Here at ACJP we are so inspired by Jonathan Rapping and the Gideon’s Promise family. We’ve gotten a chance to build with GP over the years, and the title of Rap’s TEDTalk in Atlanta posted below is absolutely true — they are changing public defense, one attorney at a time!
ACJP Organizer Gail Noble writes a commentary on what State Attorney Marylin Mosby’s decision to charge the officers involved in the murder of Freddie Gray means to her as a mother of three black sons.
When I heard the six police officers in Baltimore were being charged, I was shocked and overjoyed. “Yes!” I said with fists in the air. I thought about Freddie, the severe pain I heard in his voice when he cried out. I remembered the images of his limp body as they dragged him to the van. If officers are that blind to a person’s welfare, they deserve to be charged and I pray they are convicted.
As a mother of three black sons, hearing State Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s words were especially vital for me. Everyday, I fear for my three sons living in an America which is plagued with racism and police brutality. I have had my sons call me saying, “Mom, I just got pulled over by the police for no reason,” more times than I care to remember. Or, “Mom, I was walking and the police rolled up on me and asked where was I going, and let me see your ID.” Each call, I would feel frustrated, mad, and powerless. My only recourse, for safety reasons, is to teach them how to act when this happens. I would tell them, “You don’t give them a reason to arrest you even when they talk about you and disrespect you, because they are looking for any little thing to provoke you.” It frustrates me that this is the lesson I would have to teach them for their own protection.
When my sons go out at night, my greatest fear is to hear the phone ring. When they call, the first words out of my mouth are, “What’s wrong?” I live in constant fear they will be stopped by the police, and that something will go wrong. The police will say they moved too quickly, or reached for something, or they looked like some dangerous suspect — and then some tragedy. One time one officer said he was suspicious of my oldest son because his car was big enough to carry weapons. This is the type of rationale you have to deal with when you are the mother of three black sons.
That’s why when I listened to Marilyn Mosby, I heard her as a mother. State Atttorneys, or District Attorneys, are supposed to be about justice, but a lot of them have lost their way. Marilyn prepared for this case, she hired independent investigators, along with her department’s investigators. She was looking for the truth, found it, and acted upon it.
Marilyn Mosby did her job, the way I wish all District Attorneys would. She didn’t cover up the carelessness and the inhumane way Freddie was treated by the polices officers. I felt her confidence, her conviction, her fearlessness, and strength for justice. District Attorneys who have lost their way, study Marilyn Mosby and start to practice true justice in your communities.
In March of 2015, De-Bug/ACJP went to several communities across the country to share the participatory defense approach, and learn from innovative public defenders, inspiring organizations, and courageous families. We shared in ballroom hall forums, gave trainings on intervention points in cases, talked through setting up participatory defense meetings, sat in courtrooms, brainstormed with folks at their homes over dinner, and went behind the scenes of law offices and movement-makers. Here is a short video snapshot of some great partners we met in St.Louis, Birmingham, and Philly. Much respect and gratitude to the Community Law Office of Jefferson County, Arch City Defenders, M.O.R.E, Montgomery County Public Defender’s Office, the One Love Movement, and everyone else we got a chance to build with!
ACJP organizers Charisse and Cecilia did trainings yesterday in the Bay Area on participatory defense to three different communities throughout the day. The morning was the Asian Law Alliance, a long-standing community rooted legal agency who are on the forefront of civil rights issues and the immigrant rights movement in San Jose. The afternoon was a training with the Cathedral of Faith, a powerful church community that is a trusted community touchstone in San Jose, and a place where folks coming home from prison are receiving re-entry support. The evening was Essie’s Group in Oakland, an inspiring network of women with incarcerated loved ones. Besides showing Charisse and Cecilia’s endurance, their day also shows the double sided reality of mass incarceration. Though the criminal justice system touches so many different communities, it also shows the potential of the diverse movement who can bring it to an end. These three communities may have never met, but through their various efforts are collectively fighting back for their people, and we are honored to stand with each of them.
Thanks to Power 99FM, and iHeart Radio in Philadelphia for hosting a discussion with Keir Bradford-Grey from the Montgomery County Public Defenders Office, Mark Holden, staff attorney Defenders Association, and Raj Jayadev of ACJP/De-Bug on participatory defense. The show was in anticipation of our forum and training in Philadelphia March 18th-20th. We will be having a forum at Arcadia University on March 18th to introduce the nuts and bolts of the approach, and to hear from local leaders as they share ideas on how to win justice in the courts in the region. Click here to check out the 15 minute show to hear the energy coming out of Philly!
