DeRay, Brittany, Sam, and Clint discuss how one vote can make a difference and the overlooked news they can’t stop thinking about. Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli joins DeRay to talk about how she is improving the justice system in Illinois.
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DeRay: Hey. This is DeRay, and welcome to Pod Save the People.
DeRay: In this episode, we are doing something a little different. It’s me, Brittany, Clint and Sam, as usual, and we’re talking about the things that we just can’t stop thinking about, and then I have a conversation with Amy Campanelli, the public defender in Cook County.
Amy Campanelli: I always say, “Guilty or innocent, if you believe you’ve been treated fairly in the system, you will do better.” You will do better on probation, you will come to court when you’re supposed to, and you will feel better, even if you’re sent to the penitentiary, if you got a fair shake.
DeRay: Now before we jump in, I’ll just say, the message this week is to remember that we can hold complicated ideas, we can do that, but I hear all these people talking about voting and they’re like, “Voting doesn’t change white supremacy, voting isn’t radical, we need to …” And it’s like, here’s the thing: voting does not undo the values, beliefs, and ideas that create the outcomes that we fight against. It doesn’t.
DeRay: What voting does do is get us closer to putting people in places where they can change the system, and changing systems and structures fundamentally change peoples behaviors, that then change values and beliefs.
DeRay: I’m not saying that voting is the thing that’s gonna, like, suddenly change the world. It’s not. That’s why we have a podcast, that’s why so many people are knocking on doors, that’s why people are still organizing communities. Because we know that half of the work is values and beliefs work, and one vote doesn’t change values and beliefs. One vote doesn’t suddenly make everything a different country. But what one vote does do is get us closer to changing the system at the root level. If we get a Gillum win in Florida, what we can do around private prisons is unbelievable. If we get the governors … Stacy Abrams, Gillum, Jealous … if we get them in office, what they are able to do to change the structure is monumental. If we take back the house, what we’re able to do to slow down this administration and offer real solutions is monumental. Those are structural things.
DeRay: We still have the work to do around values and beliefs. That has to keep happening. But the message is that, remember, we don’t lead either/or lives, we lead both/and lives, and we need to be able to hold nuanced ideas in our mind and that be okay.
Sam: So if you’re hearing this on the day that this podcast episode came out, it is still Tuesday, the election is still happening, and you still have an opportunity to make a difference in this election, if you haven’t voted yet. Because I just wanted to take a moment to talk about what we can all do if we collectively show up to vote today.
Sam: Now, the way that the United States system of government works, it is designed to be very slow-moving, to only allow for fundamental change to happen in very small windows of opportunity. Most of the time, that window of opportunity happens around elections, and in particular, elections like today. Mid-term elections, and presidential elections.
Sam: And these are opportunities where we can fundamentally change the system in one day, by changing who is in office, and by actually enacting real policies that are on the ballot.
Sam: The first is flip the House of Representatives and make it Democratic. Now, that would do a whole bunch of things that you already know about, that are important. First and foremost, the ability to block legislation, Republican legislation, from passing. Two, the ability to hold the Trump administration accountable, to investigate that administration, to ask questions and require people to testify and provide answers to those questions that have not been able to be answered to date about what this administration is doing. Really important.
Sam: What’s also important is the Senate. Now, the Senate is a little bit tougher, so we have to make sure that we show up, especially to flip the Senate, because if we can flip the Senate Democratic, that impacts Supreme Court nominations, it impacts all other judicial confirmations, it impacts cabinet confirmations. It impacts so much. We could literally prevent another Supreme Court justice from being appointed by this administration, and so many other lifetime positions on the courts all across this country that are happening at a alarming rate.
Sam: But I also wanna talk about ballot initiatives, ’cause they don’t get talked about enough. You all probably know about Amendment 4 in Florida, to restore voting rights to 1.4 million people, the largest expansion in voting rights since the Voting Rights Act. If you’re in Florida, vote yes on Amendment 4.
Sam: But there are also ballot initiatives we haven’t talked about as much in other states. For example, Ohio, Issue 1. Issue 1, if that passes, will reduce the prison population in Ohio by 10,000 people in the first year. People for drug possession, drug use offenses, people for probation violations will no longer be imprisoned.
