Replace that Confederate statue!

“I may not get there with you,” Martin Luther King.

“I may not get there with you,” Martin Luther King.

In 1908, there was a statue erected of a confederate soldier, rifle drawn, standing vigil before the Loudoun County courthouse, as if an armed sentry demanding that any person approaching the court must first seek permission to proceed any further.

No one asks why this statue was not erected sooner than 40 years after the Civil War.

No one is curious why the citizens didn’t forge a statue of a Union and Confederate soldier standing side by side, at peace, weapons at rest, given that Loudoun County had civil war combatants on both sides of that divisive struggle.

It’s because this statue was never intended to bring us together.

Consider the historical context in Virginia after the Civil War.

In 1868, a Richmond editorial praised the KKK for “not permit[ting] the people of the South to become the victims of negro rule.”

Even the 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution, granting Black men the right to vote, did not prove an effective remedy.

Racial segregation appeared and persisted. A white dominated political system established itself throughout Virginia. From 1880 to 1930, mobs in Virginia executed seventy blacks.

In 1890, a local Hamilton contingent of blacks formed the Loudoun County Emancipation Association “to work for the betterment of the race – educationally, morally and materially.”

In 1896, the Supreme Court shored up segregation in Plessy v. Ferguson pronouncing that “separate” was just fine for Blacks.

In 1902, the hateful Klan was summoned back into service. Thomas Dixon, Jr., a fiction writer, favoring white supremacy, told the nation that the Klan was an heroic force. The Virginia Constitution was amended to limit the voting rights of Blacks, by requiring screened interviews in order to vote and imposing a poll tax. The number of black voters in Virginia declined from 147,000 in 1902 to less than 10,000 by 1904. Continue reading

Tywanza!

tywanza“You don’t have to do this,” said Tywanza Sanders, 26.

That’s what Tywanza said in a Charleston, South Carolina Church.

A 21-year-old man, Dylann Roof, holding a gun, didn’t believe that.

Looking at Tywanza, a black man, standing before him in a church at a Bible study meeting, Dylann said, it was a “fact” that “black men are raping our women and taking over the country.”

The rich residue of bigotry and violence, accumulated over the history of our young country, makes for a deathly brew.

It began with rivulets, formed into rivers, a soulless flood, coursing through our nation’s veins, its institutions, and the minds and hearts of America.

Early vestiges of its source occurred when founding fathers failed to condemn slavery in our Declaration of Independence.

When we wrote our Constitution, we embraced slavery, making men chattels and partial persons.

Even now when discrimination is outlawed, it is still widely practiced, with a wink and a nod, and finds ease and comfort in the oleaginous political rhetoric of our most unworthy leaders. Continue reading

The “black flower” of civilized society

A row of cells at the model penitentiary in Philadelphia (photo by John P. Flannery)

A row of cells at the model penitentiary in Philadelphia (photo by John P. Flannery)

Prisons are factories of crime where the convicted, with little hope of returning to “civilized” society, decide to make their way outside the law when they’re released.

The prison conditions don’t help – the cliques, mob tanks and gang corridors prompt violence and abuse between inmates. There are “correction” officers ignoring and even facilitating illegal drugs, consensual sex, rape, torture, and escape; these “law” officers are “instructing” the inmates how the world “really” works. When a prisoner is ill, the institution often fails to provide critical medical attention. Cruel, yes, but not unusual. In the Commonwealth of Virginia, we have some 40 doctors and 14 psychiatrists to care for about 30,000 prisoners.

When I was a NY federal prosecutor, we investigated and prosecuted prison corruption, wiring inmates and guards we “turned,” but there’s hardly a prison or jail in America to this day that could come up “clean” if carefully scrutinized.

Perhaps what’s worse is that we openly allow and encourage prison wardens to confine prisoners to solitary for indefinite periods. Continue reading

When is a wage rate a moral offense?

minimumWageDelegate Dave LaRock, from Loudoun County, one of the wealthiest Counties in America, opposes setting any minimum wage rate to pay employees, and, more than that, he also wants to compromise an employee’s right to work for more pay and benefits by reducing even further any effective way to bargain with his employer.

Delegate LaRock’s recent op-ed begs the question what measly rate of pay is too low a rate for the Delegate – so that we are not endorsing some variant of the old South’s peculiar institution?

We have resisted past predatory practices by employers – forcing children to work in sweat shops, and working employees for so many hours they dropped from exhaustion.

We’ve also had to regulate employers too willing to short change workers, to take advantage of their desperation, increase their profits while causing the workers’ misery, by denying them a decent wage.

In 1891, Pope Leo XIII admonished employers that “workers are not to be treated as slaves.” He decried how it was “shameful and inhumane … to use men as things for gain and to put no more value on them than what they are worth in muscle and energy.”

