The biggest issues facing Black people legally right now across the nation? Modern-day policing, biased court systems and wrongful convictions, just to name a few.
The NAACP Criminal Justice Fact Sheet showed that the system is heavily impacted by the bias of police mentality, along with outdated judicial precedents. It is largely driven by racial disparities, which directly obstruct and deconstruct our minority communities.
According to the NAACP, the beginnings of modern-day police mentality are rooted in the “Slave Patrol,” the earliest of which was created in the Carolinas in the early 1700s, with a mission to establish a “system of terror in response to slave uprisings with the capacity to pursue, apprehend and return runaway slaves to their owners, including the use of excessive force to control and produce desired slave behavior.”
The American Bar Association (ABA) also noted staggering statistics that show the overall effects of history’s injustices and notes from the NAACP statistics state that while Black people make up 13.4 percent of the population, they represent:
- 22 percent of fatal police shootings,
- 47 percent of wrongful conviction exonerations, and
- 35 percent of individuals executed by the death penalty.
African Americans are also incarcerated in state prisons at five times the rate of whites, according to the ABA.
To address these inequities head on, Michigan is already paving the way in a historic move, with U.S. District Judge Stephanie Dawkins Davis recently becoming Michigan’s first Black female U.S. Appeals Court judge after being nominated by President Joe Biden – who announced in early February.
Judge Davis is Biden’s nominee to the Sixth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals. At her prior post, she served as the U.S District Judge for the Eastern District of Michigan. Judge Davis is the first Black woman to serve on the Sixth Circuit from Michigan and only the second Black woman to serve. The Cincinnati-based 6th Circuit hears appeals from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee.
Devoted to the rule of law and the Constitution, Davis is part of Biden’s plan to ensure that the country’s courts reflect the diversity that is one of America’s “greatest assets.”
The Kansas City native received her B.S. in healthcare administration from Wichita State University in 1989, and her Juris Doctorate from Washington University School of Law in 1992.
Davis began her career in product liability and commercial litigation at Dickinson, Wright PLLC. According to her bio, she left private practice to join the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of Michigan, in 1997, where she served in both the civil and criminal divisions. Davis prosecuted cases at trial and appellate levels and spent part of her career as a deputy unit chief, high-intensity drug trafficking area liaison and the Executive Assistant U.S. Attorney before joining the bench in January 2016.
This selection is Biden’s 14th announcement of nominees for federal judicial positions, bringing the number of announced federal judicial nominees to 84.
Davis said in a statement that her position is the “honor of my life” to have been nominated and confirmed to the 6th Circuit. “My life’s work has been in service of the cause of justice and I will endeavor to faithfully execute this cause,” she said, according to a quote in the Detroit News.
In the last couple of years, the non-profit organization Michigan Liberation has worked at the grassroots level to free Black people from the legal system for being placed there unjustly, they feel. In 2019, they organized to free 15 Black mothers from what they describe as cages in the state jail systems.
These were women who were jailed and unable to make bail—also referred to as wealth-based pretrial detention, according to their website.
The organization is a statewide network of people and organizations banding together to end the criminalization of Black families and communities of color in Michigan, their website stated. They “envision a state without mass incarceration or mass policing.”
In 2020, as they continued to organize to free more Black mothers from the criminal legal system, they were “devastated” by the conditions people were forced to be in during the COVID-19 pandemic. They focused their bailout efforts on a COVID-19 rapid response bail-out and were able to bail out 32 people across Michigan.
“Our action and community organizing highlighted the role of profiteers in the bail bonds industry, exposed the massive underlying social inequities leading to contact with the legal system and inspired community action,” according to their website. “What started as a bailout has evolved into a quest for transformational change across the criminal legal system in Michigan and a commitment to making it happen.”
In the community with the work of the National Bail Out, their teams were able to secure the release of Black mothers in three counties: Wayne, Oakland and Kalamazoo.
Quotes all over the group’s Facebook page share motivational sayings about never stopping the good work of freeing Black mothers.
“Money kept them in, Black love got them out,” one inspiring quote read.
Dawn N. Ison is also revolutionizing the game as the state’s first Black female U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan.
President Joe Biden nominated Ison last November, and she was confirmed by the Senate on December 14. Ison succeeds Saima S. Mohsin who was appointed as the Acting U.S. Attorney in January.
Ison, who has been heading up one of the largest U.S. Attorney’s Offices in the country for the past few months, said that her work is to help fight injustices in all communities, especially ones that are Black.
Ison, a Detroit native who served as an assistant United States Attorney for over 19 years, previously told the Michigan Chronicle that continuing to work hard to ensure the protection and safety of every citizen in this district is about ensuring that “the people of this richly diverse community feel valued.”
Ison told the Michigan Chronicle that her main goal throughout her career never wavered: helping provide opportunities to others who wouldn’t otherwise be considered and also to those qualified at all levels.
As the wife of a retired police officer and mother to a Black son, Ison said through her lived experiences she knows how vitally important the role of a public servant is.
“I’ve had family members who have struggled with addiction and family members with brushes with the law,” she said. “All these experiences I bring to this role in addition to extensive professional experience. … as a public servant.”