SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — Calls for justice were made from the people who work to defend it every day Monday outside the Sacramento County Superior Courthouse.
“Will we, as public defenders, sit idly by and watch our black men like Arbery and Floyd die?” Allison Williams, an attorney at the Sacramento County Public Defender’s Office, said.
Roughly a hundred public defenders rallied outside the courthouse in solidarity with nationwide protests against systemic racism and police brutality. They said they see those injustices every day within the legal system.
“It’s been emotional starting every day with just a torrent of tears and not being able to control them,” Sacramento County Public Defender’s Office Supervising Attorney Mark Slaughter said.
Slaughter helped organize the demonstration to highlight the racial differences in sentencing, fines and charging he sees in our courtrooms.
“Charges sometimes are stacked or overcharged,” Slaughter told FOX40.
Even if defendants are not guilty, Slaughter said some are tempted “to take a lesser offense to resolve a case.”
New statistics from the Public Policy Institute of California, a non-partisan think tank, show that while African Americans make up just 6% of the total population, they account for roughly 29% of the people in state prisons.
“The rich make bail, the poor stay in jail. We need to stop putting a knee on our client’s necks,” Jessie Morris, an assistant public defender, said.
The group is demanding change while acknowledging the role public defenders must play in reforming the system, urging them to confront their own biases.
“How many cases have we had where we’ve discounted the strength of our client’s case because of the color of their skin?” Sacramento County Chief Assistant Public Defender Amanda Benson said.
And while they know there’s a long road ahead to affect real change, these public defenders said acknowledging and reflecting on the problem is the first step.
“Rise up, defenders of the Constitution,” Williams said. “Rise up, defenders against oppression.”
The Sacramento County Public Defender’s Office said it’s starting a committee on racial justice to keep this conversation going.
They closed the rally today with 8 minutes and 46 seconds of silence, the same amount of time that former police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s neck.