We recently had the honor to visit Birmingham, Alabama to build with the Jefferson County Community Law Office and local service providers and community organizations to launch participatory defense in this historic anchor of the civil rights movement. We also had the opportunity to meet with other public defender offices and community organizations from other parts of Alabama and Tennessee. We shared the story of participatory defense, went over intervention points in the timeline of an Alabama case, how individual case work leads to policy changes, how to build an infrastructure for participatory defense meetings, and tangible ways to build partnerships between defender offices and the local client community. Much gratitude to Jefferson County CLO family for hosting us as we collectively build this exciting new path. Check out the images below, and a short video captured moments and reflections of the training will be coming out shortly.
Having just returned from sharing our social biography video concept to capital defense attorneys from across the country on how family story can literally save lives, we are happy to share another encouraging development in 2015. We are excited to announce Raj Jayadev was selected as the newest Ashoka Fellow for De-Bug/ACJP to grow a new national field to advance our concept of “participatory defense.” This model equips families and communities most impacted by mass incarceration in the United States to effectively participate in the criminal defense process and transform the landscape of power in the court system.
Raj joins an international network of nearly 3,000 fellows in 70 countries who are putting their system changing ideas into practice on a global scale. Through seven years of developing participatory defense, De-Bug’s Albert Cobarrubias Justice Project (ACJP) has made impactful change in the local court systems — an arena that seemed impenetrable arena for families to actively advocate for their loved ones facing charges. But through ACJP, those targeted by the criminal justice system are transformed into agents of change by bringing a community organizing ethic to the courts. In our local work alone, we calculated 1,862 years of time saved through family and community intervention.
With the support of the Ashoka Fellowship, Raj will be expanding our movement of participatory defense nationwide — working and supporting communities to build on their local capacities to transform the criminal justice system. By collaborating with great community stakeholders, public defender offices, and impacted families, we are launching participatory defense pilots, trainings, and media projects in the following places in the next few months:
* Birmingham, Alabama — February
* St.Louis, Missouri — March
* Philadelphia, Pennsylvania — March
* Washington, DC — March
* Los Angeles, California — April
* Lexington, Kentucky — June
If you are an organization, network, or defender office interested in getting trained to start participatory defense in your community to support families capacities to change the outcome of cases of their loved ones, and to transform the policies that govern the courts, please do contact us.
Special thanks to Colette and Diane at the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers for coordinating a webinar on March 23rd in DC for us to share our participatory defense model, and how public defenders and communities can start using the organizing model in their regions. We will also cover how to make social biography videos. Sign up and check it out!
We started off 2015 with an inspiring trip to Atlanta to give presentations and trainings on “participatory defense” to southern state Public Defender Chiefs at the Gideon’s Promise gathering. This army of both young and experienced attorneys are transforming what public defense means in this country as they say, “one lawyer at a time.” We’ve had the great fortune of building with their camp for a couple years now, and are exciting about the new partnerships that are sprouting from our common cause of challenging mass incarceration through movement-building. Here are a few flicks!
Much thanks to South Carolina public defender and Gideon’s Promise member Shane Goranson, who wrote a nice reflection on his experience doing a social biography video after we gave a workshop on how to make them at Gideon’s Promise convening in Atlanta last year. Check it out!
Jim* had clearly been through a lot in his life. He suffered with a terrible substance abuse problem. But he had put in a lot of work on himself since he crashed into another car while being chased by a state trooper. I knew Jim had a lot of good in him. I knew he was helping a lot of people, but I didn’t know how to step up the presentation of mitigation in court in a way that would really do his work justice and have a real impact on his punishment. While I represented Jim I was lucky enough to go to a Gideon’s Promise training where Raj Jayadev made a presentation on client videos and their potential impact. I knew that would be the way to help Jim. Raj emphasized that it didn’t need to be flashy or expensive, it just needed to be sincere story.
Thinking through the story, the presentation, and the content we wanted for the video was invigorating and enlightening. I learned more about Jim, I gained respect and admiration for him. The people we interviewed, the most important people in Jim’s life, grew to know us and respect us. They made comments about how surprised they were about what we, a public defender and very generous videographer, were doing. Jim knew we left no stone unturned in trying to get him the best possible resolution and they worked hard to help us. In the end we put it all out there and did the best we could and that leaves a certain satisfaction even if the result was a little disappointing. I learned a lot while making the video and representing my client in a new, creative way let me see my job a little bit differently too. It put public defenders in a different light too, in this case a lawyer who could produce mitigation up to par with any private attorney. Highly recommended.
(Shane Goranson is a Public Defender in Greenwood South Carolina)