“Black lives matter” rallies unite Bay Area public defenders

on December 18, 2014

Public defenders staged courthouse demonstrations across the Bay Area on Thursday to urge reform in the criminal justice system’s treatment of people of color.

Wearing a t-shirt bearing the words “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” and amidst chants of “Black lives matter,” San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi called for immediate action from the steps of the city’s Hall of Justice.

“Our job as public defenders is to ensure that there’s justice for all,” Adachi said. “But we know that that doesn’t happen. We know that routinely poor people are prosecuted more severely. People of color are arrested and convicted at higher rates.”

Adachi said that his office’s Racial Justice Committee, which was founded in 2013, has worked to combat the disproportionate arrest, conviction, and incarceration of black and Latino people in the city. It has also pushed for bail and prison reform.

Also at the rally was Cephus “Uncle Bobby” Johnson, the uncle of Oscar Grant, the unarmed 22-year-old who was shot in the back and killed by BART police officer Johannes Mehserle on a train platform in 2009.

“We are in a state of emergency,” Johnson said. “Let us continue to increase the swell that’s happening all across this nation, and let us continue to speak to this injustice that we see on a regular basis.”

“Tatiana would say thank you,” he added, referring to Grant’s young daughter.

The rally ended in 4 ½ minutes of silence, one minute for each hour that Michael Brown’s body lay dead in a Ferguson, MO street.

Across the Bay, Contra Costa County Chief Public Defender Robin Lipetzky echoed similar sentiments in front of the superior court in Martinez.

“We see the immediate effects on the disparate treatment of our clients. We see it in the fact that people of color are underrepresented in our juries and they’re over represented in our jails,” Lipetzky said. “We see it everyday in judicial decisions and in district attorney filing decisions.”

The demonstration came on the heels of a statement from the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s office announcing that it would not file charges against Richmond Police Officer Joe Avila, who was found with 4 lbs. of marijuana, which he’d seized on the job, at his home in Oakley.

Avila, a canine patrol officer, has said that he took the drugs to train his dog, Bosco.

“In the ways our clients are treated versus police officers…. [the case] highlights the disparity that continues to exist,” said Deputy Public Defender Brandon Banks.

“If that’s any other individual where they have that amount of marijuana and they make statements admitting that they have that amount of marijuana, they’re going to be charged with possession,” Banks said. “Particularly if it’s a young black or Latino person.”

Lipetzky said she believes that the district attorney’s decision is based solely on Avila’s status at a police officer.

“Our clients are routinely sent to jail and prison for possession of marijuana in amounts much smaller than this,” Lipetzky said. “It is this kind is preferential treatment for police officers who violate the law that leads many to conclude that the system is not fair.”

9 Comments

  1. John Spartan on December 18, 2014 at 6:51 pm

    What a bunch of rhetoric and self serving statements!!! No one goes to jail for Marijuana cases these days but public defenders want you to believe special circumstances for Avila. Maybe charges were not filed because under the Health and Safety Code an Officer can have narcotics to train his canine. There was NO crime to charge in that case and that is why charges were not filed.

    Maybe your clients go to jail and prison because they are guilty and because you as public defenders did not defend them well enough!!?? Before you cast out a bunch of propaganda look deep into yourself and ask yourself if you did everything for your clients??

    Easy to blame someone else because you lost a case and maybe just not a good attorney!! Jury trials are set up for the defendant. ..innocent til proven guilty so ALL of your clients go into trial as innocent and you lose their freedom during trial because of the evidence against them or your own incompetence! !



    • Kim on December 19, 2014 at 12:46 pm

      People go to prison for marijuana ALL THE TIME. You’re inventing your own reality.



      • Xristina on December 19, 2014 at 12:50 pm

        You don’t go to jail for misdemeanors.



  2. Anthony Alan on December 18, 2014 at 6:55 pm

    If “Black Lives Matter” so much to the public defenders, then why are they so quick to accept a plea deal and strongly recommend that their clients take it?

    Why do private attorneys have a much better record than the PDs?



    • John Spartan on December 18, 2014 at 8:28 pm

      Very good point!!



    • Kim on December 19, 2014 at 12:44 pm

      First of all – where’d you get your statistics? They don’t match my experience at all. I’d rather have a PD any day. They know the system better than anyone.

      Second, private attorneys refusing pleas and forcing to trial is not always a good decision. They are made of TIME. They have all the time in the world to take a case slowly to trial because they can charge you for every minute and can say no to new cases. PDs have no control over caseload and have to make tough calls when they truly don’t think a trial will help. It often reaches a *worse* result.

      Are there variations among PDs? Duh. Of course. They’re all individuals. But in general they’re the absolute most committed and justice-seeking attorneys on the planet.



      • Anthony Alan on December 21, 2014 at 6:41 pm

        No statistics, just feedback from clients that had both PDs and private attorneys.

        Most regular defendants call them “Public Pretenders” for a reason.

        Yes they have a heavier case load and that is the main reason why they accept plea deals more than private attorneys.

        Hey if you’re happy with a PD, great. I would also suggest that you try to stay out of trouble and will not have to use either one.

        Now for your claim that people go to “prison” all the time for marijuana possession, you provide your stats to prove that point. This is the biggest lie going around that people are in prison just because they got caught with marijuana.

        How much? Was sales? Transportation? Growing? What?

        Simple walking down the street with a few ounces, does not send anyone to prison by itself. Period!!!



  3. Anthony Alan on December 19, 2014 at 6:43 am

    It is very interesting that the SF PD Jeff Adachi is quick to “indict the system” when he is pushing for pre trial release services run by the county, at tax payers expense, that will require defendants who have not yet been convicted of anything to:

    1) Submit to drug testing
    2) Counseling
    3) Weekly or daily check in with a probation officer
    4) Seek employment ( if they are unemployed )

    and other requirements if they wish to be released from jail on O.R. while their court case is proceeding.

    And again this is BEFORE they have even been convicted of anything. These are the same conditions usually placed on some one that has already been convicted.

    So essentially they are pleading guilty before even having a hearing or trial!



  4. Carol Hegstrom on December 19, 2014 at 9:16 am

    I hope the RPD takes up the slack where the Contra Costa County prosecutor has clearly deputed the ball by failing to bring charges against the police officer WHO WAS CAUGHT WITH 5 POUNDS OF MARIJUANA in his home. This kind of police officer undermines the credibility of the entire police department. The rout needs to be nipped on the bud. I am disgusted with the District Attorney for failing to do the job we citizens payfur them and expect them to do.



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