#ChangeLawyers This lawyer fights social injustice through graffiti art
Camilo Fidel López eats, drinks, thinks, sleeps and breathes graffiti.
Where the average eye sees empty and drab building walls, Mr. López, the founder of the graffiti artists crew Vértigo Graffiti, sees blank canvases, opportunities to colorfully further the cause of social justice, whether in his home city — the Colombian capital, Bogotá — or the rest of the world.
Looking younger than his 38 years, sporting a scruffy beard, wearing jeans and an untucked casual shirt, he was constantly on the move recently crisscrossing Bogotá, which has become one of the world’s top graffiti destinations.
A few days later he was wandering the cobblestoned back alleys of Cartagena, a historic coastal Colombian city that is also famous for its graffiti art. And several months later he was still on the go — this time in Turkey with his crew.
Not a graffiti artist himself, Mr. López plays multiple roles: art director, business manager, promoter, negotiator, lawyer, entrepreneur, festival producer, even tour guide. He is, in addition, a professor of entertainment law and cultural industries at the Jorge Tadeo Lozano University in Bogotá.
He refused to give himself a job title. “My job is to start conversations,” he said succinctly, in one of the few times he was succinct.
He now plays a key role at the forefront of a street art revolution that reflects his nation’s new face of pride and self-expression.
He sprinkles his nonstop passionate discourses on the importance of graffiti with references to great thinkers and authors — John Cheever, Umberto Eco and Aristotle, in one recent disquisition.
But his most frequent references are to the Nobel Prize-winning Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez, whom Mr. López refers to by his nickname, Gabo. “This line from Gabo’s 2004 novella “Memories of My Melancholy Whores” defines my philosophy: ‘It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams.”
Mr. López is the son of two academics and staunch socialists, whose beliefs are reflected in his name: Fidel, for the former Cuban leader, Fidel Castro; and Camilo, after Camilo Cienfuegos, a close comrade in Castro’s guerrilla army who died in a plane crash shortly after the Cuban revolutionaries ousted the dictator Fulgencio Batista.
But Mr. López’s path to a passion that arguably has revolutionary impact — and that satisfied his parents — was often circuitous.
Urged by his parents to gain the best education and then turn it into a fight for social justice, he decided to become a lawyer. Having graduated from one of Bogotá’s top law schools, Mr. López turned his sights to Harvard Law School, and was shattered when he was rejected.
That Harvard rejection, however, inadvertently led to his current occupation.
“I was 28, my life was turned upside down,” Mr. López said. “So I went from Cambridge, Mass., to Manhattan to bury my sorrows and blow off steam.”
Read the story on NY Times
More of This Civil rights lawyer writes book about “legalized genocide” of people of color
There is indeed value in learning about the Civil Rights Movement and the men and women who fought for justice, equal opportunity, and an end to the constant discrimination that is littered throughout our country. What we can’t forget is that there are champions within our midst today who are doing just as much today as was done back in the day.
One of those modern-day heroes is attorney Benjamin Crump, who first became a national figure when he represented the families of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, two, young, unarmed Black men, shot and killed for no other reason than being Black in America.
Now, in his new book, Open Season: Legalized Genocide of Colored People (Amistad, 2019), Crump examines several ways in which African Americans are being used as “target practice” and offers a systematic plan on how we can begin to change this course of action. He draws on his experiences as the legal listening ear who has been called on to support dozens of Black families in their greatest time of sorrow. In fact, the book was written in response to what many consider the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“One thing that was very vivid in my mind in writing the book was when I was in Ferguson and we were out there with the protestors. This young boy, who had to be in his late teens, went in front of the national guard and he was literally screaming at them with no fear saying, ‘Go ahead and kill me now so the world can see how y’all killing us,” recalls Crump.
“He was right. It’s important that the world see what is happening to us, but not just with bullets but more poignantly how they are killing us every day, in every city, in every state, in every courtroom in America on trumped-up charges. It’s time we hold a mirror to America’s face so they can see it for themselves and admit that we can do better.”
