CategoryAfrican American

Celebrating Black History Month

Black History Month Collage

In my last blog post on January 1st of this year, I pointed out that the foremost problem facing our Criminal Justice System, mirroring American society as a whole, is the issue of race.

In that post I opined that because this serious problem had its origins centuries before our country was colonized and then transformed into the United States, that for those who seek fully to understand the long, tragic history of racism, I highly recommended reading From Slavery to Freedom, A History of African Americans by the eminent historian John Hope Franklin, and his distinguished co-author, Alfred Moss Jr.

In honor of Black History Month, and as a highly worthwhile follow-up to the aforestated classic work, I would like to further recommend reading Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, and the Struggle for Racial Uplift by Jacqueline M. Moore.

When the Civil War ended in April, 1865, approximately four million former slaves found themselves free, and suddenly responsible for their well being without benefit of education or for the most part the skills necessary to earn a living, let alone take their proper place in society. Over the next sixty to seventy years, a heroic struggle ensued to uplift African Americans to a position from which they could begin to fully integrate into

American Society, and during this time the two most prominent leaders of this cause were Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois.

In her book, Ms. Moore provides the reader with background information on both of these giants, then traces their activities leading to the founding of the Tuskegee Institute by Booker T. Washington in 1881, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1910. In a highly readable style, the author brings both the era and the lives of these two great leaders vividly alive, and in just 176 pages fully educates the readers on an uplift that under the conditions is nothing short of miraculous, and, of course, the contributions of these truly remarkable men toward that end.

Perhaps the most fascinating angle explored by Ms. Moore, is the philosophical differences between Washington and DuBois, because they present the background necessary to have a greater appreciation of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, as well as offering a platform on which to evaluate the differences in philosophy between today’s leaders of the New Civil Rights leaders.

In short summary, Washington believed that industrial education should come first so that southern blacks could gain basic schooling and useful skills with which to make something of themselves. DuBois, on the other hand, argued that without higher education for blacks, there would be no black teachers for the industrial schools and therefore no chance for blacks to improve.

Washington’s approach, which advocated racial segregation socially and politically, was deferential to whites and thus widely accepted. If one keeps in mind that Washington was a slave for the first 9 years of his life, came of age during the turbulent times of Reconstruction, and was seeking to help a huge population of his fellow blacks who had little education and/or skills, his approach made considerable common sense.

DuBois, who was born free, was 12 years younger than Washington and the beneficiary of economic, educational, and social benefits totally foreign to Washington and the great majority of blacks, held the vision that blacks would rise with the help of educated leaders (the top 10% of the black population), who would use their training and skills to help others and to fight for rights for the race.

As the author demonstrates, both philosophies were necessary, and within a relatively short time period, not mutually exclusive, but rather complementary. And the power struggle between these two giants, each desiring to be the number one spokesman for his race, demonstrates the need to sublimate egos to the best achieve progress.

The story of this clash, offers a valuable lesson to current leaders of the New Civil Rights Movement, where major differences lie between the views of Ta-Nehisi Coates, Black Lives Matter, and the NAACP, all of whom seek to eradicate the cancer of racism from our society, and create through our political, economic, social, and cultural institutions a just society for all members.

America’s Crucial Civil Rights Issue: Race

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since I began my blog in 2014, just before publication of my novel Gideon’s Children, I have argued that the foremost problem facing our Criminal Justice System, mirroring American society as a whole, is the issue of race.

Because this serious problem has its origin centuries before our country was colonized and then transformed into the United States, for those who seek to fully understand the long, tragic history of racism, I highly recommend reading From Slavery to Freedom, A History of African Americans by the eminent historian John Hope Franklin, and his distinguished co-author, Alfred Moss, Jr.

Meticulously researched by Franklin and Moss, this highly readable book begins by presenting a broad view of early African empires, Ghana, Mali, and Songhay, dating back to before the Middle Ages. In fascinating detail, the reader is presented with societies that were remarkably sophisticated, with a sharp focus on their political, economic, and social systems, as well as art and music.

After this foundation is carefully laid, the authors then sweep forward to The Slave Trade and the New World, followed by Colonial Slavery, thus providing a vivid portrait of the roots of racism and the problem that has haunted America ever since their development. No detail is spared in depicting the tragic irony involved as the founders of the colonies, and thereafter the United States, idealized freedom and democracy, while simultaneously permitting the abominable institution of slavery to exist and flourish.

Building upon this base, eras are then explored, depicting the role of Blacks from the New Republic to Manifest Destiny, to Slavery and Intersectional Strife, to the Civil War, then followed by Reconstruction and Economic Adjustment. And adding to a well-rounded narrative that incorporates opposite viewpoints, from white supremacy to abolitionist philosophy, along with governing political, economic, social, and religious factors, the authors further spice their comprehensive story-line with Eyewitness Accounts from a cross-section of individuals who lived during the various times.

In the last third of this monumental work, the authors offer a vivid picture of the enormity of African Americans’ struggle to survive and become full citizens, from the latter part of the 1860s through the turn of the century and World War I, then continuing from the 1920s through the Great Depression and World War II, and further from the post war through the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s to the turn of the Twenty-first century.

Each era is explored thoroughly from a political, economic, social, and religious perspective, with chapters also devoted to cultural revolutions such as The Harlem Renaissance.

I began by recommending From Slavery to Freedom to those who seek to fully understand the long, tragic history of racism. I feel compelled to add that everyone would benefit from reading it. For while those of us living today are not to blame for slavery and the racism underlying it, I would argue that we are responsible for eliminating the cancer of racism in our country and in our world, and working steadfastly as individuals and through our political, social, economic, and cultural institutions to create a just society for all members.

One Man’s Blueprint For Social Justice For All

Recently, it was my privilege to read a brilliant collection of essays by Dr. Walter D. Greason, written in a clear crisp style for Everyman and collected into an e-book entitled The Engine Of Creation. During my 75 years, I cannot recall learning so much, and being exposed to so many thought-provoking ideas inside a book of only 98 pages, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in solutions to many of the problems plaguing our country today.

