Why the Movement to End Police Violence and Mass Incarceration Are One in the Same (By Raj Jayadev)

Lamar Noble, wrongfully arrested for a resisting arrest charge, addresses the crowd at the start of the Protect Your People March.

Lamar Noble, wrongfully arrested for a resisting arrest charge, addresses the crowd at the start of the Protect Your People March.

Like many cities across the country, San Jose starts 2015 on the heels of a march and rally that echoed the national call for police accountability. We belted chants and held up signs with the names of Mike Brown and Eric Garner.

But calling this event an act of solidarity is not quite accurate. Rather, the march was an act of “familiarity” and a morbid binding of reality that we, too, can speak the names of the deceased who once walked our streets, went to our schools, attended our churches and whose lives were unjustly cut short by a bullet fired from an officer’s gun.

While our event – the “Protect Your People March” – ended at the police department as others across the country have, we started at the district attorney’s office. We made it a point to march within earshot of the windows of our county jail because police are not isolated agents of the state. Rather, they are part of a “criminal justice system” that includes prosecutors, jails, judges and courts.

We picked our march route to make a physical connection showing how the same system that time and again refuses to hold officers accountable for the killing of innocents, is the same one that incarcerates more than 2 million Americans. People of color are disproportionately represented in that number.

The same injustice that allowed the officers who killed Mike Brown and Eric Garner to not be prosecuted, is the same bias that is being used to over prosecute communities of color at a dizzying clip. It is why our march focused on two words that will hopefully become part of this movement’s lexicon moving forward – prosecutorial discretion. Continue reading

Is That Really Scarface and Tupac? Yes. Deconstructing DA’s Presentations of Gangs

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This week, Mark Becker, the Supervisor at the Santa Clara County Alternative Defender’s Office, met with our ACJP organizers and families to share the latest powerpoint presentation DA’s are using to scare juries into guilty verdicts. The powerpoint would have been comical, had it not been that a countless amount of people in Santa Clara County have been denied a fair trial as a result of this propoganda. And yes, that is seriously a photo of Al Pacino from the movie Scarface and an image of Tupac that is shared in the slideshow developed by the San Jose Police Department and presented as researched explanations as to what gangs are. Mr. Becker came by to share with us what DA’s are using in trial so we have a clear idea what we are up against, and perhaps to develop more honest tools that can created to refute the characterization of people facing gang charges. The powerpoint depicted only the most sensational of images — photos of people pointing guns at the camera, piles of drugs and money, and constant barrages of weapons like swords. The presentation is aimed at frightening juries so they can not possibly look at someone has been called a gang member by the DA as a human being. Even the language used in the powerpoint was designed to imply people who have been labeled as gang-related are only predators. One description (it is presented as if an anthropological study) says that gang members are so concerned with “notoriety” that ,”Like a dog they mark their territory.” The ACJP camp have been able to offer of gang experts from the community that can be used by defense attorneys to refute the DA’s case, but we will be brainstorming on media supplements that can be used as well by the defense bar.

We Beat a 10 Year Sentence in New York with a Social Biography Video!

Charisse capturing our subjects mother as she relived the moment when her son bought her this home.

Charisse capturing our subjects mother as she relived the moment when her son bought her this home.

We traveled to New York in September of 2014 to do a social biography video for man who had already plead, and was facing 10 years in prison. We were profoundly moved by how the single father took care of his ailing mother and sister, as well as always being the lending hand to friends and the community. His story reminded us again how there never is a sentence just for the “defendant”, but rather that all the time of incarceration is shared time. Indeed, though the sentencing guidelines read 10 years, the family said it very well could have been a death sentence for the mother, who has cancer and relies on her son for all assistance and care. Our video showed the home life, the deeply family oriented lifestyle of the individual, testimonies from family, friends, and therapists. They shared anecdotes while showing pictures, reliving moments, and while also showing how injurious a long sentence would be, articulated how they will be there to ensure a successful life at home if prison was taken off the table. And the best holiday call we received was on the last Friday of 2014 when his lawyer reached out, immediately after the sentencing hearing. A remarkable, and truly committed attorney, Stephen had submitted our social biography video along with a packet of other supporting material to probation and the court. He told us the amazing news he was given a short jail sentence — no prison time! He said he was certain the video was a major reason for the decision by the judge, as the court had referenced the impact of the video for his deliberation. We were honored to play a role in helping a family story be better understood by the court system. We build a unique bond with the families we do social bio vids for because the experience is so intimate — they are sharing what is most important about their lives and futures, with so much on the line. So though we recorded only for a few days, De-Bug/ACJP now has family forever in New York!

