17 new Black female judges were sworn in and they're planning to change the system that has disproportionately criminalized people of color.
Black women made history in Harris County, Texas as they were elected as judges with aspirations to change the face (and reach) of justice.
"The people said it was time for a change," said Germaine Tanner, one of the women elected.
"We can lead here in Harris County. We can lead in the state of Texas," LaShawn Williams said.
"For black women particularly, we take a seat at the table and things change. For us in this situation it will change in terms of criminal justice reform, health care, these are the kinds of cases that will come before us and really impact our community."
Harris County now has a total of 19 Black women serving as judges — 17 are first timers and two ran for re-election.
On Jan. 1, Black Girl Magic happened and they were sworn in:
It's a brand new day in Harris County! Swearing in of the Newly Elected County Officials and Judges.
Today we usher in a new era of representative government and progressive leadership in Harris County. #ItAllStartsHere pic.twitter.com/oJpjK62X1L
— Harris Democrats (@harrisdemocrats) January 1, 2019
Who the judges are: Sandra Peake, Judge Ramona Franklin, Germaine Tanner, Angela Graves-Harrington, Cassandra Hollerman, Tonya Jones, Dedra Davis, LaShawn A. Williams, Latosha Lewis Payne, Linda M. Dunson, Toria J. Finch, Erica Hughes, Lucia G. Bates, Ronnisha Bowman, Michelle Moore, Sharon Burney, Shannon Baldwin and Lori Chambers Gray.
Harris County, Houston's home and the largest county in Texas, which has a 63 percent Black and Latino population, had the largest turn-out at the polls for midterms in the county's history.
There were some voting issues, as also recorded in states like Georgia and Florida, where technology issues resulted in a suit by Texas Civil Rights Project and Texas Organizing Project to keep polls open later, avoiding disenfranchisement.
Additionally, there were outright attempts to suppress the Black vote, including a Harris County poll worker who told a Black voter, "Maybe if I'd worn my blackface makeup today you could comprehend what I'm saying to you."
When the voter said she was going to call the police, the poll worker responded: "If you call the police, they're going to take you to jail and do something to you, because I'm white."
She was subsequently fired, and voters made their voices heard in an election that featured more Black women on Harris County's ballot than any other.
The newly elected judges will make decisions in the county, where 80 percent of the inmates are people of color.
Although judges are not the only ones at fault for racial disparities in sentencing, they can change the status quo. They set the tone in the courtroom and can make sure everyone gets a fair hearing.
"We talked about coming in and being more compassionate," Ms. Latosha Lewis Payne said of her newly elected colleagues.
"Being more understanding of the poor and disadvantaged that come into the judicial system."She added, "I hope that our election will usher in courts that ensure an equal opportunity for justice for all."
Reader Question: What issues do you think these women can tackle as a collective?
To voters: You can make sure that white nationalists don't feel empowered to march in Charlottesville in the middle of the day.
Former President Barack Obama kicked off his campaigning for November's midterms, on Friday afternoon, and took jabs at President Trump and the spineless backbones of his Republican constituents.
Obama spared no expense rebuking the administration's actions that have emboldened racists.
Blacks and Latinos make up the majority of the prison population being paid 63 cents an hour working non-industry jobs.
Inmates in at least 17 states are participating in a strike calling for an "end to prison slavery." Blacks and Latinos make up the majority of the population being paid less than $1 an hour for their work, due to racial disparities within the criminal justice system.
Lawyers sue the board, claiming racism, as it recently pardoned a reformed white death row inmate.
UPDATE: July 18, 2018 at 8:13 a.m. ET:
Mitesh Patel, the victim's son and Chris Young's advocate did not want the same outcome for Young's daughter—losing a father. But the state of Texas executed Young on Tuesday anyway. He was pronounced dead at 6:38 p.m. after a lethal injection.
Patel did meet Young on Monday in an emotional meeting and felt sadness for his family.
"Two wrongs don't make a right," Patel has said. "Killing Chris doesn't change my path, my history. It only affects a whole other set of people."
Young used his last moments to tell his victim's family he loves them and to keep fighting.
Young's final statement: "l want to make sure the Patel family knows I love them like they love me. Make sure the kids in the world know I'm being executed and those kids I've been mentoring keep this fight going. I'm good, Warden."
The Texas Board of Pardons unanimously rejected clemency for Chris Young, the reformed death row inmate, and lawyers say it is because Young is Black. The law says the board doesn't have to give the public a reason for their decision, but they have to certify it's not because of race.
Son of Murder Victim Pleads for the Black Man's Life as Texas Decides Today Whether or Not to Execute Next Week
Rehabilitation means little on death row.
The criminal justice system, which disproportionately incarcerates Black men, focuses less on rehabilitation and more on death and punishment.
