Orange County Race and Justice Panel

Written by Mark O'Mara on . Posted in Outreach

panel line up

Last week, I participated in a panel discussion about race and justice in Central Florida. Moderated by the Honorable Judge Faye Allen, the panel included Major Vereen from the Orange County Sheriff’s office, state senator Gary Siplin, Orlando Police Chief John Mina, state attorney Jeff Ashton, and criminal defense attorneys Alisia Adamson and Louis Calderon.

Judge Allen asked each of the panelists how the criminal justice system in Central Florida rates in regards to treatment of African Americans. Both law representatives of law enforcement gave our system a rating of “fair.” I agreed, and I suggest that unless everyone involved in the criminal justice system admits that there is a bias in the system, we won’t be able to fix it. One practical way to instill trust is to fund and utilize body cameras. Daytona Beach P.D. has had them for a couple of years, and use of force incidents have dropped, as well as complaints against cops. There has even been an increase in pleas to criminal events which were recorded, which saves an enormous amount of funds.

Below are some highlights from the discussion:

Social Justice Round Table, March 19

Written by Mark O'Mara on . Posted in Outreach

Thursday, March 19th, I’ll contribute to a panel discussion designed to identify solutions for promoting positive relationships between law enforcement, the courts, and the community. The Honorable Judge Faye Allen will moderate, and I’ll join a distinguished panel that includes State Attorney Jeffrey Ashton, Orlando Police Chief John Mina, Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings, and defense attorneys Louis Calderon and Alissa Adamson.

I believe that the American justice system is the best justice system in the world, but it is not perfect. Minorities, especially African Americans, are grossly over-represented in our jails and prisons -- a clear sign that an implicit racial bias infects our system. It breeds resentment and distrust. In the wake of Ferguson, we’re witnessing a crisis of confidence in our justice system.

Instituting police body cameras is a start. Rebuilding the Ferguson Police Department will send a strong message to law enforcement agencies everywhere that they should reevaluate how they train officers in regards to use of force policies and racial sensitivity. We need to ask politicians to provide the funding needed to implement community policing programs. We need to change our mandatory minimum sentencing laws to give more discretion to judges who are most qualified assess the the specific facts on any particular case; it is not, afterall, a one-size-fits-all justice system.

I hope you’ll join me for what promises to be a rousing and important discussion between people who have the power to affect positive change in how the criminal justice system works in Central Florida. Press welcome.

Thursday, March 19 at 5:30PM

New Covenant Baptist Church
2210 South Rio Grande Ave.
Orlando, FL 32805

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.