‘Lawyer dog’ case highlights the need for Cultural Awareness Training

Lawyer dog

“Mere access to the courthouse doors does not by itself assure a proper functioning of the adversary process.”  – Thurgood Marshall

Recently news broke about Warren Demesme, a Black man, who told detectives, “…just give me a lawyer dog,” but the police ignored his request. The Louisiana State Supreme Court found the defendant’s reference ‘ambiguous and did not constitute an innovation of counsel that warranted termination of the interview.’ This is simply unconscionable.

It is undisputed that Blacks are racially profiled and discriminated against consistently by law enforcement, due to implicit bias stemming from the horrendous history of this nation. Any police officer in this country therefore should know that in the Black community, the term ‘dog’ or ‘dawg’ refers to another human being.

This case illustrates the crucial need for all police departments to participate in comprehensive Cultural Awareness Training. Learning how to navigate across cultural lines would improve communications and allow for more dignified exchanges between the community and law enforcement, decreasing the probability that individuals’ rights will be violated. The protections we are afforded under the U.S. Constitution, especially the right to counsel, should be applied fairly to all people. Poverty, lack of education, and other social issues should not feed the pipeline to prison.


Podcast: Former AG Eric Holder tired of holding his tongue

Eric Holder

Former Attorney General Eric Holder

In this podcast at Politico, former Attorney General Eric Holder unleashes his opinions on several issues that he’s been holding back on until now. What does he have to say about the possibility of President Trump firing Robert Mueller? What does he think about his indirect successor, Jeff Sessions? He may be “still finding his voice,” but he’s not shy about voicing his opinions.

Click here to listen to the podcast

NAACP issues travel advisory for American Airlines

The NAACP has issued a nationwide travel advisory for traveling on American Airlines. For several months, the NAACP has been monitoring incidents on the airline involving its treatment of African-Americans. The organization says flyers may experience “disrespectful, discriminatory or unsafe conditions” on American Airlines. Recent incidents involve “troublesome conduct” and suggest “a corporate culture of racial insensitivity and possible racial bias on the part of American Airlines.” The president and CEO of the NAACP, Derrick Johnson, said in a statement “All travelers must be guaranteed the right to travel without fear of threat, violence or harm.” The travel advisory is in effect until further notice. To read the complete statement by the NAACP, click here.

Register now for the 2018 Trial Lawyers Summit

As the Trial Lawyers Summit gets closer, rooms at the Loews Miami Beach are filling up fast, and discounts will be disappearing. With attendance limited to 1,000, act now to secure your reservation for the #1 legal conference of the year!

The 2018 Trial Lawyers Summit has several advantages for members of The National Black Lawyers, including collaborating with fellow members and building referral sources. The Trial Lawyers Summit is an outstanding gathering of the finest and most successful attorneys in America, and features seminars designed not only on improving your legal skills, but also your firm marketing and management. In addition, there are several social gatherings and events, including our awards luncheon featuring baseball legend Alex Rodriguez and a concert with three-time Grammy winners The Pointer Sisters.

The seminars include topics ranging from “Trying My First Case” to “Diversity: Not Just a Trend, It’s Important to the Success of Your Practice,” to “Trial Skills – Playing to Your Audience: the Judge, the Jury and the Media.” They’re moderated by some of the most accomplished attorneys in the nation, including Mark O’Mara, Mark Lanier, Howard Nations, Christian Searcy and many more.

The “Trying My First Case” seminar is invaluable to young attorneys, and covers topics ranging from pretrial conferences, administrative details, voir dire, opening statements, direct examinations and other subjects designed to give young lawyers the skills and advantages they’ll need for their first time in the courtroom.

Register now to secure your reservation for the 2018 Trial Lawyers Summit, February 4-7, 2018 at the Loews Miami Beach Hotel in South Beach, Florida! To register and learn even more about the Summit, go to ntlsummit.com. We hope to see you in South Beach in February!

Podcast: Cruel and unusual punishment

death rowIn 1970, Parchman Farm was Mississippi’s “oldest, biggest and most brutal penitentiary,” according to the Washington Post.  In this podcast the the Post, attorney Roy Haber talks about his experience at the prison, where “prisoners were out working the land like slaves on an old Mississippi plantation — picking cotton, being whipped, dying in the fields, 20,000 acres of fields.” Find out more about how Haber was involved in transforming “America’s definition of ‘cruel and unusual punishment.'”

Dove ads reveal need for more blacks in corporate leadership

racial justiceBy NBL member Melanie Bates

Earlier this month, news broke that Dove posted a racially insensitive advertisement on Facebook. The ad appears to depict a Black woman who turns white after using the Dove product. It conveys the faulty message that white is clean and black is dirty. This is not the first time Dove has been scrutinized for publishing racially insensitive advertisements. In an ad with before and after pictures, they showed an array of women and signified the white woman as the desired result. Even worse, the company sold a lotion that had the label “for normal to dark skin,” indicating that dark skin is not normal. Unfortunately, these types of messages in advertising are not new. Blacks have been the subject of racist soap advertisements dating as far back as the 1700s.