Sam: Also, Amendment A in Colorado. So you may already know about the 13th Amendment to the Constitution and the exception that that had that basically allows for slavery or involuntary servitude for people who have been convicted of a crime. Well, what this would do, Amendment A in Colorado would actually close that loophole and ban all forms of slavery and involuntary servitude in that state. Which would be a huge, important point for the rest of the country to follow.
Sam: We also need to look at other issues. For example, homelessness in California. There are two initiatives on the ballot right now that would provide billions and billions of dollars for homelessness, for low-income veterans, populations that rarely get the help that they need.
Sam: And then finally, there are amendments on the ballot that need to be defeated. For example, the Voter ID Amendment in North Carolina. If that passes, 281,000 North Carolinians will be disenfranchised, and that effect’s 20/20 because we know that that’s a really important swing state that often goes to either side by the slimmest of margins.
Sam: And then also in Alabama, there is an amendment that actually would completely prevent the state from being able to protect a woman’s right to choose if Roe V Wade is struck down, and we know that that is a very real risk with this new Supreme Court.
Sam: So all of these things are on the ballot. They’re really important. That’s just a small sample of what’s on the ballot. Make sure that you are researching what’s on your ballot and how it’s gonna impact peoples lives. Make sure that you show up to vote. Make sure you get at least two other people that you know to show up with you. Gotta vote today, because if we all show up, we can fundamentally change the systems and structures that impact our lives today.
Brittany: So there’s been a full-length color portrait of none other than Harriet Tubman floating around the internet the last few days. It is incredible. It is striking. It is moving.
Brittany: It was taken in about 1911 at her home in Auburn, New York. She’s seated in a chair with a kind of a black scrim behind her, and I feel like that portrait couldn’t have come at a more important time.
Brittany: Obviously, we should all know who Harriet Tubman is. She risked life and limb to rescue over 300 enslaved Africans from their bondage. She was a spy for the Union. She was a hero in every single sense of the word.
Brittany: But it should be very clear to you and I that she couldn’t vote. She lived during a time when that was simply out of the question, and yet Harriet Tubman chose to vote with her feet, with her love, with her courage, with her very life. And so as you are waking up today and you are headed on about your day, make sure that as you are voting, you are bringing five, ten other people with you, that you are texting folks, that you are calling folks to remind them of this sacred and important duty.
Brittany: Voting is most certainly not the only key we have to our freedom, but it’s up to us to unlock every single door that stands between us and liberation. So we have to use every key at our disposal, and today, voting is the one. So make sure that on November 6th, you’re voting, and tomorrow, on November 7th, that you’re holding those people accountable, that have reached elected office, to do what is actually best for the people.
Brittany: If Harriet could keep going, so can we.
Clint: Something I’ve been thinking a lot about over the past week or so are these images and videos that have been circulating online, and that tend to circulate online around election time, of people standing in these long lines waiting to vote. And the captions will often be something like, “So many people, so incredible,” or “Look at these amazing lines,” and I find myself sometimes getting frustrated, because while I’m certainly incredibly moved by the people who wait in long lines to vote, I find it absolutely infuriating that these long lines exist in the first place.
Clint: This shouldn’t really come as a surprise. Across the country, early voting periods have been reduced, poll stations have been closed, hours of operations for those polling stations have been shortened. Nearly 1,000 polling places have been closed nationwide in just the last half decade. At least 99 bills have been introduced in 31 different states to restrict voting access, and all of this really just makes a mockery of democracy, and when I see these lines, I think of the parents who stand in these lines, but had to leave to pick up their kids or go to work. I think of the student who was standing in line, but had to leave to go to class. I think of the elderly person who couldn’t be outside for that long because of the heat, or the cold, or the rain, and all of these people very clearly want to vote, but we have a system that makes it so unnecessarily and egregiously difficult to do so.
Clint: So that’s all to say that when you see the long lines for voting, it’s not something to celebrate. The people in those lines are certainly worth celebrating, but not the line itself. We deserve better.
Brittany: So obviously after 2016, it became an important conversation to discuss just how our social media outlets were keeping us safe from the spreading of fake news. Today, on election day, it’s important to note that it’s not just the spreading of fake news about candidates or parties, but also the spreading of fake news about voter suppression that social media outlets need to be very careful of.
Brittany: Twitter and Facebook, in particular, have been trying for the last few months to make sure that they are squashing incorrect and misleading information out there about the elections.
