyd — the most high-profile police brutality trial in U.S. history. The jury that decides Chauvin’s fate must include African Americans if its verdict is to have any legitimacy.
In presiding over jury selection in Chauvin’s case, Hennepin County District Judge Peter A. Cahill’s most important test for jurors will be simple: “Can you set aside what you have heard and decide the case based only on the evidence presented?”
Yet no sentient human being should be able to forget watching the agonizing video of Floyd’s death, nine excruciating minutes with the White police officer’s knee pressing on the Black man’s neck. The incident sparked the largest social justice movement in U.S. history — focused on anti-Black racism. Now there are two competing imperatives: Chauvin deserves a fair trial and the impartial jury guaranteed to him by the Constitution. Black people deserve representation in the process.
The Supreme Court has never held that Black people are required on a specific jury. The Constitution simply prohibits their exclusion from the pool of possible jurors. But the court has also stated that in “race-related” cases, it’s useful to have African American jurors because “public confidence in the integrity of the criminal justice system is essential for preserving community peace.”
Race is — and should be — an imperfect proxy for how a juror will vote. But no one should imagine that either the prosecution or defense will be colorblind during the three-week jury selection process.
Cahill must pay close attention to race, as well. He should closely scrutinize the selection process to assure that African Americans are not only in the pool of prospective jurors but that they are also included among the 12 people who will sit in judgment of Chauvin. This should not be difficult in a city where Blacks make up approximately 20 percent of the population.
Read the story on Washington Post
Speaking Of… Jurors can be rejected for being gay. The Equality Act will change that.
The House of Representatives is poised this week to vote on the Equality Act, a landmark assemblage of LGBTQ anti-discrimination measures that’s gotten strong support from President Joe Biden.
If passed, the law would explicitly provide protections to LGBTQ people across key areas, including employment, housing, education, public accommodations and federally funded programs.
But one provision in the bill could also have a big impact on how the gay community interacts with the American legal system. It would bar attorneys from rejecting prospective jurors simply because they are LGBTQ.
Though there are some classifications that cannot be used as criteria for pre-emptive exclusion during jury selection — including race and gender — sexual orientation and gender identity aren’t among them currently.
That means a litigator can make sure a lesbian plaintiff in a discrimination suit has an all-straight jury. And a prosecutor can pre-emptively strike an LGBTQ juror from a case involving a transgender defendant.
Read the story on NBC News
Less of This One year into lockdown, some jails are filled almost entirely with young people of color.
White youths were being released from juvenile detention centers at a far higher rate than their Black peers during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, and young people of color have since been detained for longer than they were before the crisis, according to data gathered by a leading children’s philanthropy.
So many kids were freed from jail last year that by late summer, fewer children were incarcerated than at any point since at least the 1980s. But many youth facilities are increasingly holding almost entirely Black and Latino teens, according to interviews with more than a dozen juvenile justice officials and attorneys in seven states.
Though the racial inequality in youth detention has long been vast, it’s wider than ever, experts say. They point to several possible explanations, including bias from judges and other officials, and young people of color being detained for more serious offenses and having fewer alternatives to incarceration in their communities.
“It’s fitting that in 2020, the year that juxtaposed COVID and racial justice protests, we saw this shrinking of the system — but also a resistance to doing so for young Black people,” said Patricia Soung, a juvenile attorney and former director of youth justice policy for the Children’s Defense Fund in California.
By May 2020, detention centers were releasing White youths at a 17% higher rate than Black youths, according to a monthly survey of juvenile justice agencies in more than 30 states conducted by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
And in the months since, while the number of White youths has remained historically low, the number of Black and Latino youths has risen slightly, said Tom Woods, a senior associate and juvenile justice data analyst for the Casey Foundation.
Read the story on Marshall Project
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