Race and Justice Panel at NTL

Written by Mark O'Mara on . Posted in Outreach

20150122 ntl panel

At the National Trial Lawyers Summit on Monday, I was privileged to serve on a distinguished panel discussing race and justice. I joined Benjamin Crump, Michael Grieco, Martin Luther King III, Fernando Chavez, Mark Geragos, Alan Dershowitz, Gloria Allred, and Jose Baez.

Benjamin Crump talked about the need to acknowledge that young black and brown boys are being killed by police disproportionately, and he criticized a grand jury system that may give police too much of the benefit of the doubt. Michael Grieco, a defense lawyer and Miami city commissioner proposed that police body cameras have the potential to reduce deadly encounters between citizens and cops; he’s pushing for Miami to be a national leader on this front. Fernando Chavez, son of civil and labor rights advocate Cesar Chavez, focused on the plight of millions of undocumented but productive immigrants. Alan Dershowitz emphasized a need for cops to have better non-lethal use of force options and that we, as a nation, have simply too many guns that are killing our citizens and our cops. Mark Geragos asserted that prosecutorial misconduct is ruining the criminal justice system, and prosecutors should not be immune to being sued. Gloria Allred reminded us of the work that she has done, and that still needs to be done, regarding women’s rights and GLBT rights. Jose Baez spoke of the need to our justice system to be fair and equal for all.

I believe special prosecutors should be put in place when there are officer-involved shootings. The local district attorneys are essentially part of their law enforcement community. They know many of the cops, and they rely on the officers in their jurisdictions to provide critical witness testimony at trial. Prosecutors should not be put in charge of prosecuting the law enforcement officers they work with on a daily basis. If there is an officer-involved shooting in one district, a prosecutor from another district should conduct a grand jury and lead the prosecution. This will allow for a level of distance, and foster more trust in a system that desperately needs it.

I also discussed the subtle, though systemic, biases that still exist in the criminal justice system. While they are an easy focus because those biases can get you arrested, imprisoned or shot, they are merely emblematic of wrongs that exist throughout our society, from educational biases to socioeconomic ones. Change, as necessary as it is, will be slow, and will take dedication and patience -- a difficult request when more young minorities are dying.