Crump doesn’t just use his own observations to build Open Season: Legalized Genocide of Colored People into what should be a required primer for understanding racism and injustice against marginalized communities in this country. He also pulls from expert analysis that dissects race and class through economics, environmentalism, gender, religion, sexuality, and other prisms. And yet, what makes the book so fascinating are those personal, behind-the-scenes reflections from the most well-known to those that temporarily touched national headlines.
Stories like that of 40-year old, Terence Crutcher, a Tulsa, Okla., man who died in 2016 by the hands of then-officer Betty Jo Shelby., and whose family Crump represented.
Along with her partner, Shelby responded to a call about a vehicle blocking traffic on the highway. When the two officers pulled up to Crutcher, who was experiencing car trouble, they contend that he was reaching for a gun in his car, except multiple video angles showed him complying to their demands to put his hands up. Nonetheless, Shelby shot Crutcher because she felt he was a threat to her life. It’s the tale of yet another unarmed Black man, shot by a white police officer where accountability and justice are completely forfeited.
After Shelby was acquitted of first-degree manslaughter charges for Crutcher’s death, a district judge has allowed all documents involving her case to be sealed and eventually destroyed after 10 years. The only way to access the records is by a court order. In a decade, it’s as if Betty Shelby did nothing to him that day while his family continues to mourn. She has since taken a law enforcement job in a nearby county.
Read the story on The Grio
More of This Too The largest single day commutation in US history
In a flurry of signatures Friday afternoon, Oklahoma moved one step closer to shucking its distinction as the state with the highest incarceration rate in the United States. On Monday afternoon, 527 people serving low-level drug and nonviolent offenses will go free in what Oklahoma lawmakers are calling the largest single-day commutation in both state and U.S. history.
The commutation is a success for criminal justice reform efforts in a state that has a long history of harsh sentencing practices and high incarceration rates. It’s also evidence of the Republican-dominated legislature’s willingness to move closer in line with the majority of voters who favor a less punitive approach. The historic commutations come amid nationwide efforts to reduce punishment of low-level crimes and move the U.S. prison system in a more rehabilitative — or at least less punitive — direction.
Criminal justice reform advocates like Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, agreed that the commutation news signaled a change but cautioned that the road ahead will be a long one.
“From the 30,000-foot view, the criminal justice landscape is light-years ahead of where it was three or four years ago,” Kiesel told The Washington Post. “It would have been impossible before State Question 780 passed in Oklahoma; that signaled to lawmakers there was an appetite for reform.”
In 2016, Oklahoma voters approved State Question 780 and 781, a pair of ballot measures that reclassified certain simple drug possession and nonviolent property crimes under $1,000 as misdemeanors instead of felonies and mandated that the cost savings would go to drug treatment and rehabilitation services. In January, a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers voted to make the 2016 laws apply retroactively.
The commutations are just a fraction of the state’s 26,334-person state prison population, but they mean a second chance for the hundreds of incarcerated people who will be freed as a result.
Read the story on Washington Post
Less of This These prosecutors won office vowing to fight the system. The system is fighting back.
Prosecutors in Boston went to court days after the controversial “Straight Pride Parade” this summer with plans to drop some of the cases against counterprotesters, deeming one disorderly conduct charge “inappropriate.”
When the judge pushed back, attempting to continue that prosecution over their objections, District Attorney Rachael Rollins publicly denounced him and appealed to the state’s high court. She won a judgment stating that Judge Richard J. Sinnott had overstepped his authority.
It was the kind of action Rollins had promised voters when running for office in Suffolk County, Mass., last year, pledging fewer lower-level prosecutions as she took aim at the criminal justice system. That approach quickly propelled Rollins into the heart of a clash over the future of district attorneys, a remarkably public debate pitting law enforcement officials against each other across the country.
“We’re getting back to the work that the people of Suffolk County elected me to do,” Rollins told reporters after the high court backed her in September, “and changing a system that doesn’t work well for a majority of people that come into contact with it.”
Rollins is among more than two dozen recently elected prosecutors who are pushing progressive policies across the country — including in Philadelphia, Dallas and Orlando — and breaking from decades of tough-on-crime thinking. Progressive candidates are also on the ballot Tuesday in closely-watched prosecutor elections in Virginia and San Francisco.