How, you ask, could such be accomplished in so short a space? Well, take a journey yourself, and you will see, and at no financial charge. For Professor Greason so desires to share his various proposals for social progress with you, that he makes his fascinating book available for free at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GcX9mXEAIS (Greason youtube video on the book)

In the opening section entitled, Education, our generous author offers an essay exploring evangelical Christianity on football fields to the exclusion of other forms and other religions, then in the one that follows, offers an intriguing study of hip hop music, illustrating how, “as a whole, this body of music represents the evolution of the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements.”

Now, warmed up, he presents a discussion of individual rights under the U.S. Constitution, and the need for “intersectional analysis” to address various categories of rights such as gay rights, women’s rights, minority rights, and religious rights in order to produce an inclusive society that benefits us all.

And finally, to round out this segment, Dr. Greason presents the reader with three essays connected to teaching. The first offers an analysis of who should be in charge of our educational system, how we measure and should measure success and failure, and stresses the need for innovation. The second illustrates how, through the educational process, young adults around the world are saving lives every day, as well as illustrating the importance of role models and their impact in helping young students build a sense of purpose and identity. Lastly, the spotlight is focused on “unique teaching,” offering keen insights into “responsive instruction,” how “experience remains the best teacher,” and the value of “critical reading.”

It should be noted that Education closes with the wise observation that “teachers who reinvent their classrooms in constant response to the widest range of students deserve celebrity status.” I found myself vigorously nodding my head up and down in agreement as I read the professor’s valuation of what teachers contribute to our society, and he couldn’t be more right than when he advocates that we need to “Take more time to publicly thank and honor them at their school, in the malls, and in your homes.”

The next section, entitled History, is equally stimulating. Opening with an essay illustrating how the media, aided by the digital revolution, bombards us with negative news daily, Dr. Greason demonstrates the urgent “need to tell the optimistic stories of how we survive, adapt, and succeed,” arguing that this need “has never been greater than right now.” To further illustrate this principle of the positive, the succeeding essay illustrates the invaluable contribution of W.E.B. DuBois, who survived, adapted, and succeeded against gigantic odds to teach us “that the right to learn was the most difficult achievement humanity had won in 5000 years of  struggle,” and how  to use that right to create justice and equality for all.

Next, the reader is presented with two essays that together provide a historical overview of how “advantage” was built into American society based on race, religion, and gender,  the development of racial segregation, and the federal, state, and private policies of Affirmative Action. Included are thought-provoking discussions about how “Merit is a lie,” and the need for new standards in economics, architecture and zoning, and urban transportation.

An eye-opening essay follows, about how “consolidation among suburban communities…will reduce municipal tax burdens and facilitate essential conversations about the common values everyone shares.” And the reader will find his or herself pondering an observation by civil rights leader, Ermon Jones, “that communities rely on each other, just as members of a family do,” and making a note to also read Dr. Greason’s book, Suburban Erasure to learn more about how consolidation can be used to increase prosperity and social justice for all.

Highly relevant to the 2016 Presidential election, in the next essay the professor traces the Conservatism of the 20th Century into the 21st, and illustrates how “the small government rhetoric of the 1970s cloaked the longstanding defense of inequality and segregation across the United States,” and why the Republican Party should revisit the legacy of Abraham Lincoln and Dwight Eisenhower and “speak as citizens committed to women’s equality, marriage equality, and immigrant equality.”

And speaking of immigrants, in a following essay that integrates the issue of immigration into a history of Black History Month, Dr. Greason traces “Free” and “white,” from our country’s origin down to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He then points out that “immigrants from Turkey, Russia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, and central Asia have formed new communities in the metropolitan United States over the last decade,” and poses the weighty question: “Are Muslims and Ukrainians the most recent ‘blacks’?” The Irish have successfully managed inclusion into American society, as have Jews and Catholics, “enlargements of whiteness” according to Nell Irwin Painter in her book, The History of White People, cited by Dr. Greason and leading him to a hopeful question for all of us to ponder: “Will the continuing efforts to liberate and uplift African American communities in the United States translate into unimaginable opportunities in these distant, diverse regions?”

Two other essays finalize this segment, complementing those that preceded them, and also serving to further establish a firm foundation for the section on politics that follows.

In the first, the author offers the reader a view of how “new bodies of evidence and new standards of debate” have challenged the central narrative about  American slavery, and provided “powerful new insights abut the nature of the American South and its enduring impact on the nation’s identity at the end of the twentieth century.” And to support this view, and introduce interested readers further, he refers to the works of highly regarded scholars such as Jacqueline Jones, Nell Painter, John Blassingame, Peter Kolchin, John Hope Franklin, and Walter Johnson.

And in the closing essay, authored in March, 2015, Dr. Gleason provides a lesson that America needs to remember: that “the enslavement of Africans in the Americas could not exist without the written authority of the Christian churches of Europe.” It is convenient to forget this, and much effort has been put forth to mask this sad relationship between Christianity and slavery. And it is not a relationship that can be excused as having existed in our distant past. As Dr. Gleason points out, beginning in 1928, Samuel Stouch, a leading voice in the tri-state area of New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania, “recruited Methodist ministers aggressively to attract hundreds of members to the (Ku Klux) Klan. By 1940, Stouch had created a home for Klan policy in local law enforcement and criminal justice. His ideas created the coalition that would become the foundation for Frank Rizzo’s popular approach to law and order during the era of civil rights activism in Philadelphia between 1956 and 1980.” And the relevance of this lesson will most certainly promote a better understanding of how the City of Ferguson, Missouri, was operating until the recent tragic shooting forced the beginnings of a turn-around.

Section Three, Politics, sprouts naturally from the strong roots established by Education and History. Opening this segment with an essay about long-term trends in economic growth and transformation of metropolitan areas, with emphasis on the potential of public-private partnerships, Dr. Greason then follows with a discussion devoted to the need for senior leadership. Here he focuses on the exciting potential that arises from the formation of partnerships across changing demographic groups, an advocates the need for and advantages of senior citizens (ages 65-85) joining hands with young adults (ages 15-35).

