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Race, Diversity, Spotlight, Criminal Law
September-October 2020

What allies can do to help BIPOC

Anyone who has read the other articles in this issue— “Courageous conversations about race” and “Raising the voices of prosecutors of color”—may feel moved to action. We asked the same folks who answered our first batch of questions a couple of follow-ups on how their friends and coworkers can come alongside them in these trying times and use their own voices to advocate for justice. Here’s what they had to say.

What are some specific things allies can do to help (either as a prosecutor or as a BIPOC in America in 2020)?

Idris Akinpelu
Assistant Criminal District Attorney in Dallas County
Share your experience and ask questions. People have to understand that we’re all equal humans even if you don’t agree with someone or don’t know them. The best thing allies can do is use their voices and influence to make change, whether it’s in the office, the law, or their individual community.

Paul Love
Assistant Criminal District Attorney in Galveston County
As elected officials and prosecutors, we should engage the community more in open dialogues to address concerns with the criminal justice system. Whether that is about encounters with police or how cases are prosecuted, the community needs to better understand how the system works. Also, lay out detailed measures we are taking to address certain issues.

LaQuita Long
Assistant Criminal District Attorney in Dallas County
At every speaking event in our communities, I stress the importance of voting and serving on juries. I explain that the community cannot complain about verdicts at trial if the community runs from serving on juries.

Erleigh Wiley
Criminal District Attorney in Kaufman County
Listen to people. It doesn’t mean that minorities are in the right and you are in the wrong—it is just that people need to be heard; engage in self-examination about what you could do differently; and then be the change. We individually have our own silos of influence. So, either in your church, neighborhood, or just right in your extended family, let the people you influence know how you feel. This isn’t about a winner (minorities) take all. This is another stage of awareness of inequality and that a more equalized world is a better place for us all to live in.

Denise D. Hernandez
Assistant District Attorney in Travis County
Show compassion and empathy for other experiences. That starts with listening to different perspectives and engaging in thoughtful conversations about race. It’s OK to feel uncomfortable. Growth happens when we are pushed out of our comfort zones.

Chandler Raine
Assistant District Attorney in Harris County
Don’t be afraid to call out racial inequality and injustice wherever you see it. It is so easy for a person, group, or society to simply claim “I am not” or “we are not” racist, while their actions lead to outcomes that are. It isn’t enough to attack the obviously racist things we see and then feel as though the work is done. The softballs are the easy ones to swing at, and we have to also be willing to wrestle with the hard and difficult reality that systemic issues require systemic change.

Janie Korah
Assistant Criminal District Attorney in Galveston County
Listening. Many of us are privileged, myself included. We haven’t lived a day in an overpoliced neighborhood, been the target of profiling, or witnessed injustice happening to a family member. Allyship means refocusing each day. As a prosecutor, it means not just opening up a case and asking, “How can I prove this charge?” but also asking, “What is going on here?” A case may very well be rock solid, but still, pause and ask yourself, “Am I OK with everything happening here?” As an ally, it’s vital that we speak up when we see something of concern.
            Additionally, we should give positive reinforcement to officers doing a good job and encourage them to set an example for others. The cleaner the police work and investigations, the more citizens can trust law enforcement and the easier it will become to try our cases. When our officers aren’t on trial, we can focus on the actual crime. Everyone can win.

Ty Stimpson
Assistant Criminal District Attorney in Tarrant County
I think the most important thing allies can do to help is to genuinely listen. Having courageous conversations is great, but listening is what is needed the most right now. I appreciate my friends and colleagues listening, reaching out, and expressing their disdain over a lot of recent events that are plaguing our country.
            After listening, allies need to acknowledge the hurt that BIPOC may feel. You may not be able to empathize, but you can certainly sympathize. BIPOC love America just as much as non-minority Americans, but history has exposed that America has not always loved BIPOC. Acknowledging the hurt many BIPOC feel and acknowledging that the same “privilege” that exists for some does not exist for BIPOC is just as important as listening.
            Third, decry bad behavior when you see it. It is not enough anymore to say, “I am not racist.” As a society, we must not tolerate racism; we must openly decry racism and bad behavior. We must call it out for what it is—no more excusing it.
            With regard to being a prosecutor, I would suggest simply looking around your offices to see if it reflects the makeup of your community. Do you have BIPOC in leadership positions? Do you recruit minority prosecutors when your office has an opening? Are you able to retain BIPOC prosecutors? If not, have the uncomfortable conversations about why BIPOC are not staying in the office.

What can TDCAA—as an organization and as individual leaders within the organization—do to encourage diversity, inclusion, recruitment, and retention within the prosecutor community in Texas?

Nicci Campbell
Assistant District Attorney in Harris County
TDCAA is currently taking the right step by doing this article and giving a spotlight to BIPOC district and county attorneys to lift our voices and share our stories. To work on diversity, inclusion, and recruitment, TDCAA can open up more opportunities for BIPOC high school, undergraduate, and law students. By interacting more with the next generation via events, internship opportunities, and scholarships, more BIPOC students will be exposed to and potentially interested in becoming district and county attorneys upon licensure.

Idris Akinpelu
Assistant Criminal District Attorney in Dallas County
Help educate more people about the power we have in our profession to affect and seek justice. Also, we need paid internships at DA’s offices so that people don’t have to make a financial decision to try to experience what we do.

John Creuzot
Criminal District Attorney in Dallas County
Reach out to qualified graduates of law schools and encourage them to enter the public sector as prosecutors. In order to do that, be honest about the weaknesses, failings, and shortcomings—but also talk about the strengths of the criminal justice system. It’s not all broken.

Ty Stimpson
Assistant Criminal District Attorney in Tarrant County
Continue doing what you are doing. I think TDCAA has done a great job lately of providing spaces for BIPOC to have conversations. I also think TDCAA has done well actively reaching out to local DA’s offices and not only initiating the diversity conversation, but also—more importantly—serving as a continued resource to local offices as they navigate diversity, inclusion, recruitment, and retention within the Texas prosecutor community.

Alexandra Guio
Assistant Criminal District Attorney in Dallas County
I would like to see an event (virtual) that invites BIPOC prosecutors from across Texas where we could share stories and encouraging words with each other. I think this could build a sense of camaraderie and also create the possibility of mentorship that some prosecutors may not have in their offices.

Chandler Raine
Assistant District Attorney in Harris County
Over the last few years, TDCAA has focused its attention on implicit and explicit bias training. Continuing to teach on and discuss the topic is such an important step in the long road to racial injustice and inequality being a part of our history and no longer a part of our present.

Editor’s note: The number of answers we received to these questions was so great, they cannot all be printed here. To read every respondent’s answers to both questions, please click HERE.