Progressive prosecutors, as they are generally known, have been elected on platforms that included abandoning cash bail, declining low-level charges, not pursuing marijuana cases and closely scrutinizing police conduct, in efforts to reform a system that they say overincarcerates and disproportionately punishes poor people and racial minorities.
They vowed to change that system, but the system is fighting back. Powerful figures — including lawmakers, governors, police union leaders, fellow district attorneys and Trump administration officials — have been sharply critical, with some saying progressive prosecutors are improperly using their roles to decline charges and arguing that their policies will drive up crime rates.
After Dallas District Attorney John Creuzot said he would not prosecute certain crimes, the Texas governor and attorney general accused him of promoting “lawlessness.” In San Antonio, District Attorney Joe Gonzales pledged to reject criminal trespass charges for homeless people, a decision that the police union assailed as “a total abdication of [a] D.A.’s responsibility, which is to hold the guilty accountable.”
In Philadelphia, where the district attorney directed prosecutors to seek less severe sentences and not impose charges for some offenses, U.S. Attorney William M. McSwain accused him of causing a “public safety crisis” there.
“The role of the prosecutor in America today is clearly to enforce the law and not to make the law and not to pretend that you’re a legislator,” McSwain said.
District Attorney Larry Krasner dismissed McSwain as an “attack dog” echoing rhetoric from President Trump, who has criticized progressive prosecutors.
Read the story on Washington Post
Second Chances This formerly incarcerated YouTube star uses her platform to talk openly about her time behind bars
In May 2008, when Christina Randall was released from prison after serving nearly three years for battery, robbery and escape, she had nothing but $30 and the brand-new, ill-fitting clothes on her back. She took up in a women’s shelter in South Florida, eight hours away from her friends and family, with a plan to start fresh.
First, she got a job as a line cook at Wendy’s. “I worked my butt off cooking chicken nuggets and French fries,” Ms. Randall, 35, said, in order to save for a car. Then she enrolled in an undergraduate program, where she studied social work while employed as a janitor. “I’ve always wanted to help people,” she said.
But after graduation, she couldn’t get hired; history always seemed to get in the way. Once, she said, she was offered a role working with children, but the organization promptly rescinded the offer after running a background check. “I went home and cried for like three days,” she said. “I felt like I’d hit a brick wall.”
For a long time, Ms. Randall didn’t think she would ever get to do the work. Then she started a YouTube channel. In the three years since, she’s brought more than 400,000 subscribers — “my lovelies, my beauties, my friends,” as she calls them in her videos. She’s a lot like other creators in the lifestyle category, except that in addition to sharing beauty tips, wedding-day memories and unboxing videos, she also talks candidly about life behind bars and the process of re-entry.
Ms. Randall is one of a handful of former prisoners building an audience on YouTube. She has explained the “unspoken rules of prison,” showed her viewers how to turn coffee grounds and water into makeshift jailhouse mascara, and interviewed a former correctional officer about corruption among prison guards. But most importantly, she has offered an empathic, first-person perspective on incarceration.
“I have a lot of sons, mothers, daughters, fathers, aunts, uncles, grandparents of people in prison who watch my videos to understand better what the person might be going through,” she said.
Most of Ms. Randall’s viewers are American, in the 18-to-34 age bracket and women (92 percent, according to data from YouTube). Some of them send fan mail. Earlier this year, Ms. Randall received a note from a woman who saw her story as a cautionary tale. “I was starting to walk a bad path and I started to hang around the wrong sort of people,” the viewer wrote, “but seeing your videos and hearing your story helped me find the right path and better friends.”
Read the story on NY Times
Perspective #MeToo has shown how labor law does not protect working women
Julie Kohler is a fellow in residence at the National Women's Law Center and a senior advisor at the Democracy Alliance, a progressive donor network.