Then, the third essay, and what I feel is the core problem facing America today, Professor Greason begins by quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s concern that “we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. When machines and computers, profits and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism,

materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

Having set forth this crucial need to reorder our values, the author then discusses how the Occupy Wall Street movement reflects a global movement, pointing out that “around the world, citizens have taken to the street to reject militarism, materialism, and racism,” but also that “corporations and the voices of their mass media outlets cannot understand the message that these brave human beings communicate.” In conclusion, Dr. Greason offers the vitally important observation and solution that “the Occupy movement has not realized how to make itself heard most effectively…that the mobilizations in urban centers miss the center of political and economic gravity…these voices must be heard in the suburbs.” Further, he advocates meeting “the middle class where it resides,” and suggests occupying suburbs, the World Series, the National Football League, and the Olympic Games.

How interesting, I thought,  as Dr. Greason’s suggestions sunk in. And how relevant to the upcoming Presidential election next year, with all the candidates focused on appealing to the same middle class that he has so intently focused upon.

And as if Dr. Greason were reading my mind, he follows with a fictional letter that illustrates how the corporate structure would respond to protestors through the police authority, reminiscent of how protestors were assaulted during the Selma March and in Birmingham by Sheriff Bull Connors with his dogs and fire hoses during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. I smiled at the hope that such conduct employed today against Occupy protestors, would likewise awaken and arouse the vast majority of Americans to radically reorder our priorities in favor of social justice.

While I believe that these two core essays provide the necessary focus on America’s major problems, along with realistic suggestions on how we can overcome them, in following essays, Dr. Greason also addresses the problem of political polarization and the need to return to the spirit of compromise, as well as the need to end de facto segregation based on “credit ratings that are thinly disguised racial covenants.”

Further essays in this segment begin by introducing the reader to a book, The Age of Fracture, by Daniel Rodgers, which illustrates that “Americans adopted a vocabulary—a rhetoric—of alienation and despair in the last decades of the Cold War,” and how “this transformation of our concepts and the words we chose to represent our world crippled the public ability to craft policy based on the social structures that govern capitalism.” For example, “we made ‘choice’ synonymous with freedom and ‘market’ became the basis of our cultural judgment. The reliance on these kinds of concepts to govern ourselves oversimplified the society…making “the complexity of social relationships and the history of civilization irrelevant to our law and national identity.” In studying this essay, it can be seen that the need to consider the power of our words and ideas, and to reform same, coincides with the need and the ability to reorder our values.

Following in the footsteps of The Age of Fracture, the author then illustrates how The Tea Party and Globalization has been manipulated by the power structure of national and international corporations to promote division amongst the various segments of our society, and “make property…the primary civic virtue, supplanting life and liberty.”

Further in this vein, the next series of essays demonstrate how the U.S. Supreme Court under Chief Justice Roberts has catered to the interests of the corporate power structure, to the detriment of individual rights; illustrates the principles of good government, and advocates that corporate authority should never be allowed “to threaten the fundamental dignity and worth of humanity;” offers an insightful view of how “Professionalization threatens to dismantle the most important accomplishments of higher education from the last two generations; and provides an equally poignant view of how we citizens must tune out the media that make our ideological differences “political sport,” and instead “talk with each other and attempt to resolve these ideological differences—house by house, neighborhood by neighborhood.”

The final cornerstone of Dr. Greason’s blueprint, entitled Economics, offers equally creative ideas to those gifted by its three predecessors. In the opening essay, he traces economic development from the end of World War II to the present, with emphasis on the role that expansive government has played. Then, highlighting the philosophic division that has developed between Liberals “who see government as the common ground where compromise is essential to provide good roads, strong police forces, innovative schools, an open media landscape,” with Conservatives who “assert that private organizations demonstrate the success of individual ingenuity and that governments only interfere with the efficient functions of markets to determine social success and failure, he proposes a seriously unique and highly provocative solution:

“The United States needs to commit to a new vision for our federal and state governments. In the second decade of the twenty-first century, women must take the reins of elective representation. Too many of the men in office have long connections to traditions of frustrating public accountability and abusing the public trust…By 2020, women should be the majority in both houses of Congress and the Supreme Court as well as the majority of governors and representatives in the statehouses.”

Wow! Why not give the women a chance to lead? I thought after turning over this essay in my mind a dozen or so times. I also wonder what they could accomplish with respect to solving another of the triplet problems our society faces: militarism.

After this thoroughly stimulating essay, Dr. Greason follows with a series devoted to separate economic problems, suggesting in the first that we need to create Centers for Metropolitan Growth to help existing and prospective business owners adapt their enterprises so as to be able to “use” mega businesses such as Walmart to distribute new products, then follows with a discussion of “informative economics” to demonstrate how an overreliance on any single form of capital investment creates a stagnant economy, such as happened to Detroit with its overreliance on the physical infrastructure of the automobile industry.

Continuing in this vein, subsequent essays in this section offer insights into: income inequality, the fallacy that a rising tide lifts all boats, and how “new educational initiatives and targeted tax reform” can help; and how unbridled consumerism causes households to lack the basic asset of an emergency fund, and how reducing wasteful spending on entertainment can restore economic balance.

In conclusion, I want to reiterate my strong recommendation to place The Engine Of Creation at the top of your must-read list of books! I believe that you will find this collection of essays most rewarding, because it not only honestly sets forth the serious challenges that America, and our world, faces, but with equal integrity boldly and brilliantly sets forth positive solutions to defeat racism, consumerism, and militarism!

In an era when the news media focuses on the negative, and directs our attention to same, how rewarding indeed it is to have a book that not only teaches positive solutions to America’s problems, but also instructs each of us that there is hope, that together we are not powerless, but actually powerful. And that if we stop our busy lives for a long moment and deeply reflect, we will conclude that there are far more basic principles of justice and equality that join us Americans than the few subsidiary issues that divide us, and that each of us can make a difference by joining one of numerous grass-roots to national organizations that are working daily toward defeating the toxic triplets and building an America with social justice for all.

