Defining: “Fighting for Justice”

I SURVIVED MY FIRST YEAR OF LAW SCHOOL!  o| ̄|_

Feels like I barely survived.

After finishing my first year, law school felt very methodical. It wasn’t about what I wanted to do in the legal field but a year of teaching 1Ls (the first year students) how to learn the law.  Law is often thought to be its own language–“legalese” as they say–and sometimes it is. How you argue legally and write legally is completely different from what I was taught in undergrad.

In undergrad, it was all about how much you can word vomit onto the 10 page paper to sound as smart as possible. In legal writing,  it becomes crucial to write the legal issue you see, state the rule, and succinctly support your argument with the legal authority and to articulate your point clearly. It’s really tedious and can be boring, but the point is so that a “lay person” (someone who is not a legal scholar or in the legal profession) would be able to read what you wrote and understand the points you are making. Additionally, in the first year of law school, classes were assigned. There was no autonomy in “choosing” the classes we took because there was a core curriculum for 1Ls to complete. The school gave you the foundation for  you to build your legal knowledge. And walking out of my hellish first year of law school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do as a lawyer.

Not only did I not know what I wanted to do, I also couldn’t put my finger on what it meant to me to “fight for justice” as a lawyer.   


PRIOR TO LAW SCHOOL. . .

Going into law school, I thought I still wanted to work with the same CSEC (Commercially Sexually Exploited Children) population. However, I didn’t have any further insight into how I could better serve this population and other underserved populations in need of a legal advocate as a lawyer.

Going into the summer, I was accepted into the Public Defender’s Office. I was excited to start because the head public defender had a vision of the office he lead, which was “holistic defense.” This approach was to try to work with the community where clients who are in need of public defenders to not only give the best representation in criminal court but to see what other services and resources can be given to the community.  With this vision of “holistic defense” fighting for justice happened inside and outside the courtroom.

One of these efforts for justice is through community engagement.

Block party

As an intern, I was able to help out at the second annual Block Party hosted by the Public Defender’s Office. 600 people from the community came out where they met with other organizations who work to give resources such as job opportunities, free background checks (DOJ Livescan Fingerprinting), and understand resources for benefits like food stamps in addition to the fun carnival events like pony rides and the food.

The more work I do with the Public Defender’s Office, the more I learn, this is the environment I want to be in. Where, as a lawyer, you have the privilege of knowing how to better navigate the legal systems and to help advocate for people who are in need of a fair chance when faced with criminal charges.  The office that I am privileged to be a part of truly cares for their clients and looks to fight for justice inside and outside of the courtroom.

Public defender’s get such a bad rep. In a given “Law and Order” episode, you see the  public defender stumbling in (either depicted as a green, doe-eyed young attorney who doesn’t know what s/he is getting themselves into OR a burnt-out attorney who’s trying to get out of there as quickly as possible) to the court room. In “My Cousin Vinny” the Public Defender is stuttering through his speech and is incompetent. What I want to do is to firstly, completely negate this stereotype: in Alameda county, California, the public defenders I have encountered are the most compassionate, intelligent, and strong-willed lawyers I have ever met. In the office or at events, I often hear from our own clients and community members, “well…I was appointed a public defender, but then I got a ‘real’ attorney.” And it breaks my heart because this misnomer is still ringing true even in the communities this office is working to serve.

I also want to keep learning from this office because they are fighting injustice at the intersections of criminal law. The program I am working for works to dismiss criminal convictions of individuals who meet a certain set of requirements (see California Penal Code § 1203.4 for the criteria). And this is to help people move on from their past so that they are no longer defined by the mistakes they may have made and be held back when they are trying to be productive citizens.