From Attorney Stephen Lewis of Stephens Baroni Reilly & Lewis in White Plains New York: 

“I want to thank all at Silicon Valley De-Bug’s ACJP for the professional and effective social biographical video that I recently used in my case in the Southern District of New York. The client  faced a guideline range of 91 to 120 months; the government recommended a guideline sentence, probation recommend four years and the Court imposed a sentence of six months incarceration that included 90 days of home detention. I have no doubt that the video that you produced played a determinative role in that outcome. The Court specifically referenced the video in it’s sentencing decision. Thanks for all the hard work.”

 

Click here for more on our social biography video model.

First Time Saved Story of 2015! Mom, Attorney, and Community Beats a Life Sentence Through Social Biography Mitigation

Our first Time Saved story of 2015!  When this family came to De-Bug about 2 months ago, the judge in their 16 year old son’s case strongly considered a 6 year commitment away in juvenile prison, based on the recommendation from probation. He originally was facing a life sentence. With his amazing mom Cherisse Bergeron and attorney Monika Loya, we helped put together a mitigation packet that showed his strong local family, church, and community support and made the case for why local time was so much more crucial for his ability to bounce back from a tough life.  

On Wednesday, after reviewing the social biography packet, the judge told him to look into the audience where every seat there was filled with his family and community –including his 2 little brothers. She said “Turn around.” She pointed to everyone. “That’s the reason I’m keeping you here and not sending you away.”  Submission Post by Charisse Domingo (If your organization is interested in getting a workshop on how to make social biography packets, email us!)

Cherisse shows the mitigation packet for her son that demonstrates his challenges growing up, as well as his present community and future prospects.

Cherisse shows the mitigation packet for her son that demonstrates his challenges growing up, as well as his present community and future prospects. (This was taken a week before the sentencing hearing)

Day of court and ready to visit their son and brother.  He will get to see and hug his 2 little brothers for the first time in almost 6 months.

Day of court and ready to visit their son and brother. He will get to see and hug his 2 little brothers for the first time in almost 6 months.

His mom Cherisse proudly wears her "De-Bug The System" shirt. Her love for her son is a testimony to the power of faith in action.  She herself has been through a tough few years, and being able to get through these last 6 months and being the instrumental force in her son's case has been part of her life's journey.

His mom Cherisse proudly wears her “De-Bug The System” shirt. Her love for her son is a testimony to the power of faith in action. She herself has been through a tough few years, and being able to get through these last 6 months and being the instrumental force in her son’s case has been part of her life’s journey.

San Mateo County Juvenile Private Defender Monika Loya and Mom Cherisse Bergeron

San Mateo County Juvenile Private Defender Monika Loya and Mom Cherisse Bergeron after court — they make a powerful team!

“Prison Was Your Nightmare, This Home is Your Reality” — Photos of the First Day of Freedom from Prison

The young man spent 3 1/2 years in a California State prison. His mother Veronica started coming to De-Bug’s ACJP about 4 years ago and our community supported her advocacy for her son. Together we attended court, met with the attorney, and created a social biography video that allowed her to show the judge why she was fighting so hard for her son. He was facing much more time.  She has been waiting for his moment coming home since then. She picked him up from prison in the morning, and held a family welcome home party that very night. He told her,  “Mom, I can’t believe I’m home. This is like a dream,” he said as their car pulled up to his aunt’s house where about 30 of his family members waited. She responded, “No, son. Prison, that was your nightmare, and this…” she points to his family and friends, “this is your reality.” (Photos by Charisse Domingo)

 

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Veronica’s son bows his head in prayer as his cousin, a pastor at a local church, leads the family in a special blessing. This is his first day home after 3 1/2 years in prison.