Brittany: One of the most insidious ones was the idea that ICE officials would actually be showing up at polling stations to check peoples citizenship. Obviously, this is intimidating and discouraging to undocumented people, to people who are coming from mixed status families, and frankly to anyone who looks like they could be an immigrant.
Brittany: This is actually not true, and ICE has tweeted out themselves that ICE, quote, “does not patrol or conduct enforcement operations at polling locations. Any fliers or advertisements claiming otherwise are false.”
Brittany: But Twitter and Facebook have been relying mostly on people from both parties to flag misinformation and misleading information on their sites. They’ve been relying on state election officials, they’ve been relying on the National Association of Secretaries of State, and the National Association of State Election Directors to flag things that could be misleading voters.
Brittany: Here’s the challenge with that. Obviously, when it comes to the public flagging these things, we’ve got a real challenge, but more importantly, we can’t forget that Brian Kemp, who’s running against Stacey Abrams for governor today, and who has been up to no less than ridiculous shenanigans in trying to suppress the vote of mostly people of color across the state of Georgia, he himself is a Secretary of State.
Brittany: And so we can’t put it beyond Secretaries of State to be doing things in their own interest, or in their party’s interest.
Brittany: And so I am glad to see that Twitter has deleted more than 10,000 automated accounts that discouraged people from voting after they were flagged by Democrats. I’m glad to see that there were lots of things taken down. I’m hopeful that Facebook and Twitter take very seriously the task that they have before them to not only stop the spreading of fake news, but to stop the spreading of information that will lead to voter suppression, and more importantly, to stop the spreading of hate.
Brittany: And that does not just happen during election season. On November 7th, when everybody takes a break from electioneering, Twitter and Facebook cannot afford to take a break from keeping us safe from fake things and the things that harm us.
Brittany: Quite frankly, I am beleaguered by the fact that it took as long as it has for these kinds of efforts to be undertaken, and we need far more than what’s currently happening. Yes, we need the public to be able to flag things. Yes, we need people in positions of power to be able to flag things. But we also need Twitter and Facebook and other social media outlets to ingrain in their algorithm, in their regulations and their rules and their guidelines, and their hiring practices, ways to keep people safe from being misinformed, and from being harmed, all year round. Not just during election season.
Brittany: So I’m certainly glad to see this progress, and frankly, I hope there’s more of it. Sam: So I’ve been thinking a lot about voter suppression, and by that, I am talking about Georgia. Because Georgia has become the capital of voter suppression. Because when you’re looking at what Brian Kemp is doing in using his position to get himself elected by breaking all the rules disenfranchising so many voters in order to beat Stacey Abrams, it is something that requires our attention, and requires us to start thinking about, what are the consequences for this type of behavior? Because clearly Brian Kemp hasn’t faced any.
Sam: So what I wanna talk about, in particular, is how systematic Brian Kemp has been in not only suppressing voters, but signaling the course that other Republican politicians might take to keep themselves in power, even when voters don’t want them there.
Sam: So for Brian Kemp, last year alone, 668,000 registered voters were deleted from the voter rolls. Now, many of those were reportedly deleted because people had moved, or people had died, but in fact, at least 100,000 of them were canceled just because they hadn’t voted recently.
Sam: The second thing he did was put 53,000 registrations on hold. So these are new people trying to register … he put all of them on hold. Now, luckily, the courts have intervened and said that they can vote, but that’s not the path that Brian Kemp was hoping would happen.
Sam: Finally, we saw 4,500 votes by mail just go missing in a predominantly-Black county in Georgia, and 600 votes—actual votes that have been submitted— thrown out due to “signature mismatch,” is what he called it. Again, predominantly-Black votes just thrown out, and this was before the courts had to intervene and say that they can no longer do this.
Sam: So we’re seeing a systemic, at so many levels, from people who are already registered, to people who are new registrants, to people who’ve already voted, getting disenfranchised from this process.
Sam: And then on top of all of this, new reporting has come out that’s shown that Brian Kemp actually sent in armed investigators into Black communities to intimidate and question and interrogate residents about quote-unquote “voter fraud.” And then charged organizers with multiple felony counts for just delivering sealed ballots to the mail.