Through my internship, I feel like I’m finally seeing what my future as a lawyer can be. Despite the monotony of school and the feeling of being back in an ivory tower, removed from how I can contribute to addressing social justice, I am seeing a version of my future in which there is intersectional work in addressing social justice in the day to day fights of criminal law where a person’s life and liberty are on the line while holding the powers that be accountable. I still go back and forth between trying to “fight from within” to change the systems we are part of from within, and to just smash a “broken” system (like our criminal justice system) that is so tainted with racism, genocide, slavery, and oppression since its inception and to start anew. However, this experience at the public defender’s office is opening my eyes to how there may be room for both, by tackling injustice wherever we see it and working to solve it from every direction.

 

I hope to be able to provide more insights on how I see justice is being fought throughout my experience at this office.

 

Much love & light,
the Pacifist Fighter

Human Trafficking Awareness Month

January is human trafficking month.

I wanted to write about the issue of human trafficking from the perspective of an ally.As a fighter (a human rights advocate) I can only use my voice to highlight this issue from that of an ally. I, will NEVER know or begin to understand the trauma that is associated with being trafficked and exploited.

Having the work I have done in academia in researching, speaking to victims and survivors, seeing the day to day struggles of girls that I teach Tae Kwon Do to at-risk of or have already identified as CSEC (commercially sexually exploited children) and now gaining the perspective as an employee of an organization fighting to end commercial sexual exploitation of children in Oakland, has given me a unique voice as an ally in this fight to end human trafficking. I am reminded to not contribute to the voice that “speaks for” victims and survivors but only hope to elevate their voices and needs in their struggle.

In my attempts to contribute to the continued awareness that is needed on this issue, I want this post to reflect domestic human trafficking. First in regards to the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC).
Human trafficking is a multifaceted issue. The one aspect I cover is one of many struggles in regards to this human rights violation.

On January 9, 2014, in congruence with Human Trafficking Awareness, Nancy O’Malley’s office with Alameda County District Attorney’s Office held a press conference along with MISSSEY (Motivating, Inspiring, Supporting, Serving Sexually Exploited Youth). with Clear Channel Outdoor embarked on a campaign to outreach to the Oakland community. This is to shed light onto 2 issues.

One is to the existence of domestic human trafficking in the United States that focuses on the exploitation of our children.
It is to bring light to the fact that children are coerced or forced into prostitution. This outreach campaign with Alameda County’s DA’s office, MISSSEY Inc., & Clear Channel first demonstrates that when children are being prostituted, its child abuse and under our criminal code 18 USC § 2251, it is a form of human trafficking as well. There is a need to see these children as victims of such heinous crimes and not paint them as “teen prostitutes” there is NO SUCH THING.

A child cannot legally consent to sex, how can s/he perpetrate the “crime” of prostitution when s/he is unable to consent to the act. The Bureau of Justice  Statistics’ 2010 noted that out of the 62,670 arrests made in regards to Prostitution & Commercialized Vices 1,040 arrests were against juveniles (http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/aus9010.pdf).  There is still a lot that needs to be unpacked about this issue. Which also raises the awareness on the issue so that  this problem can be combated as a community & is something that anyone can contribute to (that’s subject for a whole other post).

"Buying a Teen for Sex is Child Abuse. Turning a Blind eye is Neglect"
caption reads: “Buying a Teen for Sex is Child Abuse. Turning a Blind eye is Neglect”

The billboard above is a part of the campaign that is advertised in selected regions around Alameda county.
Its to illustrate that while this crime is still occurring everyday in our community & making it a community issue.  Another purpose of this campaign has been to get our youth who were exploited or are being exploited to gain access to resources for their healing and exit from “the life.” MISSSEY is as an organization works with +90 clients per month to provide services to girls at-risk or identifying as CSEC. Though MISSSEY is currently only serving female clients at-risk or facing commercial sexual exploitation, the need is for YOUTH at large. Boys are exploited just as much as girls, but it is more of a hidden problem because the predominant narrative has been the exploiation of girls. There’s also social stigma for boys to be in a place of vulnerability and a condition in our society that doesn’t allow for them to be vulnerable unless they are to be seen as weak or emasculating. This social stigma is best captured in  a rather old, but heavily powerful, documentary titled The Tough Guise (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3exzMPT4nGI).