Two Humble Heroes Of The Civil Rights Movement, Now Angels

Last week, our country lost two special people that made America and the world a better place, as Frank E. Petersen, Jr., 83, and Amelia Boynton Robinson,104, passed away.

Frank, born in Topeka, Kansas, in 1932, enlisted in the Navy at age 18 in 1950, only two years after President Truman had desegregated the armed forces. He began as a seaman apprentice, but a year later entered the Naval Aviation Cadet Program. In 1952, now a Marine, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant and the Marines’ first black aviator.

Overcoming severe racial indignities, such as being arrested at an officers’ club on suspicion of impersonating an officer, and then overcoming a fear of heights, he brought new meaning to the noun perseverance. And after flying 350 combat missions during two tours, in Korea and Viet Nam, Frank became the first African-American to command a fighter squadron, the famous Black Knights, then an air group, and finally a major air base.

During his distinguished career, Frank obtained both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from George Washington University, was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal, and added yet another first to his list of pioneering achievements: becoming the first black Marine Corps general! Retiring in 1988, after 38 meritorious years as a three-star lieutenant general, he reflected humbly that, “Just to be able to say that you kicked down another door was such a great satisfaction.”

Frank’s fellow angel, Amelia Boynton Robinson, saw combat of a different variety and on American soil. On March 7, 1965, Bloody Sunday, Amelia joined 600 black demonstrators, led by John Lewis and the Reverend Hosea Williams, who set out to March from Selma, Alabama, to the State Capitol in Birmingham in order to petition for the right to vote. The marchers were confronted on the Edmund Pettus Bridge by Alabama state troopers armed with tear gas, billy clubs, and whips. And Amelia, walking near the front of the line and subject to the full force of the troopers’ blows, was knocked unconscious.

In fact, an iconic photograph which was widely distributed by the news media shows Amelia lying insensible on the ground with a white officer standing over her, nightstick in hand. A second photo shows a fellow marcher taking her in his arms and struggling to lift her up. Hospitalized along with at least 17 other marchers, fortunately she recovered quickly, and the extensive news coverage of Bloody Sunday was pivotal in winning wide popular support for the Civil Rights Movement.

On August 6, 1965, when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the federal Voting Rights Act into law, Amelia was a guest of honor at the White House. And on the fiftieth anniversary of the historic march, when the crossing of the Edmund Pettus Bridge was reenacted, Amelia, now 104 years old, made the journey in her wheelchair, holding hands with President Obama.

Interviewed last December, Amelia, reflecting back on Bloody Sunday, said humbly: “I wasn’t looking for notoriety. But it that’s what it took,” she added, “I didn’t care how many licks I got. It just made me even more determined to fight for our cause.”

It is my belief that the best way each of us can honor the legacy of these two individuals, who with determination and courage rose from ordinary circumstances to break the barriers of racial discrimination, is to follow their example. God willing, none of us will have to fly 350 combat missions in the service of our armed forces, or be beaten unconscious for peacefully exercising our constitutional right to assemble. What I take from their sterling contribution to making our America and our world a better place, and what I hope you will join me in doing, is starting right this minute, to renew our determination to work for social justice for all people, to make tolerance and inclusiveness a way of living, and to summon the courage to speak and act on behalf of these ideals. In short: Each and every day, be the change in the world we want to see!

Criminal Justice Novels Can Inspire Future Lawyers

Typewriter With Special Buttons

Recent Reviews of Gideon’s Children on Ms. JD and Forbes.com Suggest That Dramatic Works That Entertain While Educating Can Not Only Contribute To Judicial Reform, But Also Inspire The Next Generation Of Lawyers

In my last blog post on July 14th, I wrote about how Atticus Finch, the righteous lawyer in the novel, To Kill A Mockingbird, along with other dramatic works such as the movie, Inherit The Wind influenced me to go to law school, become a Public Defender, and write my novel, Gideon’s Children.

In a footnote to that post, I referred to a New York Times book review on July 10, 2015, of Harper Lee’s latest novel, Go Set A Watchman, that indicated same harshly contradicts the original Atticus Finch, and thereby tarnishes the reputation of the iconic righteous lawyer.

This deeply saddened me, because in the tremendously troubled times in which we live, heroes such as the righteous lawyer were never more important, and to lose such an icon was tragic. Subsequently, during a two-week road trip that I enjoyed with my wife Linda, I reflected on this concept, and decided that fortunately the ideal of the righteous lawyer wasn’t really lost. Atticus Finch was a fictional lawyer, but in Inherit The Wind, the heroic character is based upon the very real lawyer, Clarence Darrow, who in the Scopes trial demonstrated how one lawyer, with courage, dedication, fortified with careful preparation, could fight for truth, justice, and a free society of ideas. A righteous lawyer indeed! And following in his real, not fictional, footsteps, every day all across America thousands of Public Defenders face off against the tremendous power of the State and give their all to ensure that their clients’ constitutional rights are protected and justice is achieved. As portrayed in Gideon’s Children their job is a very difficult one. Their caseload is too heavy. The power of the State is enormous, with the prosecutors having the benefit of investigating officers, fingerprint and ballistic experts, and other governmental agencies such as the FBI if needed. The hostility that society, and all too frequently the judicial system, holds for those accused of crimes, spills over to PDs. And far more often than not, all the PD has to work with in trial is his or her knowledge, experience, and grit. Day after day, case after case, he or she must summon the courage to stand alone against the awesome power of the State and give a voice to those who are otherwise powerless. It should also be pointed out that PDs do not grow wealthy or gain prestige from their service, that they serve because they believe in justice. As such, they are the true righteous lawyers, flesh and blood noble warriors who deserve to be highly respected.

I wrote G.C. to educate the public about the invaluable role Public Defenders play in our Criminal Justice System, and hopefully inspire readers to appeal to their elected officials to take action on the numerous problems facing that System, including the inadequate funding of PD Offices.

Recently, on June 24, 2015, Ms. Ani Torossian posted a review of G.C. on the Ms. JD website (http://ms-jd.org/blog/article/book-review-gideons-children) in which she opined that G.C. could educate and inspire those interested in a career path in law.

