Sunday, December 31, 2017
Saturday, November 25, 2017
Saturday, October 21, 2017
TEDx Spokane Talk
Slide #1: As a trial attorney, I love going to bat for my clients and my training as public defender commends me to represent my clients and not causes.
Slide #2: The story I am about to tell you however has little to do with trial advocacy. in fact I found my path to career success outside of the courtroom. Few years ago, I discovered that victory in court alone will not keep my clients out of jail. I realized that in modern America it is better to be rich and guilty than poor and innocent. This depressing state is where I found myself 4 years ago. No thanks to the revolving doors of our criminal justice system.
Slide #3: Today, however I wake up every day excited to go to work, but it wasn’t always that way and I think sharing a little bit about my journey may probably inspire one or two other people.
Slide #4: Everyone here knows that winters in Spokane can be very brutal, especially around Christmas. And for someone like me that grew up in tropical Africa, it is particularly tough. It was one of those under 10 degrees days when Mike grabbed my hand, jumping up and down: “Francis you saved my life! You got me out of jail; I got a job as a janitor, got clean for a few weeks. I know I promised you I won’t use drugs anymore but I did and I lost my job again. Now I am back here at the homeless shelter. Please don’t give up on me!”
Slide #5: When I looked around the faces of others huddled in blankets all around the room, I see many of my clients, some of whom I recently got out of jail after a hard won motion and trial advocacy. They are homeless, famished, with no hope and nowhere to go.
Slide #6: When Mike finally let go of me, my eyes caught something on the wall of the transitioning shelter. It was the list of all the homeless people affiliated with the shelter that died that year. When I drew closer, I found more than half of the 12 people on that list are my clients. When inquired of the cause of death for one of those posted on the notice board, an individual I believed I got out of jail on pretrial motion victory, I was informed he died of complications from frost bite and alcohol induced dementia.
Slide # 7: Guess what crimes my clients often go to jail for? Simple misdemeanor offenses, something we call quality of life crimes. In fact, one of the cases I represented Mike in was for taking a bite of an apple at the 7/11 store. The value of the item: 78 cents!
Slide #8: Now, get this, it cost a minimum of $120 per day to house people in jail. A colleague of mine once said that, it would have been cheaper if we put jail inmates up in the most expensive hotel downtown.
Slide #9: The experience I had at that transitional shelter with Mike got seared into my memory, as an immigrant from Africa, I believed no one should die they way my client died, helpless without dignity, in the greatest nation on earth
Slide #10: As Madiba Nelson Mandela rightly stated "overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity, it is an act of justice".
Slide #11: It was such a joy then, when I got back to my office and discovered that a collaborative team prosecutors, public defenders, the court and police officers were putting together the first Spokane Community Court . I was happy to be part of the team. The team made a deliberate choice to locate the court away from the courthouse to the downtown library.
Slide #12: With the help of our current police chief, we pulled the data and found facts that confirm my suspicion that my clients were serving life sentences even though they didn’t know it.
Slide #13: The number of people of color and the poor in our county jail pre and post trial compare to their population figures was also saddening.
Slide #14: We also found that majority of my client suffers from mental health. In fact, Spokane county jail was then the only county jail in the state to be licensed as a mental health provider with close to 46 suicide watch cells!
Slide #15: We immediately began to work with Spokane County Medical Foundation and Spokane City Human Services and Housing Authority making Spokane Community Court, one of the few community courts in the nation to successfully connect the dots between incarceration, poverty and health care.
Slide #16: The Community of care providers strategically co-located with the court has since assisted a hundred and forty three participants in obtaining housing, health care, and mental health counseling. This continuum of care has changed many lives by connecting my clients with nurses, doctors, and a place to live while they resolve their criminal charges. In fact last Sunday, while shopping at our local Costco, an elderly African America gentleman gave me a bear hug, and said thank you, you helped me when my son suffers from addiction years ago. He's doing well now. Thank you.
Slide #17: But it wasn’t me but the community made it happened. There is a judge willing to get the community involved in dispensing Justice, there are prosecutors willing to stop counting their successes on how many convictions obtained annually. The community of nurses, doctors, firemen, police officers, mental health counselors, and social workers willing to leave the confines of their offices, hospitals, churches, mosques and synagogues and meet people where they are at: under the bridges and alleyways of our inner cities, landlords willing to rent to people with criminal history, employers willing to give people with criminal record a chance to prove their skills and dexterity by banning the box on criminal record in employment application.
Slide #18: Now, remember Mike, the gentleman that asked me not to give up on him on that Christmas trip to the homeless shelter, he died a little while ago. But before his death, he was housed again after living on the street for a long time, he lived a good life and for more than 6 months while on weekly report to the court lived well. His family stated that the time he spent after our intervention was the best part of his life. His daughter was happy she finally gets to hug her Dad before he passed away. Herein lies my joy, but we are not there yet. The answer to low level quality of life crimes is going to take more than a sob story from me.
Slide #19: We need a community oriented criminal justice that cares for the poor, the homeless, minorities and the marginalized. A court that is not run on the back of the fines and fees paid by the poor. Today, we found more people come to Community court to access services than those that come with a ticket and citations
Slide #20: You too can become part of this great change, find the data on how many homeless people live in your city. What is their race and ethnicity? How many routinely get thrown in jail for quality of life crimes? What is your city or town doing about it? What are you doing about it?
How did we become the country with the highest incarceration rate in the world? if your city or county has a Community Court near you, visit them to volunteer or just go in to see things for yourself and while there, thank the volunteers who are at the fore front of this struggle. If there are none in your neighborhood ask why not?
Slide #21: To stand a chance of overcoming the challenges we faced in America today, Access to care has to meet access to justice. It's time we look into collaboration.
Slide #23: Yes, the task ahead is daunting and unprecedented, but we limit ourselves when we rely on what has been done before. But as Dr. King once said, the long arc of moral universe bends towards true justice.
Slide #24: And when that happens, we will reap the benefits, save tax payers money and improve quality of life of our fellow citizens. Thank you and please Join in!
Sunday, September 24, 2017
We, the People, recognize that we have responsibilities as well as rights; that our destinies are bound together; that a freedom which only asks what's in it for me, a freedom without a commitment to others, a freedom without love or charity or duty or patriotism, is unworthy of our founding ideals, and those who died in their defense."
- Barak Obama
- Barak Obama
Wednesday, August 23, 2017
Sunday, July 16, 2017
“As nightfall does not come at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there is a twilight when everything remains seemingly unchanged. And it is in such twilight that we all must be most aware of change in the air – however slight – lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness.”
― William O. Douglas,