Creators of “participatory defense” – a community organizing model for people facing charges, their families, and communities to impact the outcome of cases and transform the landscape of power in the court system
People of color killed by police are often known, remembered, and honored through their names connected to a hashtag. There are also those who survive the shooting, tasing, or beating by law enforcement; we just don’t know their names simply because they survived. They face the added insult of then being charged with a false crime such as resisting arrest or assault on a police officer. Henry Sires, pictured below, was almost killed. Henry Sires was almost a hashtag.
We are sitting with Henry’s family during his trial, and through a new site called almostahashtag.org, are reporting updates from the courthouse. Check out the site and follow our social media posts using the hashtag #almostahashtag and #freeHenrySires. Henry is the first case we are sharing through this new site to bring attention to those who almost became a hashtag. If you have a case that you want profiled, email us. We are trying to bring the movement on the streets that is calling to an end to police violence to also step into the courts, where the violence of the criminal justice system continues.
This is Arthur erasing his name from our weekly ACJP meeting. His dad Kenny would add his name up on that whiteboard for years. Last Sunday, Arthur came home from prison after eight years, having beaten a life sentence due to Prop.36, and erased his name. It is the one ceremony we have at our meetings — erasing the name means a family has won the freedom of their loved one.
We had only known Arthur through his letters from prison, and his stories from his father Kenny — that he was a great son and looked out for his brothers. Every Sunday Kenny would come to De-Bug to help think through Arthur’s case. In 2006, Arthur agreed to a deal after he was told that if he pled guilty, his brother — one of the codefendants in the case — would be released. He thought he would be serving somewhere around 8 years. When the Judge handed down a life sentence during his court hearing, everyone in the courtroom was stunned. That was the first time Arthur or his family had even heard of ‘life’ being on the table. So when Kenny first came to De-Bug in 2008, they were still reeling from the pain of losing their son to prison, even though it had already been 2 years. But with the support of his community, Kenny — on the outside — and Arthur on the inside — worked to undo his case. On Sundays, Kenny and the De-Bug team would lay out 4- inch binders of paperwork to help construct possible ways of appeal. We met with his appellate attorneys, wrote back and forth to Arthur, even met with decision-makers to find openings. Meanwhile, Kenny and Arthur held strong — working through depression and a host of health issues that Arthur faced inside the prison. Then when Prop 36 passed in November 2012, a glimmer of hope came. Arthur was contacted by the Santa Clara County Public Defender’s office who represented him at his resentencing. Kenny collected letters of support that demonstrated Arthur’s network that would give him a solid reentry plan, and last year, a judge agreed to release Arthur back to his community. Check out this Time Saved Party video, where Kenny talks about the day he found out his son had an “out date.” On May 5th, he came home. On May 31, 2015 — 7 years after Kenny first walked into the doors of De-Bug — Arthur walked in with him. Submission Post by Charisse Domingo
(Click photo to go to radio show) Montgomery County Chief Public Defender Keir Bradford-Grey, right, and Leane Renee, mitigation and policy director for the public defender’s office. Keir and their office will be hosting a forum on participatory defense at Arcadia University on March 18th.
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 opportunity to travel to a historic touchstone of the civil rights movement — Montgomery, Alabama — to work with and train six public defender offices in producing social biography videos to reduce charges and sentences. Some of the participating offices are brand new, born from a call from the community to create public defender offices in order to better protect the rights of the indigent, while others have had decades of history of advocating in the courts. We are excited to equip these offices — long-standing and new — with this tool as they advocate for justice for their clients. Here are some flicks, from our great connection in the South!
Jean sharing the concepts of how to tell a family story for the courts.
Thanks to ABC for holding up our work and our community! They describe ACJP as “an innovative program for families to navigate their criminal justice system to bring their loved ones home from jail, prison, or immigration detention.” If you didn’t see it on TV, check it out here! If you are interested in getting trained on how to start a Family Justice Hub, or are a public defender office interested in seeing how to better build with your client communities — drop us a note!
We were honored to give a training session at Wake Forest University Law School to the next generation public defenders from across the South on how they can make social biography videos. The attorneys were a cohort of Gideon’s Promise, the amazing training program for Southern public defenders that is also focus of the HBO film Gideon’s Army. We have no doubt that in the future, when we look back at what helped end mass incarceration in this country, Gideon’s Promise will stand out as one of the most important actors of this historic movement. Here are some flicks!
Some of the Gideon Promise attorney’s doing a mock video based on a case they may start with when they get home.
Louisiana tat! This is when you know your attorney is down for their state.
Next generation attorneys from all over the South after taking our Social Biography Video class.
Fernando with head of Gideon’s Promise, Jonathan Rapping “De-Bugging the System”
Recently, De-Bug’s ACJP was invited to share, connect, and build with some great legal advocates in New York: the New York Federal Defender’s Office, the Bronx Defenders, and the New York Federal Criminal Defense Bar. We were honored to share our work from the Westcoast, and see how our approach to transforming the courts can be interpreted, and woven into the already tremendous advocacy happening in New York. We started with a presentation, training, and discussion with the Bronx Defenders. We discussed our methodology of community organizing, and given that they are known for the concept of “holistic defense”, we talked about our style of a term we are called “participatory defense.” We got to brainstorm and dialogue with their organizers who are spearheading campaigns to protect the rights of the community. We also did a workshop on our social biography video model. At the New York Federal Defender’s Office, we gave a day long interactive instructional training on how to produce social biography videos to their team of attorneys, investigators, and social workers. They took right to it, and we are looking forward to see them produce social biography videos to reduce sentences and charges. Our final day was a presentation to other federal defenders — both public and private — on the process and value of social biography videos. It was an amazing trip, and we look forward to building more collaborations that ultimately are about keeping families together, transforming the courts, and challenging mass incarceration! Here are some flix:
Presenting at the Bronx Defenders.
Talking organizing with the Bronx Defenders.
NY Federal Defenders working on producing a mock social bio video.
June 26th was the Global Day of Action to end the drug war. De-Bug’s ACJP collaborated with Global Exchange and the Drug Policy Alliance to put out a video and an accompanying poster to be displayed in San Francisco about the impact of drug policy laws that are breaking apart families. The effort was a part of an international campaign to bring attention to the fallout of the drug war. To read more go to: supportdontpunish.org
Special thanks to the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association and the Missouri State Public Defender’s Office for bringing out De-Bug’s ACJP team last week to share our model of social biography videos to impact the outcome of criminal cases. On the same day some of our staff were presenting the concept in Texas, other staff (Jean Melesaine and Fernando Perez) were sharing with the public defenders of Missouri. What we found deeply inspiring was the profound commitment of these defenders to the rights of the least heard of their state. Particularly given the challenges and limitations around the courts (some obstacles of which we don’t see in California) these public defenders face tremendous battles to fight for the rights of their clients. Yet they perceiver through talent and will — and are bringing loved ones home to their families. We hope to build with them in the future, and are emboldened to see such strong advocates across the country.
Fernando Perez gives a presentation to Missouri public defenders.
Showing examples of our social biography videos to Texas public defenders.
Through the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, De-Bug’s ACJP recently gave a webinar to attorneys, organizations, and academics on how we started producing social biography videos to impact cases — and how they can too. There were 18 states represented on the webinar, and we are grateful for their participation and interest. The NLADA recorded the session and it is posted below. If you are interested in a training, or have a case you think would benefit from a video, just email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org