And on July 15, Mr. Walt Pavlo posted a review on Forbes.com (http://www.forbes.com/sites/walterpavlo/2015/07/15/a-novel-based-on-life-of-a-public-defender-gideons-children/) in which he opined that “If you’re a law student or have an interest in law, there is no better way to learn than by reading an entertaining story of a young, idealistic attorney who went to work in the public defenders office in Los Angeles in the late 1960s.”

In conversations with Mr. Renwei Chung, who writes for the website Above The Law and interviewed me with respect to G.C. (see Interviews on howardgfranklin.com), Renwei, who just completed his second year at SMU’s Law School, also expressed to me his conviction that G.C. should be required reading in criminal law-school seminars.

Because I have always believed that criminal defense attorneys are not born, but instead evolve, the prospect of G.C. joining the body of dramatic fiction and non-fiction and inspiring those searching for their place in the law to consider careers as PDs truly delights me.

I also want to take this opportunity to thank Ms. Julienne Givot, G.C.’s social media consultant, for her positively brilliant work on Twitter that brought Ani, Walt, and Renwei into my life. They have become friends, as has Julienne, and I am wholeheartedly grateful to have their support of my mission to contribute to the growing conversation about the urgent need to reform our Criminal Justice System as part of the New Civil Rights Movement, fifty years after the original.

How the Original Atticus Finch*, the Righteous Lawyer in To Kill A Mockingbird, along with Other Dramatic Works, Influenced My Becoming A Public Defender And Writing My Novel, Gideon’s Children

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When 1960 opened the door to the tumultuous decade of change to follow, I was in my sophomore year in business school at the University of Southern California. That summer I read the recently released novel, To Kill A Mockingbird, and was profoundly impressed by its lessons that emphasize tolerance and decry racial prejudice. The novel’s protagonist, Atticus Finch, who displayed tremendous courage in representing a black man accused of rape in the face of open hostility by the white community in which he lived in the American Deep South, made a like impression, serving as he did as a moral hero and model of integrity. And as these teachings filtered through my conscious mind and touched a nerve deep inside me at the same time that the fledgling Civil Rights Movement began to occupy center stage in newspapers and on television, the idea of becoming a lawyer and fighting racial injustice in the courtroom took hold.

Later the same year, I viewed a movie, Inherit The Wind, based on the play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee (no relation to Harper Lee, Mockingbird’s author), and fuel was added to the proverbial fire. A fictionalized account of the 1925 Scopes “Monkey” Trial, in which Scopes, a high school teacher was prosecuted in Tennessee for teaching evolution, and in which the famous attorney, Clarence Darrow in defending him faced off against the equally famous William Jennings Bryan who led the team of prosecutors, as the drama unfolded, I was once again mesmerized by the idea of how one lawyer, with courage and dedication, fortified with careful preparation, could fight for truth, justice, and a free society of ideas.

In 1963, I entered the Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley, and that year, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down the landmark case of Gideon v. Wainwright, standing for the proposition that if an individual is charged with a crime and is too poor to afford counsel, one will be provided to him or her free of charge. Reading about the story behind the case in Gideon’s Trumpet by Anthony Lewis, a non-fiction book whose author possessed the narrative power of a novelist, in 1964, my focus was fixed on the Criminal Justice System. Realizing that the decision compelled the birth of large-scale Public Defender Offices, during the summer after graduation in 1966 I clerked for the L.A. County PD Office, and became a Deputy Public Defender thereafter.

Stationed in the Compton Judicial District, a low-income area hosting a large minority population of African and Latino Americans, it was my privilege to serve there for several years, and alongside my colleagues to fight for fair treatment and justice for that population.

Today, all phases of the American Criminal Justice System are in crisis. And that is why I was inspired to write my novel, Gideon’s Children, to educate readers about the birth of the large-scale Public Defender Offices in the 1960s, and the mini revolution they created in the courtroom as part of the greater Civil Rights Movement. And my hope is that while the reader is being entertained by a fascinating drama, that he or she will also learn about the workings of the Criminal Justice System, the supreme value of individual constitutional rights, and the crucial role Public Defenders play in protecting same.

With the latter under attack today by the Patriot Act, the No-Fly Rule, and government spying at all levels, and racially-tainted tragic events in Ferguson, Detroit, Staten Island, Cleveland, and North Charleston propelling a growing discussion of the desperate need to fix our broken Criminal Justice System, G.C. seeks to contribute to enlarging that discussion and further stimulating the New Civil Rights Movement that is now underway fifty years after the original.

I chose the novel form to bring this vital message to the attention of readers, because of my belief that the drama that this genre offers presents the best opportunity to capture and hold an individual’s attention over a period of time sufficient to allow the message to sink in and become indelibly imprinted. As I looked back at the books that made such a profound impression on me, I found that all of them first entertained me to capture and hold my attention, then with me intensely focused on the drama, effortlessly educated me about the need to banish racial prejudice, the First Amendment’s freedom of ideas, and the right to counsel, before finally inspiring me to become engaged.

The heroic courage and high moral standards exhibited by Atticus Finch, Harper Lee’s fictional righteous lawyer, and echoed by the characters based on the real-life Clarence Darrow, entertained and educated and ultimately inspired me to participate, to become a Public Defender, and to write Gideon’s Children. And my wholehearted hope is that G.C. will entertain you, and educate you about the workings of our Criminal Justice System, and the crucial role Public Defenders play in protecting the supremely valuable constitutional rights that each of us enjoys. And ultimately, I pray that you will be inspired to support our Public Defenders by lobbying your governmental representatives to provide the funds to vastly increase their numbers so that their caseloads will be reduced to reasonable and they can labor at their best to serve the interests of justice.

Public Defenders are today’s righteous lawyers. They are real, flesh-and-blood men and women who day after day, underfunded and overworked, and mostly alone, face off against the massive power of  the State, courageously seeking justice for their clients and protecting our precious constitutional rights. They are noble warriors, and they deserve  the support G.C. urges you to give.