Pope Leo said, “the rich and employers must remember that no laws, either human or divine, permit them for their own profit to oppress the needy and the wretched or to seek gain from another’s want.” Continue reading

Gaming the crowded Loudoun elections

prefVotingThe candidates seeking countywide offices in Loudoun have been elbowing for political advantage for weeks and months.

The field is not yet set but, it appears, we’re going to have more than two candidates for several county wide offices and this favors split voting and an uncertain outcome that may not represent what most voters really want.

In some elections, split voting occurs by Machiavellian design, introducing a bogus candidate (or candidates), as a misdirection, to split the opposition in favor of a candidate who can’t win otherwise.

In Loudoun, this election cycle, we have more than two candidates, it appears by chance, in two countywide races – (1) to become Chair of the Board of Supervisors, and (2) to become our next Sheriff.

The Republicans chose lawyer and party activist, Charlie King, as their Republican nominee for Chair, and the Democrats chose a professional and community leader, Phyllis Randall, as their nominee. This is where the process, however, gets complicated. Republican Supervisor Shawn Williams challenged Mr. King for the Republican nomination for Chair, then Shawn withdrew because of embarrassing personal and seemingly disqualifying disclosures. That said and done, Shawn has now taken a U-turn, and decided to make a run as an Independent. Among the Dems, a former Democratic nominee, who lost in the election four years ago, Tom Bellanca, has decided he wants to run again, and, having sat out the Democratic nominating process, he’s running as an Independent.

In the Sheriff’s race, the Republicans chose the incumbent Sheriff, Mike Chapman, over a vigorous Republican Challenger, Mr. Eric Noble. Brian Allman, a law enforcement officer, filed to become the Democrats’ nominee. But there’s more. When Mr. Noble lost his party’s nomination, former Sheriff Steve Simpson, who was a Noble supporter, announced he’d run himself as an independent.

How does a voter game the choices, four seeking the Chair, three wanting to be Sheriff, and select the persons in the races most representative of what Loudoun needs? Continue reading

A nation of suspects – that’s no worthy memorial

towersburningWhen we enter any public building, however responsible, respectable or harmless we are, we are likely to be patted down – like a criminal.

We are presumed to be suspect since 9-11, an unworthy memorial for those who died that day.

I was a congressional chief of staff, working in the Cannon House Office Building, when 9-11 occurred.

Police, Fire and rescue workers, and many citizens ran to help others, risking their lungs and their lives, some dying to save persons that they did not know.

Most members of Congress, in contrast, went to ground, and were not found until the all-clear signal.

Members of Congress told the nation it was safe to fly, while they stayed put in Washington.

Some Members of Congress thought to deny access to government buildings, defying Thomas Jefferson’s admonition that a government closed to the public was no democracy.

Some Members talked about dropping nuclear weapons on foreign nation-states – although they weren’t certain which ones.

Congress spoke with gusto about our freedoms as they rushed to crush them in the ironically named Patriot Act. The Benedict Arnold Bill would have been a more fitting name for betraying every person’s right to be free of suspicion. The wrongly named Patriot Act allowed warrantless searches of our information and lately we’ve learned how extensive this intrusion by NSA into our privacy was. Congress nevertheless has been debating in recent days whether to extend these invasive practices.
On the evening that Congress took up the Patriot Act, unable to stomach the debate, I went for a run before the vote, making my way from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial. It was dark. I found a candle lit vigil by the reflecting pool, and stopped to hear ordinary citizens, arranged in a circle of life, discussing, in respectful muted voices, the terror but also the bravery of American men and women on that fateful day.
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Their love of the nation, the honor they bestowed on others, the hope they represented for the nation stood in stark contrast to their Congress at work, not that far away, voting that very evening to suspect every one of these good people and every other American.

We had a chance to come together after the terrible events on 9-11, to harness the can-do feeling and courage of our citizens, also to join hands across the oceans with nations around the world.

We forged instead a separation that divides our house at home and abroad.

Even now, we have to debate whether to take the Patriot Act off life support.

Even now, we war in Iraq.

This nation must set a new course in memory of who we were before 9-11.

We are all in this together, working toward that more perfect union, but so very imperfectly, and we can’t presume there’s anything exceptional about this nation if it won’t treat our neighbors better at home and abroad.

I attended a High School reunion at a Jesuit School in the Bronx, and, having nothing to do while waiting, studied a mural, of persons ministering to the young, the sick, and the old.

These are the Christian values that our pols speak about but disregard in their workaday quotidian practices.

Whether we honestly hold these values, by religious belief or political or ethical philosophy, it is the path, by which we may put an end to our inward-turning, self-centered dystopic culture of fear making us all suspects instead of citizens in the land we once proudly described as the land of the free and a home for the brave.

