TSU hosts Ben Crump, Equal Justice Now ‘National Bail Reform Panel’
Ken Good, Letitia Quinones, Michelle Esquenazi and Dominique Calhoun. Photo by Aswad Walker

Nationally renowned civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump recently opened Equal Justice Now’s National Bail Reform Panel held on the TSU campus with remarks addressing the fact that discussions on the topic are not easy, and must balance the rights of the accused with the rights of the victims.

Longtime national journalist Ed Gordon served as the event’s moderator, a position that was sorely needed as several audience members were not feeling the presence or the answers given by panelists Kim Ogg, the Harris County District Attorney and Art Acevedo, the former HPD chief.

Other panelists included former Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, NAACP Houston President Bishop James Dixon, Attorney Ken Good, Stix (founder, Think Watts Foundation), Attorney Letitia Quinones, Judge Ronnisha Bowman, Michelle Esquenazi (CEO, Victims Rights Reform Council), Attorney Dominique Calhoun and social media influencer and community activist Mr. Checkpoint.

During Crump’s opening he shared his clients represent the full spectrum of bail reform “sides,” including a woman whose abusive husband was released from jail three times via bail reform measures, and on the third time, he stabbed and murdered his pregnant wife.

Crump also represents Derrick Harris, a successful Black man falsely accused of sexual assault and rape.

“They put him in Rikers Island Prison for four and a half years with no bail,” said Crump to attendees in TSU’s Granville Sawyer Auditorium. “His family had to end up coming up with the money to pay for the rape kit to prove his innocence even though the officials knew within the first three months (after the crime) that his DNA did not match.”

Much of the heated conversation focused on the federal system that doesn’t rely on bail versus state systems that do; moving from bail reform theory to practice; and the importance of voting, and we elect the district attorneys, judges and mayors who create the justice framework for their respective cities.

TSU hosts Ben Crump, Equal Justice Now ‘National Bail Reform Panel’

HERE ARE SOME QUOTES FROM PANELISTS

We have to try to balance the rights of the accused and we have to balance the rights of the victims. And that balancing is not always easy. It can’t be solved by saying there’s no bail. Then, what would be the consequences of crime? Or where we say, let’s put everybody in jail until we have young Black people and young Brown people mostly having to enter into plea agreements on trumped-up charges because they can’t afford to get out of jail. So, I’ve got to tell you, Texas Southern, you beautiful Black students, you are the ones most likely to be affected by this. (Benjamin Crump)

The cash bail system can lead to disparate results. And I think that’s why there’s so much controversy about what is the appropriate system. In the federal system, there’s really just two questions that judges who are responsible for making bail decisions have to decide. And that is, is the defendant or the accused too dangerous to live in the community and is he/she likely to return to court? It’s either or. There’s no real exchange of money involved. And this pre-trial detention usually envisions a fast trial. The state systems are much more bogged down with a volume of cases, and it does not utilize that system of preventive detention. In a perfect world, it would. And it should. (Kim Ogg, Harris County district attorney)

I’ve seen how this concept of bail keeps my family in jail. So, the theory could be what it is, but the reality is that we as Black and Brown people constantly are on the end of not getting true justice and being held in jail because we don’t have the money to afford whatever bail that the judge has determined. (Dominique Calhoun, managing partner at Calhoun Meredith, PLLC, a boutique law firm specializing in advocating for its clients in tort-related issues, commercial litigation, and government relations matters)

Bail reform is necessary. We actually came out when I got here in 2016 as police chief supporting misdemeanor bail reform. But when I think about bail reform, what’s happened, we’ve taken that to an extent where people that are charged with a violent crime, have a history of violent crime and convictions, I’m talking about murderers, I’m talking about aggravated robbers, I’m talking about aggravated assault suspects, that’s two different populations. And quite honestly, for a lot of them it’s mental health and addiction. If we really want to address that issue in the first place in the war on drugs, a lot of that would be alleviated. I really believe that we have got to make the decision that when it comes to violent criminals based on what’s the risk of pretrial release to the public, what is the risk of re-offending and what is the risk of flight. And what’s happened here and especially in other counties, there’s over 100,000 felony cases that are taking years. And so, what’s happened is in communities of color, little kids are being shot by individuals who should have never been loose, running around. <<Crowd response: Lies, lies>> To really address this, we’ve got to look to an evidence-based analysis <<rest of his response was drowned out by bail reform activists shouting “You don’t go here anymore. Did you think you were going to come to our house with this? Show some respect for my back porch.>> (Art Acevedo, former HPD police chief)

She said to me, “Oh my God. I’m in trouble. I don’t have enough convictions.” “What do you mean,” I asked. “I have to have a certain number of convictions otherwise I’m going to get in trouble with my boss.” I said, “Well, did you ever think that perhaps there are more people innocent this year, and that’s why the convictions are down?” My point, she is a very good, pure-hearted person, but even she was sucked in by the system, because the system says you’ve got to have a certain number of convictions, otherwise you’re going to be in trouble. So, my point is we can’t even talk about [bail reform] practicality and theory until we fix the system. Because what happens with the system is they over-police our [Black and Brown] neighborhoods. And when they over-police our neighborhoods, what ends up happening is we’re going to be the ones filling up the jails. (Attorney Letitia Quinones speaking on a conversation she had with a prosecutor friend of hers with nearly 25 years of experience who Quinones described as a sincere and pure-hearted person who confided in her)

<<Responding to interruptions by attendees>> I’m going to give you a chance to participate. (Ed Gordon, moderator)

<<Response to Ed Gordon’s request for patience ad promise of attendees opportunity to ask questions of panelists>> We wait on justice nonstop from that lying Kim Ogg. And Acevedo, there were six residents killed by cops when you were here. So, why are you here? (various crowd members)

So far, it’s been nothing but a debacle. From my estimation, it’s an abortion of justice. (Michelle Esquenazi, founder, Victims Rights Reform Council, on past promises of system reform)

Like Kim said, I think we need to look at the federal system because defendants aren’t paying money but they’re coming to court, they’re doing all the things they’re supposed to, and when they violate their bonds, they lock them up. It’s no if, ands or buts about it. But in the state system, that’s just not the case. It’s more about “You need to be locked up because you committed a crime.” Well, that’s not what the law says. The law says the issue should be “danger to the community” and “flight risk.” That’s it. There will be a day for punishment, but it’s not at the bail hearing. And I think that’s where people get lost. They seem to think “We want to start punishing you right now” and at that point, we’re circumventing the constitution and that’s the problem I have with [the cash bail system]. (Letitia Quinones)

Regardless of if you’ve been talking about this issue for 30 years, 40 years, 50 years, the truth of it is elections matter. Because at the end of the day, regardless of your position, your elected DA is the one that’s going to have the position of power regarding what to do or whether or not to deny the bail that’s proposed. The judge that’s sitting in the seat is going to be the one that’s in charge of the bail that’s given. The mayor is going to hire the police chief and give the police chief instructions in reference to how they police and when they police. So, at the end of the day, the truth of it is, the elections are what matters. The election is how you make the change that you’re talking about. (Dominique Calhoun)