Hoping that I’ll deconstruct the prevailing narratives that do not accurately portray the discourse around the various issues of human trafficking in another post.

Commercial sexual exploitation of children is a multifaceted fight within the fight to end human trafficking.
There is a need to:
1) Dispel any notion that children are willing sex workers. So the term teen prostitute is just so wrong on so many levels
2) Address CSEC as a problem that  happens in any community. Exploiters exploit anyone. It has been seen as a problem in Oakland among communities of color. But it can happen on any socio-economic & ethnic demographic.
3) expand resources to help children who are caught in this systemic exploitation.

Check out http://protectoaklandkids.org/ to learn more about the fight to end commercial sexual exploitation of children in our communities.

Sincerely, in Solidarity,

the pacifist fighter

Eye for an Eye Makes the Whole World Blind…How Justice Was Truly Blinded

“eye for an eye makes the whole world blind…”

Mahatma Gandhi famously uttered these words in reflection  when facing and challenging injustice. I heed these words as the fault in only seeking short term solutions in a deeply systematic problem that needs long-term solutions for sustainability.

Gandhi’s words never rang truer for me after hearing the verdict on the George Zimmerman trial and witnessing the outcry(and support) of the verdict. I found myself asking: Is this why Justice is blind in America? Are so we blinded by structural violence that true justice is obstructed from us all? What if Justice is blind; not by the blindfold of subjectivity but by prejudice….

How I viewed the outcome of the Zimmerman trail was that  all of us, have  suffered and will continue to suffer when Justice is blinded unfairly; leaving us all to only suffer equally.

At our weekly staff meeting at WEAP, it was only natural that we all spoke on our personal reflections in the process and verdict of the Zimmerman case. We all had our opinions, and I want to express my sentiments as I further contemplated this issue.

Treyvon Martin’s death and the subsequent trail of George Zimmerman isn’t simply a reflection of the complications in our justice system. I think it is a bigger reflection on how our society at large (mis)represent struggles that still goes on today in the United States.

With that said, I want to explain my thoughts by addressing the following points:

・How did the “Stand Your Ground” law affect the outcome of this case
What does George Zimmerman’s trail and murder of Treyvon Martin say about hate crimes, justifiable use of force, and gun control in the United States.

・How struggles are ONGOING and relevant to us all.

Let me start with the first point: How did Florida’s  “Stand Your Ground” law affect the outcome of this case? 

In my opinion, in a defense against a murder charge, the law was used in the defense’s favor. It was a good defense under their narrative that it was Martin who instigated the fight between the two–though I find fault in Zimmerman himself  for following this young man despite orders from 911 dispatchers to NOT follow Martin.

To briefly summarize, this “Stand Your Ground” law outlines what conditions will allow someone to use deadly force to defend themselves.

The Florida law seems to apply to Zimmerman & his defense attorney used it in his advantage in a state that has very loose gun control. He and Martin got into an altercation–which the defense argues was instigated by Martin– and as a result, Zimmerman “justifiably” shot his “attacker.”

But would this be justifiable? There is a lot that can be said about the unequal use of force and unfortunately, Martin isn’t alive to tell his side of this tragedy. Some portray this as a man who became a vigilante. He thought that Treyvon was “suspicious;” he then follows this young man while being advised by 911 dispatcher to stand down. As a result, there is an altercation and a subsequent death of Treyvon Martin. Again, the defense for George Zimmerman argued that it was Treyvon Martin who initiated the altercation between himself and Zimmerman (The defense’s arguments are articulated here: CBS News Reporting on Zimmerman Defense).