Sam: So all of these things are happening, and it reminds me that the actions that we’re seeing from Brian Kemp and so many other Republican officials are exactly the things that they were doing in Jim Crow. Intimidating voters, deleting them from the voter rolls, throwing out their votes, these are Jim Crow actions, right?
Sam: And so in many ways, when we talk about these things, when we think about what’s happening, we have to remember the legacy here, and that these politicians are acting within a legacy of prominent White men in positions of power in these same states who, for generations and generations and generations, have used their power to use these same tactics to prevent Black voters, in similar ways, from being able to vote them out of office. And that’s exactly what we’re seeing happen in Georgia right now in 2018.
Sam: And so the bottom line, what I’ve been thinking about is, how is somebody in 2018 allowed to get away with all of these things? Doing all of the things that they were doing in Jim Crow, and still get to run in this election, still potentially get to win the election, and still get to take office if he wins election. That just shouldn’t be allowed, right? It just should not be allowed in the United States, and so I’m hopeful that through a new administration, through passing new laws and new constraints, that we can get to a place where this is not something that can ever happen again.
DeRay: Another thing that I was thinking about is that there’s a survey that recently came out that was commissioned by the Alliance for Safety and Justice, and they surveyed victims of crime, which is interesting, and what they found was that half of the respondents said they felt less safe since Trump took office.
DeRay: So all that conversation about law and order, and all this racist rhetoric around immigration and the, quote, “caravan,” and all these things actually aren’t leading to people feeling more safe at all. That’s just not what’s happening. That people, when you ask them, victims don’t feel like he is doing anything to make their lives better, and the DOJ right now is actually asking for the death penalty for drug dealers. That’s a policy shift.
DeRay: So it’s a reminder that when we ask people about how they feel about things, this rhetoric that is getting so much airtime on TV, it’s not having the impact around people’s beliefs about safety that so many people wanna say is happening, so that was important to me, because it reminds me that the numbers are on our side to get people to reimagine what solutions look like.
DeRay: I often think about in places like Baltimore, where I live, is that there are a lot of crimes of poverty and crimes of addiction. We actually know what to do about poverty and addiction, and it’s not more police officers. It’s not locking more people up. It’s not targeting immigration. We know what to do with crimes of poverty and crimes of addiction, and we should talk about that.
Sam: So one thing I’ve been thinking about a lot recently is White supremacist terrorism. And in part, that’s because we’ve seen so many White supremacists commit acts of violence. In the past few weeks alone, we saw the Tree of Life shooting, where it was the most deadly anti-Semitic attack in the history of the United States, committed by a White supremacist anti-Semite.
Sam: We saw another attack at Kroger, a grocery store, in Kentucky, where Black people were killed by a White supremacist. We saw another attack more recently in Tallahassee, where another far-right extremist, White supremacist, shot and killed multiple people before killing himself. We saw another attack where we had pipe bombs sent to Democratic officials, and George Soros, and a number of other people inspired by … or at least, it looks like, when you look at the man who did it and what he’s been posting … a bunch of right-wing, far-right White supremacist content.
Sam: So clearly there is a rising threat, and indeed the data bears this out. We see that, from 2008 to 2017, 71% of all terrorism-related fatalities in this country were committed by White supremacists. We see that, in fact, the number of attacks is increasing, so the number of attacks actually tripled per year since 2013. We see that the number of people killed in terrorist-related attack has quadrupled since 2013.
Sam: So we know that there’s a huge threat, we know that White supremacists are the primary terrorist threat in this country, we know that threat is getting worse. The question is, why?
Sam: And in many ways, we already kinda know the answer, even if we’re sort of hesitant to say it out loud. So for example, a study was done on hate-related violence in the aftermath of the election. It looked at over 1,000 hate-related incidents that happened the month following the 2016 election, and found that 37% of those incidents directly included a Trump-related reference, so that means somebody is committing a hate crime and saying, “Make America great again,” or, “Build the wall,” or all of these type of catchphrases. But referencing Trump, and his rhetoric, in the act of committing an incident of hate. 37%, and it’s not like the other 63% were referencing somebody else. That was the largest category, was Trump.
