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Experiences at the interface of life, law, and motherhood in Cali

Black Justice Matters

12063017_138484169836912_519062007_nIt is really no exaggeration to state that as a public interest minded lawyer, the opportunities for meaningful service are never ending. In fact, upon reading a letter authored by the new California State Bar President, I contacted his office on this matter. I’m sure the lure of the ACLU that initially brought me to law school in the first place has a little to do with that drive to help others through the law as well.

Recently, I have been listening to Hard Knock radio, on KPFA, which I highly recommend, and it tends to reinforce the message that we see played out across so many different political issues: the information we receive is highly controlled. I came across an image on Instagram recently that said something along the lines of, the two biggest myths Americans believe are 1) the government would never do anything like that to us; and 2) if they did, they would tell us about it on TV.

One of the things I love about social media, is that in addition to being able to connect with new people, and come across interesting accounts, there is often an opportunity for a share of information that goes beyond the typically “comfortable dialogue. For example, I was appalled when I heard about the following case:

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And yet, I am sure many black Americans are not shocked. They have seen this injustice play out time and again. I pulled the following info from a news article on the case:
Although killing a police dog would be a third-degree felony, it would not count as murder, and besides, 5-year-old Drake was no longer on the force, having recently retired from the PBSO K9 unit due to a burned-out nose from too much drug-sniffing. But DiMola gave an ultimatum anyway: Confess to the shooting and face an animal cruelty charge or don’t confess and face charges of shooting a cop, he told the teen. “Will I go into a program or something?” Ivins asked. “Probably. You’re a juvenile,” DiMola answered. “Will it affect my school work? Can I still go to a university?” Ivins countered.DiMola said confessing wouldn’t impact Ivins future plans. “Ivins, help me to help you, because as soon as we part, I won’t be able to help you,” DiMola said. “I see a little guy in front of me. I see a 16-year-old boy who just told me he wants to go to college, that he wants to make something of himself, and I never hear ‘college’ out of kids. You’re in 11th grade. You know, it sounds like you want to have a future.” Should a Juvenile Serve 23 Years for Shooting a Retired Police Dog?
Ivins eventually mumbled that he shot Drake “two or three times” in the master bedroom but denied shooting the first bullets through the sliding glass door — and he wouldn’t say who did.Yet there would be no leniency for Ivins. Local news would plaster his name and face next to images of a bandaged-up dog. Infuriated dog lovers would seek revenge for the death of Drake. Their calls would be heard by prosecutors, who would utilize a one-two punch of Florida laws to charge Ivins as an adult, resulting in an extraordinarily long sentence for a teenager.It’s two years longer than the average time served in Florida for murder.Florida’s “direct file” law gives prosecutors — not judges — the power to decide whether teenagers are charged as juveniles rather than adults. The measure has long been decried by defense attorneys and juvenile advocates and was spotlighted by human rights activists in a report last year. Direct file, critics say, denies the youngest citizens access to a system that was designed precisely to address their age and immaturity.

Prosecutors called Ivins a “career criminal” and chose to charge him as an adult — a decision the state attorney defends to this day. Then, because of Florida’s mandatory minimum sentencing laws, he faced a minimum of 20 years because his crime involved a gun. So instead of being sentenced to a three-year juvenile program based on rehabilitation or receiving a “youthful offender” sentence of six years — likely outcomes had he been granted leniency due to his age — Ivins got slammed with a 23-year sentence in state prison for killing a dog. That’s seven years longer than he had been alive. It’s two years longer than the average time served in Florida for murder.

hange.org petition urged Drake supporters to bombard Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg with letters, emails, and phone calls. The 9,000 people who signed it asked the young, Harvard-educated prosecutor to punish Ivins to the fullest extent of the law. “ABSOLUTELY NO PLEA DEALS ON THIS CHARGE,” wrote Billie Young from New Smyrna, Florida. “There was NO REASON for the KILLER to have shot an innocent dog, especially a K-9 that is trained as an enforcer of the law.” Vicky Frederick from Canada had a less sympathetic take. “JUST KILL HIM!” she wrote.

His mother points out the “affluenza” story of white 16-year-old Texas teen Ethan Couch, who was given ten years’ probation and no prison time for killing four people in a drunk-driving case from February 2014. She also points out the story of 13-year-old Nathaniel Brazill, who in 2000 murdered his teacher and was sentenced to 28 years in prison. http://www.browardpalmbeach.com/news/should-a-juvenile-serve-23-years-for-shooting-a-retired-police-dog-6465166

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In response, one of my lawyer friends turned my attention to another case, perhaps even more deprave? If that is possible.

Kalief Browder (http://solitarywatch.com/2015/06/29/kalief-browders-life-and-death-galvanize-action-to-end-solitary-confinement/)

Browder’s story, in which he was held on Rikers Island for three years beginning at the age of 16, spent an accumulated two of those years in solitary confinement, and was ultimately released without a trial or charges,

Kalief shortly thereafter committed suicide.

In his book Just Mercy, which is ironically being offered for sale in select Starbuck’s locations, Bryan Stephenson proffers that the opposite of being poor is not wealth, but rather justice. Further, he states that by the rate at which individuals are being sentenced and incarcerated, “one in every three black male babies born in this century is expected to be incarcerated.”

But not all hope is lost.

I became more attuned to what was going on with the black lives movement following Ferguson. I had happened to just be getting more involved with Twitter, and of course we saw how it played out as an effective means of communicating the injustices as they were happening. It’s not that I wasn’t paying attention before, it’s more that I was too naive to think that the stories that were even garnering coverage could actually be true. I’m not sure if it’s more white privilege, lawyerly skepticism, or good ole American ignorance. I mean I could not believe South Carolina was still flying the Confederate flag when that became a regular news story. And that they had to have a vote! Apparently, others agreed it should be taken down sooner, rather than later.

Hearing the interview of a lawyer of this fine organization on Hard Knock radio was truly inspiring.

There is much work to be done. It’s time to put the activate into activist. Step one is acknowledging that something is very very wrong.

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