What is being paralleled to this incident is the case of Marissa Alexander of Florida. In Marissa’s case, she did NOT  kill or physically shoot her perceived threat–an ex-husband who was threatening her at her doorsteps. She was ultimately charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and sentenced with the maximum sentence this charge carries: a hefty 20 year sentence. Though she pleaded not guilty due to the very “Stand Your Ground” law in Florida, the courts ruled that “Stand Your Ground” law did not apply to Marissa for she fired shots into the air  as warning shots against her ex-husband and not to avoid any imminent threat to her life. Additionally, the courts ruled that because Marissa retreated into her home after firing her warning shots, she had the means not to use deadly force since she had means to escape her threat. She was also charged for endangering her ex-husband and her children because she had fired it into the air (here is an article on the issue via a Chicago Tribune article). Now, domestic violence adds a whole other layer to Marissa’s story because it shows a connection with her would-be victim: her husband. Now why is Marissa’s story being paralleled to that of George Zimmerman? Mainly, I believe it is because of the application of the same “Stand Your Ground” law towards Zimmerman.

Some will say that there is a heavily racist system of justice when juxtaposing these cases. Other will argue that there is actually an overemphasis on the issue of race. I will argue that it is hard to juxtapose these two cases but there is clearly injustice in how these two crimes were prosecuted. Race also cannot be overemphasized, but it can’t be negated as a non-issue either.

Why was it that Marissa Alexander, a black woman, received the maximum sentence? Why did the jury only take 12 minutes to rule that Alexander was guilty?

Now you may be asking. how does this relate to the Zimmerman case?  I first wondered myself how a woman–who shot at her ex-husband whom has a history of domestic violence against her–received a punishment holding her “accountable” to her actions, why wasn’t George Zimmerman? I think this is due to a legal loophole.

Zimmerman was charged with 2nd Degree murder and hate crime charges. The state of Florida defines a hate crime against a persons as a crime, “in which the perpetrator intentionally selects the victim based on one of the following characteristics: race, color, religion, ethnicity, ancestry, national origin, sexual orientation, advanced age or mental/physical disability”. And though our media depicts defendants as “guilty until proven innocent” our judical system functions with the benefit of the doubt that all are innocent until proven guilty. As the defense painted a picture of Treyvon Martin instigating the fight that broke between the two, self-defense seemed “justifiable. ”

However, that is one narrative that was spoken that day. Treyvon Martin is dead and cannot speak for himself how that night played out. As Martin Bashir articluates here, Martin was ultimately caricaturized  with “an identity that implies criminality, juvenile delinquency, and all around characteristics of a trouble maker ” as Mr. Bashir phrased it. Limited narratives  can often be perpetuated. However, with every narrative, there is a counter-narrative.

Let’s  not forget this narrative: George Zimmerman WAS still responsible for this young man’s death. Perhaps not criminally responsible–as ruled by the courts– but he had facilitated in causing the death of Treyvon Martin. There indeed is a tragedy that he will not be held accountable at all to Martin’s death. Perhaps if aggravated assault with a deadly weapon–as was the case for Marissa Alexander–was added to George Zimmerman’s charges, he too would have gotten the maximum sentence for his actions that night.

The acquittal of Zimmerman also goes to show that race may not have been a determining factor but it definitely is an integral element in how this incident played out.

I think that the significance of this case goes back to something that’s been reiterated to me during my time with WEAP. They take on healthcare, workers’ rights, and immigrants’ rights because–though they are seemingly unrelated, they all relate to one another through economic human rights. In my opinion, the same kind of connection can be made with the outcome of the Zimmerman case.

I’d like to conclude with the following: How Treyvon’s death is about the struggles of race. And how struggles are ONGOING and relevant to us all.  Treyvon’s tragedy isn’t just a struggle for  the recognition of struggles and injustices in Black communities in America but in recognizing the injustices that befall all communities.

What happened to Treyvon Martin was a travesty, but i think out of this tragedy is where we can gather in solidarity to fight the injustices of our society and making sure that these same tragedies are no longer repeated time and time again. Race plays a factor in a lot of things. Many testimonies covered by the media highlight the voices of Black communities and their leaders raising concern that the justice system ignores young Black men.

In truth, the blind eye that is turned away from injustice affects too many communities.