Saint Judy

Judy Clarke, defense counsel

Judy Clarke, defense counsel

Judy Clarke, criminal defense counsel for the self-confessed “Boston Bomber,” is considered “Saint Judy” by many, myself included.

I got to know Judy years ago as a member of the Board of Directors of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (“NACDL”).

Judy is against executions because, she says, “A civilized society shouldn’t legalize homicide.”

Most recently, consistent with this objective, she fought valiantly to save the life of Mr. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who was 19 at the time of the bombing.

The jury decided to kill Dzhokhar instead.

Those who supported Mr. Tsarnaev’s death said an “eye for an eye.”  Some who lost their limbs might, by that logic, have preferred to rip off Dzhokhar’s young legs.

The jury was hardly reflective of its citizen peers.  A poll of the State of Massachusetts showed only 19 % favored death. The rest favored life in prison.  This was the sentiment in a State that hasn’t allowed executions since 1984.  But the U. S. Justice Department wanted to execute Dzhokhar.  You should understand that every juror in that federal prosecution that voted for death had to confirm in open court that they could vote to execute Dzhokhar if he was found guilty; those potential jurors who couldn’t embrace execution as a sentence were dismissed. Continue reading

Don’t you agree, Brian?

Brian Allman, Democratic nominee for sheriff

Brian Allman, Democratic nominee for sheriff

Brian Allman is on the November ballot as the Democratic nominee for Sheriff.

As the public gets to know a candidate, it questions the background and policies that the candidate supports and hopes to implement once elected.

Brian is no different.

Last Thursday evening at the Democratic Committee meeting at the fire house, many Democratic Committee members had questions for Brian.

This is an ongoing dialogue the Committee conducts to learn what to expect from a candidate.

The occasion for the discussion was that Brian wanted to join the Democratic Committee as a member.

In order to become a committee member, the candidate must be nominated at one meeting (last week), and then the Committee votes approval (or not) at the next monthly meeting (in June).

Several questions at the May meeting had to do with the number of law suits that Brian has filed himself.

Of course, court is how we settle disputes that can’t be settled any other way.

But a large part of any lawyer’s practice is discouraging litigation and encouraging settlement.  And the job of Sheriff is not only to enforce the law but to be a peace officer as well, to calm rather than to disturb troubled waters. Continue reading

Virginia is already there! What about other states?

Mark Herring - "local boy" makes good

Mark Herring – “local boy” makes good

Thank God for the Millennials and all those who are not so young but who are tolerant of difference.

We should also thank “a local boy” who used to sell eggs as a kid door to door on Leesburg’s Canby Road for pennies an egg, who went on to study law, began a small practice in Leesburg, served as counsel to Lovettsville, was elected to the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, then elected to the Virginia State Senate and finally elected state wide to become Virginia’s Attorney General.

That’s Mark Herring who decided, as our newly minted Attorney General, that treating same sex marriage differently as a state than other marriages was not equal protection of the law, and, as a result, at his direction, Virginia reversed field in pending litigation and the Courts agreed to recognize same sex marriages.

Last week, Mark sat in the U.S. Supreme Court chamber to hear oral argument on what should be the law of the land – for every state.

Mark came away optimistic that we are going to bend toward equal protection and individual liberty nation-wide. Continue reading

For law enforcement – privacy is inconvenient

ciaDirectorWhatever anyone thinks of former CIA network administrator, Edward Snowden, whether as a whistleblowing champ hero or a hacking chump coward, he raised the consciousness of citizens to the fact that they had very little privacy, that we all remain under constant warrantless NSA surveillance for no good reason while their secret big data haul makes the fictional Orwellian Big Brother a harsh reality.

Many are willing to surrender freedom and privacy for seeming security.

Many say they don’t care if the government is hoovering up every bit of information about them – what do they have to hide?

For all the self-asserting bluster about their individual dignity and independence, many have chosen to escape from the hard-earned freedom defined by our bill of rights to embrace humiliating subjection.

A recent declassified report, authored in 2009, but released just this past Saturday, said the IGs from five Intelligence and Law Enforcement agencies couldn’t identify any specific ways that the massive surveillance, under the code name, “Stellar Wind,” exposed by Mr. Snowden, thwarted a single possible terrorist attack.

In a law school note, many years ago, I wrote for a law school journal, that the notion of privacy “implies solitude or quiet or ‘social distance,’ no doubt as a reaction to our densely populated, commercial society” and the “concept of control is fundamental to an American definition of privacy.”

Professor Allan Westin described privacy as the “claim of individuals, groups or institutions to determine for themselves when, how, and to what extent information about them is communicated to others.”

In the hallowed chamber of the U.S. Supreme Court, during oral argument, the government made crystal clear its disrespect for everyone’s “right to be let alone” from the government’s intrusion. Continue reading