*It has come to my attention via a book review in The New York Times on July 10, 2015, that in Harper Lee’s latest novel, Go Set a Watchman, the reader is presented with a second version of Atticus Finch that harshly contradicts the original character in To Kill a Mockingbird, portraying him as a racist who attends a Klan meeting and rails against desegregation.

I have not read Watchman, no do I plan to. It is my opinion that those persons responsible for the publication of this book, which tarnishes the reputation of the iconic “righteous” lawyer in what amounts to a paragon of crass commercialism, should be ashamed of themselves, and I refuse to contribute to their profiteering, and urge others to do likewise.

The Rule Of Law: Without Trust It Fails

In my blog post of May 27th, entitled The Rule Of Law: Fair Or Foul, I focused on two of the World Justice Project’s four elements that form a working definition of the Rule Of Law, namely: Accountability and Even Enforcement. In that post, as well as several prior ones, I have stressed that the Rule of Law founds our society, and that in turn, trust founds the Rule, and Accountability and Even Enforcement found trust.

Yesterday, in The New York Times I read that two weeks ago four members of the British Parliament (two from the Labour Party and two from the Conservative Party) had traveled to Washington D.C. to argue for the immediate release of Shaker Aamer, a detainee at Guantanamo Bay Prison.

Mr. Aamer has been in American custody since he was apprehended in Afghanistan in 2001 where he was doing charity work. And after a stay in Bagram Prison, where he was tortured, he was transferred to Guantanamo in February, 2002, where he has remained for thirteen years without ever having been charged with any crime.

In our Criminal Justice System, the law requires that when a person is arrested, that he appear before a judge in court within a specified time period, usually 48 hours, and learn the charges against him. Under the Patriot Act, an enemy combatant has no such rights, and while I understand that in order to combat terrorism, those charged with the responsibility of doing so must be given some extra leeway, that flexibility to gather evidence and formulate a case should still be consistent with the concept of due process. Not being a terrorism expert, I’m not sure of what the time period for filing charges should be. However, I am sure that the Rule of Law requires the application of the principle of reasonableness, and that indefinite unequivocally fails to meet this test. Our federal government has never explained why, to keep us safe from terrorists, that if they suspect a person of being connected to terrorism, they cannot gather enough evidence to charge that person with a crime within a reasonable period of time.

So: Accountability score: Zero, as in none.

And to make matters worse, in 2007, during the Bush Administration, Mr. Aamer was cleared for release, but remained incarcerated. And in 2010, under President Obama he was again cleared for release after six agencies, including the CIA, FBI, and the Departments of State and Defense unanimously concurred, but remained in prison. And even after England’s Prime Minister, David Cameron, while visiting President Obama earlier this year, asked for his release and President Obama promised to pursue the matter, Mr. Aamer still remains in Guantanamo.

Why? There may be some security issues, is what the four members of Parliament were told. After 13 years, without a single charge being made against Mr. Aamer? When he’s been cleared for release twice? Utterly unconscionable! is the only term that comes to mind to describe the actions of all three branches of our federal government.

And a serious blow to the essential element of trust, to boot. For if government officials at the highest levels are blatantly unaccountable, why should we trust the Rule of Law?

But it’s only one case, runs the counter-argument. Well, stop and consider that the same Patriot Act that has resulted in Mr. Aamer’s tragic situation also applies to you and me, so just pray that some official in our security apparatus doesn’t designate one of us as an enemy combatant.

For an encore, this morning’s New York Times reported that Kalief Browder, a young man who was held at the Rikers Island Jail in New York City for three years without ever being charged with a crime, committed suicide three years after his release. It appears that Kalief was unable to recover from repeated beatings by correction officers and fellow inmates, and the two years he spent in solitary confinement after refusing several offers from prosecutors to take a plea deal. His mother reported that while Kalief did obtain his GED and started community college after his release, he was never able to recover from the years he spent locked alone in his cell for 23 hours a day and suffered a steady deterioration of his mental health.

Where was Kalief’s Public Defender, and why was he not arraigned in accordance with New York state law within 48 to 72 hours? And how can that misfeasance swell to 3 years? And who is responsible for this tragic miscarriage of justice? No answers to any of these questions exist in the article, and I was unable to discover any by researching the issue on the internet. New York’s mayor, DeBlasio, has called for a major reform of Rikers, and in a statement, said: “Kalief’s story helped inspire our efforts.”

Accountability score: Zero, as in none. And another serious blow to the element of trust, so essential to the Rule of Law.

And to demonstrate how trust is being replaced by distrust in the minds and hearts of many of our fellow citizens, this morning’s New York Times also reported that in Cleveland, “Community leaders, distrustful of the Criminal Justice System, said Monday that they would not wait for prosecutors to decide whether to file charges against the police officers involved in the fatal shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice last year.” Ohio is one of a few states that have a statute that allow residents to request an arrest without approval of the police or prosecutors. And not trusting the prosecutors in Cleveland, who work closely with the police, and who will proceed by the secret grand jury process, community leaders have instead chosen to directly petition a judge, so as to obtain an open hearing with evidence provided by all sides involved.

Who can blame them, after so many unarmed African-Americans have been killed by police, and with rare exception were the incidents fairly and openly investigated?

For a significant portion of our fellow citizens, and in particular people of color and the poor, events, from Ferguson, to Cleveland, to Detroit, to North Charleston have seriously eroded the trust that is essential for the Rule of Law to continue governing our society. As my novel, Gideon’s Children, illustrated, the growing conversation about the crucial need to fix the serious problems in all phases of our Criminal Justice System needs to grow larger and louder now! Please let your municipal, state, and federal representatives know that reform should be at the top of their list of priorities. Nothing is more important than ensuring that the Rule of Law continues to found our society and all of the citizens who comprise it!

The Rule Of Law: Accountability Requires Recognition Of Everyone’s Humanity

In my blog post of May 27th, entitled The Rule Of Law: Fair Or Foul, I noted that four principles formed the World Justice Project’s working definition of The Rule Of Law, and thereafter focused on accountability as one of the two most crucial factors in building the essential element of trust that underpins this Rule on which our society is based.

