One interesting thing about being a Deputy District Attorney of African descent, is the fact that from time to time someone out in the community (usually another African American) would ask me “How Can You send your black brothers and sisters to prison?” I heard the question so often I actually had about three or four pre-written scripts to answer the question. However, now that my time as a Deputy District Attorney is over I have been thinking more and more about how I got here (no here isn’t a bad place, but that doesn’t rob the question of its relevance.)
I grew up in Los Angeles and I graduated from high school in the early 90’s. Therefore I spent the most formative portion of my adolesence in the Los Angeles of the 80’s and early 90’s. I was primarily raised in a middle to lower middle class neighborhood. My family wasn’t necessarily poor, but we had financial issues from time to time. Sometimes the financial issues were severe, sometimes the issues were minimal. I generally stayed out of trouble as a young adult. I was more of the class clown type than the criminal type. However, I knew my share of drug dealers, gang bangers, wanna b’s, has been’s, and never was’s. I was an average athlete at best, but athletics like most other things in my life at the time suffered from my general lack of committment to anything. Historically I have blamed my lack of committment on the fact that the first ten years of my life I was an army brat moving every few years as my father was transfered from base to base. We finally settled down in Los Angeles in the early 1980’s. This movement caused me to place little significance to forming bonds of attachment to people, places or things. I am not sure how much of an effect that my early life as an army brat has had on me versus how much I have simply used that early life experience to excuse my less than desirable behavior. So that is a brief synopsis of my early life, now let me try to fill in some more details regarding what I was like from a political perspective standpoint while in High School and College. As a student I was very liberal, borderline radical and definitely antiestablishment. As a young adult I personally had several negative experiences with police officers that left me less than confident in their ability to be fair and impartial executive officers. ( i will go into those incidents in future post, maybe) Hence my early distaste for law enforcement was initiated by personal experience. However, the flames of my distrust were further fueled by reading and discovering the history of law enforcement’s interaction with African American people over the years. I read extensivesly about the history of the civil rights movement, and everything from J. Edgar Hoover’s COINTELPRO to Bull Connor’s exploits. As I am reading the works of Eldridge Cleaver, Baldwin, listening to the speaches of Malcolm X the Rodney King incident happens. I know at this point you must be thinking how in the heck did this young man end up spending ten years as a Deputy District Attorney.
Well overtime I gradually calmed. I began to understand that the world around me was evolving before my eyes, but I still wasn’t ready to aid in what I still viewed as the further persecution of “my people”. I entered law school after I graduated from college. I thought I would probably become invoved in either business litigation or criminal defense. I actually interned at the public defenders office on two ocassions while in law school and I became intoxicated with the idea of being in the courtroom. That experienced drove me away from the idea of pursuing a career in business litigation. In addition, to enjoying my work in criminal law I also had an opportunity to talk to several practicing business litigators. My conversations with those litigators pushed me closer to a career focused on criminal law. Most of the business litigators I talked to very seldom went to trial. They spent the bulk of their time doing depositions and answering interrogatories, two activities I did not find particularly exciting.
So now (about 12 years ago) I was firmly targeting a career in criminal law, but I had not yet considered working as a prosecutor. I actually had never even given it a second thought. The idea first crossed my mind when I was confronted by a closs associate that was working as a Deputy District Attorney. The first time we discussed the idea I did not take his idea of me joining the District Attorney’s Office serious. The second time I was confronted by the same associate I responded by saying that l obtained my law degree so that I could help people. My associate quickly responded that the best way that someone like me could help people is as a Deputy District Attorney. Initially I did not follow his logic, but he continued by saying a Deputy District Attorney has the power to help victim’s by bringing there victimizers to justice, help the innocent by making sure they are not falsely accused and even help defendants by insuring they are treated fairly and justly by the criminal justice system. Now I was finally following his logic and it made a lot of sense to me. It made so much sense that I dedicated the first ten years of my working life to trying to live up to the standards he laid out for me. I had an opprotunity to form some of the most meaningful relationships of my life, I learned an immeasurable amount about the law and I had the opportunity to help many people. So why did I leave? Because the opportunity to help people as a Deputy District Attorney is limited because of the many obligations and requirements of an heirarchical structure of a bureaucracy, but I will expand on that later.