Although blacks are only a small percentage of our community, the courthouse is filled with them: the halls and gallery benches are overflowing with black defendants, families, and crime victims. Most whites with business in court arrive quietly, dress appropriately, and keep their heads down. They get in and get out–if they can–as fast as they can. For blacks, the courthouse is like a carnival. They all seem to know each other: hundreds and hundreds each day, gossiping, laughing loudly, waving, and crowding the halls.
When I am appointed to represent a client I introduce myself and explain that I am his lawyer. I explain the court process and my role in it, and I ask the client some basic questions about himself. At this stage, I can tell with great accuracy how people will react. Hispanics are extremely polite and deferential. An Hispanic will never call me by my first name and will answer my questions directly and with appropriate respect for my position. Whites are similarly respectful.
A black man will never call me Mr. Smith; I am always “Mike.” It is not unusual for a 19-year-old black to refer to me as “dog.” A black may mumble complaints about everything I say, and roll his eyes when I politely interrupt so I can continue with my explanation. Also, everything I say to blacks must be at about the third-grade level. If I slip and use adult language, they get angry because they think I am flaunting my superiority.
At the early stages of a case, I explain the process to my clients. I often do not yet have the information in the police reports. Blacks are unable to understand that I do not yet have answers to all of their questions, but that I will by a certain date. They live in the here and the now and are unable to wait for anything. Usually, by the second meeting with the client I have most of the police reports and understand their case.
Unlike people of other races, blacks never see their lawyer as someone who is there to help them. I am a part of the system against which they are waging war. They often explode with anger at me and are quick to blame me for anything that goes wrong in their case.
Black men often try to trip me up and challenge my knowledge of the law or the facts of the case. I appreciate sincere questions about the elements of the offense or the sentencing guidelines, but blacks ask questions to test me.
The Constitution allows a defendant to make three crucial decisions in his case. He decides whether to plea guilty or not guilty. He decides whether to have a bench trial or a jury trial. He decides whether he will testify or whether he will remain silent. A client who insists on testifying is almost always making a terrible mistake, but I cannot stop him.
Most blacks are unable to speak English well. They cannot conjugate verbs. They have a poor grasp of verb tenses. They have a limited vocabulary. They cannot speak without swearing. They often become hostile on the stand. Many, when they testify, show a complete lack of empathy and are unable to conceal a morality based on the satisfaction of immediate, base needs. This is a disaster, especially in a jury trial. Most jurors are white, and are appalled by the demeanor of uneducated, criminal blacks.
Most criminal cases do not go to trial. Often the evidence against the accused is overwhelming, and the chances of conviction are high. The defendant is better off with a plea bargain: pleading guilty to a lesser charge and getting a lighter sentence.
The decision to plea to a lesser charge turns on the strength of the evidence. When blacks ask the ultimate question—”Will we win at trial?”—I tell them I cannot know, but I then describe the strengths and weaknesses of our case. The weaknesses are usually obvious: There are five eyewitnesses against you. Or, you made a confession to both the detective and your grandmother. They found you in possession of a pink cell phone with a case that has rhinestones spelling the name of the victim of the robbery. There is a video of the murderer wearing the same shirt you were wearing when you were arrested.
If you tell a black man that the evidence is very harmful to his case, he will blame you. “You ain’t workin’ fo’ me.” “It like you workin’ with da State.” Every public defender hears this. The more you try to explain the evidence to a black man, the angrier he gets. It is my firm belief many blacks are unable to discuss the evidence against them rationally because they cannot view things from the perspective of others. They simply cannot understand how the facts in the case will appear to a jury.
As a public defender, I have learned many things about people. One is that defendants do not have fathers. If a black even knows the name of his father, he knows of him only as a shadowy person with whom he has absolutely no ties. Furthermore, many black defendants don’t even have mothers who care about them. Many are raised by grandmothers after the state removes the children from an incompetent teenaged mother.
Many of these mothers and grandmothers are mentally unstable, and are completely disconnected from the realities they face in court and in life. A 47-year-old grandmother will deny that her grandson has gang ties even though his forehead is tattooed with a gang sign or slogan. When I point this out in as kind and understanding way as I can, she screams at me. When black women start screaming, they invoke the name of Jesus and shout swear words in the same breath.
Black women have great faith in God, but they have a twisted understanding of His role. They do not pray for strength or courage. They pray for results: the satisfaction of immediate needs. Moreover, the mothers and grandmothers pray in the hallways–not for justice, but for acquittal.
When I explain that the evidence that their beloved child murdered the shop keeper is overwhelming, and that he should accept the very fair plea bargain I have negotiated, they will tell me that he is going to trial and will “ride with the Lord.” They tell me they speak to God every day and He assures them that the young man will be acquitted.
The mothers and grandmothers do not seem to be able to imagine and understand the consequences of going to trial and losing. Some–and this is a shocking reality it took me a long time to grasp–don’t really care what happens to the client, but want to make it look as though they care.
This means pounding their chests in righteous indignation, and insisting on going to trial despite terrible evidence. They refuse to listen to the one person–me–who has the knowledge to make the best recommendation. These people soon lose interest in the case, and stop showing up after about the third or fourth court date. It is then easier for me to convince the client to act in his own best interests and accept a plea agreement.
Now just for the sake of our tie in to this article, this abovementioned point really hit us as the behavior we have been subject to in Baltimore, New York, Los Angeles, and certainly as well as St. Louis and several other places.
From time to time the media report that although blacks are 12 percent of the population they are 40 percent of the prison population. This is supposed to be an outrage that results from unfair treatment by the criminal justice system. What the media only hint at is another staggering reality: recidivism.
Black men are arrested and convicted over and over. It is typical for a black man to have five felony convictions before the age of 30. This kind of record is rare among whites and Hispanics, and probably even rarer among Asians.
However, my experience has also taught me that blacks are different by almost any measure to all other people. They cannot reason as well. They cannot communicate as well. They cannot control their impulses as well. They are a threat to all who cross their paths, black and non-black alike.
I do not know the solution to this problem. I do know that it is wrong to deceive the public. Whatever solutions we seek should be based on the truth rather than what we would prefer was the truth. As for myself, I will continue do my duty to protect the rights of all who need me.