In an article by Gary Younge, the brilliant New York correspondent for The Guardian newspaper, which I received via a blog post on Goodreads (Younge post), Gary pointed out that all lives matter, and the failure of U.S. governmental authorities “to keep track of how many people its police kill” detracts from their humanity. In agreement with this opinion, and the loss of accountability that it entails, I responded to Gary’s post on Goodreads as follows:

Gary,

Your point is well taken. In the era of high-tech, where computers have made record keeping easy+, one could validly argue that the failure by governmental authorities to record the names, ages, race, and other vital statistics of every person killed by police is deliberate, and intended to dehumanize these individuals.

As my novel, Gideon’s Children, illustrates, Public Defenders must constantly remind judges, juries, and other court personnel, that their clients are human beings. Cases begin with the Judge stating: The People versus Joe or Mary, and prosecutors constantly cloak themselves in the aura of The People, i.e., The People will prove, the People contend, the People object etc. As my characters do in Gideon’s Children, when I was a Public Defender, when the jury was being selected, I would ask potential jurors if they realized that the term, defendant, was just that, a term, and that my client was a person. Thereafter, I used to object in open court to these constant People references, so that I could remind the judge and the jury that my client was a person, a real live human being, and one of the many individuals who comprise the People of the State.

This effort to dehumanize by the white power structure, which was begun in the era of slavery, then furthered fostered during the Jim Crow Era, was poignantly illustrated by Ralph Ellison in his classic novel, The Invisible Man. And while American Society has made progress on the issue of race, it remains a serious issue as recent events in Ferguson, Staten Island, Cleveland, North Charleston, and Baltimore serve to illustrate.

Under The Rule of Law which founds our society, everyone must be accountable, and that includes the individuals who comprise our government.

In conclusion, I would emphasize that the essential element of trust underlying The Rule of Law cannot be maintained if those responsible for enforcing the law are not subject to the critical principle of accountability!

The Force Behind Gideon’s Children

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Recently I have received emails referring to my novel, Gideon’s Children, inquiring as to why I wrote it, and why I believe it is so very relevant to today’s happenings in our Criminal Justice System. The best answer to those questions, as well as several others that naturally flow from them, were set forth in a telephone interview I participated in with Renwei Chung, the brilliant young columnist for the highly popular and well regarded website, Above The Law.

Renwei and I connected through exchanges on Twitter, and after he read G.C., we agreed to a chat, which afterward was reduced to written form to insure accuracy. That format is what appears below, and most hopefully provides in-depth answers to the subject queries.

  1. What motivated you to write the book?

The current decade, 2010 to 2020, is the 50th anniversary of the 1960s and the Civil Rights Movement’s struggle for freedom and social justice. I wanted to highlight the role of the newly created Public Defenders Offices in fighting to protect individual constitutional rights in pursuit of justice, in particular for persons who are poor and of color, as part of that revolution, and because those very rights are under attack today due to the War on Terrorism which has spawned The Patriot Act, The No-Fly Rule, and virtually unrestricted spying on Americans by the FBI, CIA, and NSA.

  1. Tell me about your career, what motivated you to become a public defender?

Gideon v. Wainwright, which expanded the right to counsel when charged with a crime to persons unable to pay for same, was handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1963, my first year in law school. And as I watched the Civil Rights Movement expand during 1964 and 1965, I realized that while the opportunity to participate in Freedom Rides and marches like Selma had passed, I could still join the struggle by becoming a Public Defender and fighting for justice in the courtroom through protecting individual constitutional rights and insuring that poor people and people of color were treated equally and fairly.

  1. How has the profession changed since you started?

When I began as a Public Defender in 1968, the U.S. Supreme Court under the leadership of Chief Justice Warren was focused on expanding the meaning and enforcement of constitutional rights, in particular, the 4th, 5th, and 6th Amendments. Today, the Court has a conservative bent under Chief Justice Roberts, and has grown more restrictive in interpreting those Amendments, making defense counsel’s job more difficult.

  1. What would you do differently if you could go back to any point in your career?

My years as a Public Defender during the late 1960s and early 1970s were the most rewarding years of my 30-year legal career, so I wouldn’t do anything differently with respect to that period. Looking back at the years spent in private practice afterward, the one change that I would make is to have become much more involved in my local bar association, as well as the state bar association, so as to advocate that both groups work harder in designing and executing programs that foster social justice in the private sector, and use their influence to lobby local and state governments to prioritize programs to alleviate poverty and inequality.

  1. What advice do you have for aspiring public-service attorneys?

If you are going to be a Public Defender, nourish your passion for justice, and remind yourself daily that the work you are doing is both noble and valuable. Representing a fellow human being who is charged with a crime, is lonely in the sense that you stand against the awesome power and resources of the State, and because the hostility focused against crime and your client spills over onto you, you will not be popular with the police authority, the prosecutor, court personnel, and often your own client. Therefore, it is essential that you maintain a strong sense of how noble and valuable your contribution is to our system of criminal justice is, so that you can fully appreciate the difficulty and the rewards of your work.

  1. What is the greatest injustice or discriminatory policy you believe we are fighting today? What are the biggest injustices we have overcome?

American society has a long history with the problem of race. It began with the importation of slavery at the time of Jamestown and the Pilgrims, and was further augmented with the extermination and subjugation of Native Americans. After 250 years of slavery and 150 more of Jim Crow, even though we achieved some progress during the Civil Rights Movement with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, this problem of race, of color, still bedevils our society, economically, politically, and in our Criminal Justice System. A few months ago, Nicholas Kristof in an Op-Ed raised and explored the question of: Isn’t Everyone a Little Bit Prejudiced? Inspired by his discussion, I explored the question in a Blog-Post on my author’s website on January 19th, and just yesterday in a speech, James B. Comey, director of the FBI stated: “Maybe it’s a fact we should also face: Everyone makes judgments based on race.”