Mitesh Patel is pleading with the Texas Board of Pardons to spare the life of his father's killer, Chris Young, a Black man, who after spending 12 years in prison has reformed. Chris Young, who joined a gang at age 8 and who also lost his father to violence, robbed a convenience store, killing Patel's father, Hasmukh Patel, in the process. Young was 21 at the time.
After almost 40 years as a cold case, Frankie Gebhardt was convicted for the murder of Timothy Coggins.
Innocent Black people are seven times more likely to be convicted of murder than innocent white people, which means Blacks are presumed guilty more often than whites.
Lynching Memorial and Museum Opening Highlights America's Racist Past, Parallels Today's Killings of African Americans
"We're dealing with police violence. We deal with these huge disparities in our criminal justice system. You know, if everything was wonderful you could ask the question, 'Why would you talk about the difficult past?' But everything is not wonderful."
Hundreds of people lined up in the rain to experience a long overdue piece of American history and honor the lives lost to lynching at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and the Legacy Museum in Montgomery Alabama on Thursday.
The Equal Justice Initiative, sponsor of this project, has documented more than 4,000 "racial terror" lynchings in the United States between 1877 and 1950.
The first memorial honoring the victims includes sculptures and art depicting the terror Blacks faced; 800 six-foot steel, engraved monuments to symbolize the victims; writings and words of Toni Morrison and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; and a final artwork by Hank Willis Thomas capturing the modern-day racial bias and violence embedded in the criminal justice system and law enforcement.
Among memorial visitors were civil right activist Rev. Jesse Jackson and film director Ava Duvernay. According to the Chicago Tribune, Jackson said it would help dispel the American silence on lynchings, highlighting that whites wouldn't talk about it because of shame and Blacks wouldn't talk about it because of fear. The "60 Minutes Overtime" on the memorial just three weeks earlier was reported by Oprah Winfrey, who stated during her viewing of the slavery sculpture, "This is searingly powerful." Duvernay, quoted by the Chicago Tribune, said: "This place has scratched a scab."
The Montgomery Downtown business association's President, Clay McInnis, who is white, offered his thoughts to NPR in reference to his own family connection to the history that included a grandfather who supported segregation and a friend who dismantled it. "How do you reconcile that on the third generation?" he asked. "You have conversations about it."
A place to start: The Montgomery Advertiser, the local newspaper, apologized for its racist history of coverage between the 1870s and 1950s by publishing the names of over 300 lynching victims on Thursday, the same day as the memorial opening. "Our Shame: the sins of our past laid bare for all to see. We were wrong," the paper wrote.
The innumerable killings of unarmed Black men and the robbing of Black families of fathers, mothers, and children today not only strongly resemble the history of lynchings, but also bring up the discomfort and visceral reactions that many have not reckoned with.
Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative and the man who spearheaded this project, told NPR: "There's a lot of conflict. There's a lot of tension. We're dealing with police violence. We deal with these huge disparities in our criminal justice system. You know, if everything was wonderful you could ask the question, 'Why would you talk about the difficult past?' But everything is not wonderful."
WFSA, a local news station, interviewed a white man who had gone to see the Legacy Museum downtown, also part of the EJI project, located at the place of a former slave warehouse. He talked about how he was overwhelmed by the experience and that "Slavery is alive in a new way today."
Reactions on social media were reflective of the memorial's power and the work that is continuing toward progress.
If you sincerely believe in justice and dignity for all, make the pilgrimage to Montgomery, Alabama to experience the lynching memorial and legacy museum established today by Bryan Stevenson and his stellar team at #EJI. It will take your breath away, then breathe in new life. pic.twitter.com/hPio0BNiwD
— Ava DuVernay (@ava) April 26, 2018
I was so moved by #equaljusticeinitiative in #montgomery #alabama Congratulations to eji_org… https://t.co/4SdSl01xrS
— Meta Golding (@metagolding) April 26, 2018
Love that @ava pointed out that these same folks putting together this museum are the same folks doing legal work and 'lawyering'. #equaljusticeinitiative
— Zee_like_zorro (@Zjlord) April 26, 2018
During a launch event, the Peace and Justice Summit, Marian Wright Edelman, activist and founder of the Children's Defense Fund, urged the audience to continue their activism beyond the day's events on issues like ending child poverty and gun violence, according to the Chicago Tribune: "Don't come here and celebrate the museum ... when we're letting things happen on an even greater scale."
Perhaps the reason to honor and witness the horrific experiences of our ancestors is to seal in our minds the unacceptable killings of Blacks today, and the work we ALL have to do now to stop repeating the past.
Racist Professor Who Calls Blacks, Hispanics More Violent Than Whites Appointed to Trump's Sentencing Commission
William Otis will fit right in with Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III.
A former federal prosecutor who once said Blacks and Hispanics are more violent than whites has been tapped to join President Donald Trump's sentencing commission.