I’ll take a case that hits a bit closer to home for me.
It is the case of Aya Nakano.
Aya is a  recent University of Oregon graduate and a Bay Area native who was gunned down by whomever rear-ended his car an hour before his 23rd birthday (Report on Aya Nakano’s Death by the Hinterland Gazette); after after playing basketball with his friends at the RSF (the Recreational Sports Facility–UC Berkeley’s gym that I utilize everyday). Aya brings it even closer to home for me because his last name is Nakano, this makes me think that he is of  Japanese lineage. Aya’s mother wrote a letter as a tribute to her son which was published in The Daily Cal, the UC Berkeley’s school newspaper.  In her letter, Aya’s mother addresses her son as “anak.” Some of the closest friends I grew up with are Filipino;  i know that anak is a term of endearment. When she refers to her son as anak, I can hear one of my best friends’ mom calling for my friend and it pains me to think she is calling out to her anak in mourning. Her pain is so vivid as she simultaneously mourns her son’s death  and celebrate his life in her letter titled, A Mother’s Tribute to Her Son.

Violence was inflicted upon Aya by a stranger just as Treyvon. A parent should not have to bury their child. A mother in Oakland– like a mother in Florida–had to bury her son, who was just beginning his life,  because she had lost to gun violence. And there are hundreds of cases like Aya that do not receive national publicity.  Oakland PD  has not received any witnesses thus far who’ve helped & stepped forward to uncover the truth of that night Aya was murdered.

Another similar case is that of the death of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki. I learned of Abdulrahman’s story through an article in The Atlantic. Abdulrahman’s story adds another complication as it deals with US drone strikes in the Middle East. Abdulrahman had been one of four American’s killed in a drone strike recently. US military drone strikes have  been notorious for indiscriminately targeting large areas under numerous presumptions–especially in relation to Islamic extremist terrorist cells in the Middle East. However, Abdulrahman was unaffiliated with any extremist Islamist groups. He simply was a young man of 16, in search of his father who went into hiding after being placed on the US government’s kill list.  Even with the complications of international politics, Abdulrahman’s death reflects how violence truly is indiscriminate. Yet there is no publicity around Abdulrahman’s death either. No national spotlight to deduce what happened on the day of his death. No trial or court hearings to demonstrate someone being held accountable to Abdulrahman’s death.

Injustice does not discriminate against a specific race, creed, gender, or religion. It affects us all equally. That is why I advocate that we should take these tragedies not to point fingers and feel victimized by the system, but to understand that struggles, like that of Treyvon, is the same struggle as the one afflicted upon Aya and Abdulrahman.

We are all culpable to the faults and loopholes of our conventional systems of justice, economics, and politics that preys on us all. By remaining divided, we ignore that these systematic forms of injustice simply bear masks adorned by the same beast. We work within outdated systems of politics, economics, and justice that is not just. It has wrongfully blinded Justice and pits up all against one another as if to deter us from seeing the deficiencies of these systems.

There is true strength in solidarity. The mentality of being a part of the 99% is so powerful. The “Occupy” movement has dampened its image, but once we truly understand the significance of the statement: it is powerful.

It is the idea that,

Your struggle is my struggle. Their struggle is our struggle. 

My post is not to water down the significance of Treyvon Martin, but to show that there is a universality in the injustices of this country that afflicted Treyvon, Aya and Abdulrahman. There are countless tragedies of individuals who’s lives were lost to violence and injustice. The struggle isn’t only in a single community, but it is universal and can be felt everywhere.

However, we should not be doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. If we are to learn from theses mistakes, we can allow ourselves to continuously adapt to address the struggles of injustice. It is like a Tae kwon do fight…if your game plan isn’t working, you have to adjust to your opponent’s game and continuously adapt your approach and game plan for the fight  persevere.
There is also strength in working together. Working proactively in solidarity will contribute to parents not having to bury their children whom were lost due to violence.

It is time for us to recognize a path to solidarity and action from tragedy and make sure not to repeat these same injustices over and over again.

In Solidarity,
the Pacifist Fighter