The Gideon’s Promise community stands with our sisters and brothers expressing deep anger and frustration with a criminal legal system that assigns very little value to black and brown lives. It is a system that criminalizes blackness. The killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others before them, expose how this devaluation of black lives affects the way police interact with communities of color and how prosecutors respond when called upon to protect (and conversely, to punish) black lives.
These latest examples are the tip of an iceberg that continues to reveal its depth with every cell phone recording. However, as public defenders, we know that for every cell phone recorded killing that garners national attention, there are tens of thousands of people who survive police encounters only to be thrown into a criminal legal system where they are disproportionately prosecuted and punished because of their skin color. This is also violence. It is part of the story of racial terror that continues to prey upon black and brown communities.
As public defenders, we are critical of prosecutors in Minneapolis, MN and Brunswick, GA for failing to respond quickly in the face of videotaped evidence that clearly provides enough evidence to initiate charges. We are not objecting to the idea that there must be a thorough investigation before a person’s liberty is taken. We are offended because we know that millions of poor people and people of color are immediately arrested on far less evidence and held in cages while that investigation happens. We are offended because while there was little urgency to detain the men involved in these killings, judges and prosecutors across the nation resisted the pleas of public defenders to let people who were accused of far less serious offenses out of jails that have become life-threatening petri dishes during this global pandemic.
We are objecting because some folks live with a presumption of innocence and others with a presumption of guilt. And every single day we are reminded that this difference comes down to skin color.
Therefore, as we watch people across the country take to the streets we know their rage is not only about events that occurred in recent days or weeks. It is anger at leaders who perpetuate a centuries old narrative that values some lives over others. It is anger over the way black and brown people are abused in the streets and in the courts. It is fury about the fact that for some people justice means working to avoid criminal consequences while for others it means engineering any means possible to inflict criminal consequences. It is disgust with leaders who will demand that people are held accountable for damaging property more vociferously than they ever demanded that people be held accountable for taking black lives.
As public defenders, we fight every day for a criminal legal system that does not reinforce what protesters know to be true, that black lives do not matter.
As public defenders, we support the communities we serve, as they demand that leaders respond with a sense of urgency to the senseless killing of black people. Not because we demand a more punitive legal system…but, because we demand a fairer one.
About Gideon’s Promise
Gideon’s Promise is a non-profit public defender organization whose mission is to transform the criminal justice system by building a movement of public defenders who provide equal justice for marginalized communities. Founded in 2007 by Jonathan Rapping, the organization has grown from a single training program for sixteen attorneys in two public defender offices in Georgia and Louisiana to a national enterprise with 1,000 participants in 45 public defender offices across 27 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The organization’s initial three-year program for new public defenders has expanded into a comprehensive program model that supports public defenders at all levels of their career.