Sam: So we saw the Parkland school shooter, who sent a letter to Trump, who wore the “Make America Great Again” hat while doing target practice. We saw the Santa Fe mass shooter, who followed only 13 accounts online on social media. Three of them were Trump, Melania, and Ivanka. We saw the Waffle House mass shooter, who wanted to meet with Trump. We saw the person who sent all of those pipe bombs, we saw his van covered in pro-Trump stickers.
Sam: So it’s pretty clear that many of these attacks are inspired by Trump, are connected to the rhetoric and the language that Trump and other Republicans are putting out there, so what is being done about it?
Sam: And the answer to that is, not much. The answer is that, when you look at … an article that just came out of the New York Times, which is called “U.S. Law Enforcement Failed to See the Threat of White Nationalism; Now They Don’t Know How to Stop It.”
Sam: So you look at local state and federal law enforcement, what they find is, despite 2.8 trillion dollars being spent since the September 11th attacks on counter-terrorism, 2.8 trillion dollars, that money was spent on counterterrorism, and still to this day, there is not a comprehensive database on hate crimes. There are not these vast lists of people who are potential white supremacist terrorists that are being tracked or surveilled or put on the no-fly list, like are being done to many other groups of people who, in many cases, are not terrorists at all.
Sam: So basically, no infrastructure has been built, to date, despite 2.8 trillion dollars being spent, and on top of all of that, there are high-profile incidents where law enforcement has actually coordinated with some of these groups.
Sam: So for example, working with the Proud Boys to arrest counter-protesters, or we’ve seen many, many cases of folks who are actually part of these white supremacist groups working within law enforcement. So, bottom line, the thing that I’ve been thinking about is, how do you combat the primary terrorist threat in the United States when it is not only being not addressed, but actively inspired and fueled by those who are supposed to protect us from it?
DeRay: Don’t go anywhere. More Pod Save the People is coming.
Brittany: Right now, there’s a battle going on with the future of the internet and your right to privacy.
Brittany: This is really important, people. Big corporations like ISPs and ad networks are getting rich from selling your data, and Congress has completely failed to save net neutrality … we’ve talked about that on here before … or to protect your privacy online. Which means that internet providers and mobile carriers are free to restrict websites, spy on your online activity, or sell your browsing history to advertisers. Yikes.
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DeRay: So there’s this article that was published, that was titled “The Dialysis Industry is Spending $111 Million to Argue that Regulating It Will Put It Out of Business.”
DeRay: Now, the article’s interesting for a whole lot of things with Proposition 8 on the ballot in California. What I didn’t know is that there’s a 1972 law that [commits 00:26:07] the government to pay for dialysis treatments through Medicare, regardless of age, but when patients have private insurance, the insurer covers the treatments for the first 30 months.
DeRay: And this is where two big companies, Fresenius and DaVita, make most of their money. Because they charge so much more to commercial insurance companies than they do to Medicare. And I just had never even thought about that financial incentive, that there are two companies that have about 4,000 clinics across the country, and they serve 70% of America’s half-million dialysis patients, and about 80,000 of those patients are actually in California, so they’re worried that with this cap … what they’re saying is that they’ll have to close treatment centers, and a host of other things.
DeRay: But when I think about this, it reminds me that there is a profit motive with so many of the things that just should be basic. It’s like, if you need dialysis, the government should provide that for you. There shouldn’t even be a runaround where companies can just charge private insurance companies significantly more than they charge the government, and that there’s an incentive to actually do that.
DeRay: So it made me think, too, about all the different things that I don’t even know about. Like, what other industries are lobbyists? You know, in the early days of the podcast, we talked about how TurboTax and those places were actually making sure that the government wasn’t pre-populating our tax forms, but they have all the information because they’re the government. And it made me think even more about how lobbying is working with Big Business to prevent some of the things that would just make the most sense for peoples lives.
Clint: This weekend, I was canvasing with my 17-month old son, and we were canvassing in a largely-White community. And as I approached each door, I couldn’t help but think of the way that people were responding to me, and how that response would’ve shifted when they saw my toddler son sitting in his stroller, sipping on his fruit pouch underneath me. And I can’t really get inside someone’s head, but I can recognize that there was certainly a shift in peoples physical and emotional disposition when they opened the door to see me, and then looked down to see my son.