We are all human beings: average citizens, political leaders, police officers, teachers, CEOs of international corporations, and so on. And as human beings, consciously or unconsciously, we all make judgments based on race, as well as many other factors such as good looks, gender, status symbols etc., but racial differences are at the top of the list for factors clouding our judgment. There is no easy solution to this problem, but what is necessary is for us to admit that this problem does exist, and for each of us to summon Lincoln’s better angels of our nature and remind ourselves daily to do better, to try harder to treat others as we ourselves would like to be treated.

  1. What made you successful in your career?

Two Ps: Passion and Perseverance. I believed wholeheartedly in protecting my clients’ constitutional rights and in doing everything I could to insure that they received fair and just treatment at all stages of the Criminal Justice System. And in pursuing justice for my clients, I prepared as assiduously as time permitted, spent much of my off-time reading and studying case and canon law, and in the courtroom followed a firm resolution to never, ever, give up, no matter how dark the outcome appeared.

  1. If you started today, what causes would you fight for?

As recent events from Ferguson to Cleveland to Los Angeles illustrate, the struggle for freedom and social justice that was highlighted during the tumultuous and transformative 1960s is still very much with us today, fueled by the historical legacy of racial bias. So if I started as a Public Defender today, I would still fight to protect my clients constitutional rights and make every effort to ensure that they received fair and just treatment at all stages of the Criminal Justice System.

In addition, as a member of the state bar association, I would work to move that association to exert its power to educate the public to the terrible danger to our democracy presented by the abrogation of our constitutional rights presented by The Patriot Act, the No-Fly Rule, and the virtually unrestricted spying on Americans by the FBI, the CIA, and the NSA,

  1. What is currently keeping you busy?

As part and parcel of publicizing Gideon’s Children., I am blogging on my author’s website (www.howardgfranklin.com) on the Criminal Justice System, its component parts, the problems it faces, along with possible solutions, in an effort to contribute to the growing conversation in this area.

10.  What specifically can lawyers do to change the system? What can ordinary citizens do?

Lawyers can work through their state bar associations to advocate that the associations use their power and influence to press mayors, governors, and state legislatures to place improving the Criminal Justice System at the top of their list of priorities and provide the necessary funding for example to hire more Public Defenders so that their caseloads can be reduced to a level that allows time for full and proper representation. Recently, Governor Cuomo of New York requested their state legislature to provide substantial funds for this purpose, and state bar associations across the country need to lobby government officials for like funding. Likewise, additional funds must be provided to the various police authorities who provide extremely valuable services, and do so under dangerous conditions, so that they can: (1) Improve the training of officers, particularly in the area of dealing with mentally ill persons; and (2) Enlarge their efforts to meet with and better understand the communities they police, leading to a better understanding of the extremely difficult job officers perform, and hence more cooperation, thus building essential trust on both sides.

Average citizens can contribute to this effort by emailing and telephoning their governmental representatives to support the programs outlined above. And the value of thousands and thousands of emails pouring in to express support for such necessary funding of these programs should not be underestimated.

11.  Anything else we should know about your book?

I wholeheartedly hope that my novel, Gideon’s Children, will make a positive contribution by educating its readers about the workings of our Criminal Justice System and the critical need to improve those workings, as well as the equal importance of protecting our individual constitutional rights in the face of their abrogation by The Patriot Act, the No-Fly Rule, and the virtually unrestricted spying on Americans by the FBI, the CIA, and the NSA.

Pluses And Minuses I: Race And The Police

In past posts, I have opined that race remains a major problem in American society. True, on the plus side, after 250 years of slavery and 90 years of  Jim Crow, we have made some progress, most notably the desegregation of schools, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the election of African Americans to local, state, and national governmental offices, culminating in Barack Obama rising to the Presidency. On the minus side, however, racial prejudice, both explicit and implicit, nevertheless remains, and most visibly in the relationship between minorities and the police.

The incidents in Ferguson, New York City, Cleveland, North Charleston, Baltimore, Tulsa, and Los Angeles have been well covered by the print, television, and social media platforms, so I will not reiterate the tragic details in this post. Instead, I want to suggest what is necessary to alter the sad state of affairs that exists today and thus prevent further abuses.

To begin, let me make it perfectly clear that our police perform an extremely valuable service to our society, and place themselves in harm’s way to do so, as evidenced by officers being killed in New York City and Hattiesburg, Mississippi, to name just two tragic incidents. Further, when I was a Public Defender, I had the experience of riding with officers of the Compton Police Department during night patrol, and I most definitely learned that their job is both difficult and dangerous. That said, however, the events from Ferguson to Los Angeles still scream out for police reform.

By reform, I mean a serious renewal of allegiance by police departments to community policing, i.e., maintaining public safety by engaging with communities. This requires increased foot patrols that bring officers into direct contact with residents, as well as working groups that foster dialogue between police and the community. If thoughtfully applied, this approach builds the essential element of trust and naturally encourages citizen cooperation that aids the police in performing their duties.

Further, to boost the building of trust, the police must demonstrate the same accountability that we require of ordinary citizens under the Rule of Law. Numerous officials, including police chiefs, have recognized this critical element and have implemented change to achieve transparency and accountability. However, many heads of police unions, like Thomas Lynch in New York, are married to the status quo and seek to protect their members even in cases where police officers acted wrongly. This problem must be addressed.

I would like to suggest that our police departments be further improved as follows:

First, in the hiring process, candidates must be thoroughly screened, with added emphasis placed on psychological and sociological attributes. Right from the start, let’s explore a candidate’s psychology re power and how it’s applied, and his or her viewpoints on community policing and minorities; and

Secondly, training periods must be lengthened so as to train future officers in how to separate the necessary use of force from the aggressive form, how to handle the mentally disturbed, and how best to build trust with and gain the cooperation of the community they are policing.

All of us have a huge interest in seeing that our police officers are selected from the highest quality applicants possible, then are exceedingly well trained, and like us are held to be accountable for their actions if they act improperly. And I urge everyone to communicate this message, and to keep communicating it to his or her elected officials at the local, state, and national level until change occurs and this goal is achieved.