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Happy Juneteenth!

Updated: Jun 23, 2023

It took me a while to figure out what I wanted to write about today. Should I write something personal? Should I write a short story? Should I write someone else’s story? I landed on writing about the significance of today because nothing else felt right; writing about something else felt disrespectful. Today is the day in which we celebrate the emancipation of slaves. The day that all slaves were set free… But were they really?

I will be including some statistics in here, but I also wanted to include my personal view on the matter since I have the luxury of having a very unique exposure to these issues. As many of you know, I am a criminal defense attorney. More specifically, I am a public defender (and just because I mentioned that I feel obliged to let you know that these are my views and mine alone, and they in no way reflect the views of my employer).

I entered the criminal justice world as a judicial intern back in 2018. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity of witnessing most of the stages within the system. I’ve witnessed hundreds of defendants in custody and handcuffs. I’ve seen endless footage of interactions between defendants and law-enforcement officers, I’ve witnessed interactions between defendants and judges, and lastly, defendants and jurors.

There have been times that I’ve witnessed Black, and non-White defendants receive less leniency than those who are White. I’ve witnessed non-White individuals get higher bonds, higher sentences, more guilty's, more stops. It’s always infuriated me, which is why I do what I do. It’s important to remind ourselves that once a person enters the criminal justice system as a criminal defendant it’s very difficult to get out, and that’s what many of my clients struggle with. Sadly, any time a client of mine pleads to a crime in exchange for probation, there’s always a part of me that wonders when they’ll be back. During my short time as an attorney I’ve come to understand that it’s a never ending revolving door.

In the last 3 years, I've noticed instances in which law enforcement has stopped individuals without reason, "smell marijuana," tack on felony charges, but then find a reason for the stop as an afterthought. And I say without reason, but we all know there’s a reason. Unfortunately, our society and our judicial system, is not prepared to acknowledge that reason. Our court system isn't always ready to realize an officer is lying. A couple examples of this include stops for "tag light not working" when the tag light actually works.. and stops for "window tint too dark" when the stop is being conducted at 2 am when all window tints are dark. Common denominator? Black driver, White cop.

And, some of you might be rolling your eyes at this. I'm not saying all Black people are innocent of the crimes charged against them. What I am saying is that Black individuals are stopped at a higher rate than White people -- even when the community is predominantly White. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2021, "the jail incarceration rate for black U.S. residents (528 per 100,000) was 3.4 times the rate for white U.S. residents (157 per 100,000) at midyear 2021."

So yes, let us celebrate Juneteenth, the emancipation of slavery, but also let us acknowledge that we are far from free, because not only is our society constantly finding other ways to suppress the black community but they’re also constantly finding ways to continuously punish black communities. Why am I saying that? Well, prisoners often spend their entire sentence working for free or for pennies to a dollar while in prison. Those who don't go to prison? Can owe thousands of dollars. Never truly financially free. People who are in prison or serving sentences for victimless crimes are no exception.

The fact that Black people fear law-enforcement the most out of all racial groups is not a coincidence. Our government has found ways to make slavery evolve for decades. Laws have been continuously passed that disadvantage people of color and suppress their voice, and they have failed to compensate those whose ancestors and families were left destitute all for the color of their skin.

We live in the world that’s way too fast paced to really focus on and hone in on these issues.We’re all dealing with our own shit. Most of us don’t have time to even watch the news, but I think today and really just every day is a good time to reflect on what it is that we’re doing as individuals to support the causes that don’t directly affect us. We all have people we love around us, but how are we supporting the issues that those people we love continuously go through?

If you'd like to learn more, I highly suggest you visit The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, AL. Additionally, thanks to one of my close friends who introduced me to it, I recommend you listen to The Sum of Us podcast. And, if you wanted to support Black owned businesses, hell yea, do that.

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