As a Black woman, I am outraged by what I saw. The reckless disregard of vetting ads for racially offensive content time and time again is simply unacceptable, especially during a period where our country is the most divided it has been in recent memory. By neglecting to do so, Dove has established a pattern and practice that should not be overlooked. We must demand answers to why these types of ads would make it past top level executives. This therefore speaks to a larger issue of the lack of Black women in corporate leadership. There needs to be more people of color at the top who are empowered to chime in when questionable acts are being contemplated. It is undeniable that racial diversity allows for a variety of innovative ideas leading to more equitable outcomes. Unless we make our voices heard and demand accountability, these despicable acts will continue.

Increasing employment opportunities for D.C.’s returning citizens

By NBL member Melanie Bates

Earlier this week, Georgetown University released a report, African-American Employment, Population & Housing Trends in Washington, D.C. The key findings indicate African-Americans in the District of Columbia have experienced steady patterns of declining income gains, higher unemployment, and lower educational attainment than white residents. The report notes that by 2020, 50% of all new jobs will require at least a bachelor’s degree or above, and nearly 60% will require at least some form of education and training beyond high school. These requirements severely limit the ability of African-Americans to be competitive in the employment market. Further, 60,000 adult African-American D.C. residents have not finished high school, 50% have no formal education past high school (compared to 5% of white residents), and only 12.3% of African-Americans have a bachelor’s degree (compared to 37.1% of white residents). These statistics are devastating.

The constraints discussed in Georgetown University’s report impact the District’s returning citizen population, nearly all whom are African-American, in an even more detrimental way. Approximately 60,000 D.C. residents have a criminal record and each year, an estimated 8,000 residents return to the District after serving prison sentences.

I strongly believe returning citizen employment outcomes can be improved by beginning the job application process prior to release from incarceration. With a sufficient investment of resources, residents coming home could be contacted by a District government agency (or other affiliated organizations) while they are still incarcerated. Residents should be given the opportunity to complete an intake form that surveys their interests, educational level, and relevant skills. Having this information beforehand would accelerate the placement process. The agency/organization could contact potential employers so that meetings and interviews could be scheduled prior to release. Additionally, the agency/organization could send resources to residents that provide information about the interview process, such as resume formulation, practice interview questions, proper etiquette, and the like. All of this will build confidence and hope in the individual as well as increase the likelihood that they will follow through with the job application process. Coming home without a plan leads to unfavorable outcomes. Persons get frustrated with the system and often revert back to their previous behavior. Already having the job application process in play, and with the assistance of “Ban-the Box,” recidivism will be prevented and returning citizens will be kept on the path to success. Moreover, the D.C. Council passed the Incarceration to Incorporated Entrepreneurship Act of 2016, but it has not yet been funded. Fully investing in this initiative would most certainly assist with creating essential opportunities for our returning citizens.

Baltimore prosecutor keeps up the fight

Marilyn MosbyMarilyn Mosby, the Baltimore prosecutor who charged six police officers in the shooting death of Freddie Gray, says despite death threats from that case, she’s fighting new battles as she prepares to run for re-election. Three of the officers were acquitted, and the rest of the cases dismissed. Ironically, Mosby comes from a family of law enforcement; her grandfather, her mother and seven great-uncles were police officers. Her grandfather was a founder of the first black police organization in Massachusetts. Read more about challenges Mosby is facing now and in the future in this article at The Root.

Podcast: When court-ordered rehab becomes slave labor

An Oklahoma rehab center is being sued after some of the people sent there said they were forced to work at a chicken plant that one described as “a slave camp.” Christian Alcoholics & Addicts in Recovery, or CAAIR, was supposed to be a year-long rehabilitation treatment that defendants could opt for instead of going to prison. But instead of getting much of any substance abuse treatment at “the Chicken Farm,” they worked for free, with CAAIR getting the pay. And if workers couldn’t keep up or got hurt, they could be threatened with jail. Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting has more on the story and the lawsuit that was filed because of it.

You can listen to a podcast of Reveal’s investigation here.

Video: The racist roots behind the death penalty

death row“The death penalty in the South has roots in lynching,” says University of Virginia law professor and author Brandon Garrett. In a video interview at Salon, Garrett says “there’s a long, ugly history of racial bias in the American death penalty.” Garrett’s latest book is “End of Its Rope: How Killing the Death Penalty Can Revive Criminal Justice.” In it, Garrett explains what led to the decline of the death penalty, and how reforms could one day bring it to an end. Read more in this article at Salon.