On the second anniversary of #MeToo, we are here again: wondering if allegations against a prominent man will provoke the deeper change that is needed to address our nation’s endemic problem of sexual harassment and assault. This time, it’s a result of Ronan Farrow’s new book, Catch and Kill, which contains an on-the-record allegation that former Today show anchor Matt Lauer anally raped former NBC producer Brooke Nevils—horrific details that were not made public at the time of Lauer’s firing in November 2017.
Two years after the story of Harvey Weinstein’s abuses was broken by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey at The New York Times and Farrow at The New Yorker, we have yet to understand its true lessons. We must shift our gaze from the lurid details of individual allegations. Yes, the stories, traumatic and salacious, matter. But underlying the stories are workplace rules and cultures that leave millions of women chronically vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. The time has come to name those policies and practices for what they are: a form of soft corruption.
People understand that public corruption is rampant. We need look no further than the current presidential campaign, which includes a prominent focus on combating the ways that powerful people use influence-peddling to rig government for their own benefit—and against the public interest.
But corruption is not limited to government. The real takeaway from the Weinstein investigation, compellingly recounted in Kantor and Twohey’s She Said, was not Weinstein’s serial predation but the ways in which he was aided and abetted by a complex system: lawyers, Hollywood agents, private intelligence agencies, and a board of directors that viewed its job as protecting the company from legal liability and reputational damage that could hurt its bottom line. Together, they allowed Weinstein to write his own rules so that he was shielded from accountability for decades.
Money and influence have rigged the rules of entire industries, entwining the institutional interests of companies like Fox, CBS, and NBC News (Farrow takes particular aim at the latter in his book) with those of the powerful men within them. “The stories that we have been doing are about a system,” Irin Carmon said when accepting the Mirror Award for her reporting (with Amy Brittain) on Charlie Rose’s serial sexual harassment. “The system has lawyers and a good reputation. It has publicists. It has a perfectly reasonable explanation about what happened.”
“Complicity machines” are not limited to the rich and powerful. The reason that millions of women saw ourselves in the Weinstein story—the reason it ignited a movement—was because the allegations exposed the vulnerability that many millions of working women face. Everyday workplaces may not have high-powered attorneys on retainer or special deals with tabloids to “catch and kill” allegations. But they are still guided by a perverse incentive structure that traps women in toxic, or even dangerous, jobs.
The Weinstein investigation helped shine a light on the way common legal and workplace practices such as nondisclosure agreements and forced arbitration became tools for protecting powerful interests, silencing accusers, and restricting their access to justice. But we have yet to devote comparable attention to parallel complicity machines for working-class and poor women, who are disproportionately women of color. The lack of good jobs, the power of employers, and weak labor law: These are the conditions in which sexual harassment and assault continue to flourish. Harassment is rampant in low-wage industries. Forty percent of female fast-food workers report that they had experienced sexual harassment on the job. Twice as many restaurant workers working in states that pay the federal sub-minimum wage of $2.13 per hour experience sexual harassment as those working in states with “one fair wage.”
Labor law has not kept up with today’s fragmented, fissured workplaces. The laws that are on the books are not enforced by any reasonable standard. Bad deals, like non-compete agreements, favor employers and confine workers. These rules reinforce a culture that dismisses poor women’s allegations and allows harassment to continue unabated.
Read the story on The Nation
Drag Show in Support of Asylum Seekers
Join us for a night of drinks and dancing, drag and delectable delicacies. Proceeds benefit Oasis Legal Services, the leading legal services provider for LGBTQ immigrants on the West Coast, serving hundreds of asylum seekers every year.
November 7. Register here >
What does the future of the judiciary look like?
How do we build a judiciary that reflects the people and values of California? To help shine light on how the process actually works, our panelists will share their stories of how they were elevated to their judgeships. We will also discuss how we can build the necessary structures for law students and lawyers from all backgrounds, including public interest, to become successful candidates for the state and federal bench.
November 20. Register here >
Celebrate 25 years of CAIR-SFBA
What began as a group of volunteers mobilizing to serve the community has become the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights organization. We’re expecting upwards of 1,300 people to participate in this year’s celebration event, making it one of the largest Muslim galas in the country.
Register here >