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Veronica gathers the entire family at her sister’s home to welcome her son on his first day back. After this, they watch the social biography video that De-Bug created to ask the judge for leniency in sentencing.

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Veronica’s son and his grandmother.

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He did 3 1/2 years in prison.  This celebration combines all the missed birthdays and Christmases into a moving homecoming.

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Veronica and her son share a moment. He couldn’t believe that 3 1/2 years had passed.  As they pulled up to the house, he said, ‘This is like a dream.’ His mom said, ‘No, son. Prison was your nightmare.  You’re home now, and this is your reality.’

Video and Media Coverage of the Time Saved Party: Celebrating 1862 Years Saved from Incarceration!

Check out the inspiring sights and sounds of our Time Saved Party — a unique gathering of families who prevented, or reduced, their loved ones incarceration through participatory defense and partnerships with public defenders. Together, they represent 1,862 years saved from incarceration! It was an incredibly powerful night with people who had beaten life sentence, deportations, and more in attendance. We also launched our Time Saved Documentary Series, starting with our premiere episode featuring Lisa Coulter, we have uploaded it here as well. Below her documentary is a special lenticular print accompaniment that is now installed at the Santa Clara County Public Defender’s Office, that visually shows that family realities are dynamic, rather than static, and illustrates how time served can become time saved. Also, check out the write up of Time Saved which ran in this week’s Silicon Valley Metro. And click here to read the Mercury News coverage of our installation of Time Saved media and our partnership with the SC Public Defender in this powerful article called “Bay Area Public Defender’s Speak Out for Justice.” Both articles note the exciting national expansion of our participatory defense model. And click here to see the beautiful Time Saved Photo Booth slideshow — sharing the faces and incredible stories that make up our movement. See you at the Time Saved 2,500 Party!

Time Saved: The Lisa Coulter Story (Premiered at the Time Saved Party)

The Time Saved Lenticular Print, Installed at the Santa Clara County Public Defender’s Office, and Profiled in Mercury News
Silicon Valley Metro Weekly By the Numbers: 1,862 Six years ago, community organizer Raj Jayadev formed the Albert Cobarrubias Justice Project (ACJP)—named after an aspiring lawyer killed in a drive-by shooting—to help families caught up in the criminal justice system. As he began taking on more cases, he grew frustrated when, despite all the services he connected them to, they relinquished so much control once the case went to the courtroom. To affect real change, Jayadev thought, he would have to bridge the divide between the legal establishment and the community. That realization grew into a methodology called “participatory defense.” The idea is to work with public defenders and connect them with a client’s family and community, so they can more effectively tell their full story in court. Through this model, families become extensions of the legal defense team by scouring police reports, reading transcripts, offering defense strategies and speaking up for the defendant. About 80 percent of the 2.5 million Americans behind bars have relied on public defenders to represent them in court and influence the outcome of a case. By facilitating participatory defense in more than 400 cases, the ACJP has won acquittals, had charges dismissed or reduced, changed prison terms to rehabilitation sentences and even knocked life sentences off the table. When accounting for the original maximum sentences and subtracting what the defendant actually received after community intervention, the justice project has saved people a combined 1,862 years of incarceration. Last week, a group of former inmates, their families and friends, ACJP volunteers and public defenders all met at Zero One Garage in downtown San Jose to celebrate the time saved. Jayadev says the plan is to hold a celebration every 1,000 years saved from now on as the program expands into communities around the nation.

VIDEO: St.Louis County Residents Describe Political Corruption Just Weeks Before Michael Brown Killing

As communities across the country express outrage over the grand jury decision not to indict Darrell Wilson for the killing of Michael Brown, and the officer who killed Eric Garner, another relevant case from the Ferguson area is proceeding to trial that’s gives important context. Sylvester Caldwell, the Mayor of Pine Lawn, a neighboring town to Ferguson has been indicted on federal charges of extortion. The following is a video from Pine Lawn and Ferguson residents describing the political corruption in these small municipalities that allowed for the racially targeted police violence to fester. The footage was captured when De-Bug/ACJP producers were in the Ferguson area just two weeks before the shooting death of Michael Brown. For more context regarding wrongful arrests in North St.Louis County, please read the report released by our friends at the ArchCity Defenders.