Clint: And it had me think of a poem I recently published in the Harvard Kennedy School Journal of African-American Public Policy … which is a strange venue for a poem, I know … and what it means to raise a child who the world looks at and thinks is adorable, and to know that they won’t always think that, and that the way that young Black boys are made into something dangerous rather than something cute, often happens far quicker than it might for other groups of folks.
Clint: So this is a poem that was published a couple weeks ago:
Clint: Your National Anthem
Clint: Today, a Black man, who was once a Black boy like you, got down on one of his knees and laid his helmet on the grass, as this country sang its ode to the promise it never kept. And the woman in the grocery store line in front of us is on the phone, and she is telling someone on the other line that this Black man, who was once a Black boy like you, should be grateful we live in a country where people aren’t killed for things like this.
Clint: “You know,” she says, “in some places they would hang you for such a blatant act of disrespect. Maybe he should go live there instead of here, so he can appreciate what he has.” And then she turns around and sees you sitting in the grocery store cart, surrounded by lettuce and yogurt and frozen chicken thighs, and you smile at her with your toothless-gum smile, and she says that you are the cutest baby she has ever seen, and tells me how I must feel so lucky to have such a beautiful baby boy,
Clint: And I thank her for her kind words, even though I should not thank her, because I know you will not always be a Black boy, but one day you will be a Black man, and you may decide this country hasn’t kept its promise to you either, and this woman, or another like her, will forget you were ever this boy. Then they will make you into something else, and tell you to be grateful for what you’ve been given.
Brittany: So you all may have recently heard about a case called Juliana versus the U.S. It is a major lawsuit being filed by young people against the U.S. government for failing to limit the effects of climate change, and Vox News recently did a report on this.
Brittany: You may have heard of it because while this court case was going forward, a lower court ruled on it and said that the case could go to trial, and then that trial was expected to begin in a United States district court in October. But then, about a month ago, the Supreme Court actually issued a temporary stay to consider a request from the Justice Department to halt the case altogether.
Brittany: What’s really significant about this case is that there are 21 plaintiffs, all between the ages of 11 and 22. So they’re basically testing the idea that a safe and healthy climate is, in fact, not just a nice to have, but is actually a civil right.
Brittany: So they first filed the suit in 2015, and as they’ve been pursuing it, they met this challenge from the Department of Justice.
Brittany: The good news is that this last Friday, in the midst of everything that’s been going on, the court actually denied the government’s request for a stay. In other words, the Supreme Court said the case could go forward.
Brittany: Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Neil Gorsuch perhaps unsurprisingly said that they would have granted the stay, but theirs was, of course, a minority opinion.
Brittany: So here’s what I find so powerful about this: we talk all the time about the many, many ways that we have to pursue freedom and justice for people. We’ve talked on the podcast before about environmental injustice, and just how insidious it is. How it shows up in ways that we can’t even see, we can’t smell, we can’t taste, frankly, until it’s too late. And often, there are corporations or government agencies that know this is a problem, but are not telling us, which is part of why this lawsuit matters so much.
Brittany: And so I love that in this lawsuit, not only is the litigation pathway being pursued … which can often be arduous for people, people often ignore it because it can take so long, but it really can move mountains … but that that litigation pathway is being pursued by young people.
Brittany: When we say that young people are going to change the world, we mean it. Between 11 and 22, I don’t know what you all were doing between 11 and 22, it certainly wasn’t suing the United States for my civil right of having clean air and fresh water.
Brittany: And so I’m really glad to see that this case is going forward. It’s something that we should all make sure that we’re paying attention to, and talking and tweeting and texting about, because a lot of folks don’t even know that this is happening, but as it progresses, it has the power, not only to change the game for environmental justice, but to change the game on how we pursue justice in all realms.
Brittany: Shout-out to those young people who are making sure their voices are heard.
Clint: A few weeks ago in the news, we had talked about how the Department of Corrections in Pennsylvania had banned books from being sent to people in prison under the pretense of preventing drugs from getting to people on the inside, but just a few days ago, the Department of Corrections … thanks to a confluence of public media pressure, and most importantly, the activism and advocacy of incarcerated folks and their families … rescinded the policy.
Clint: And so this is really good news, as we talk about all the time, and is close to my heart, as someone who works in incarcerated spaces, books can and continue to be transformative for folks on the inside.
Clint: Even prisons that have libraries don’t always have a wide range of books to select from, and so it’s really important that different nonprofits and different individuals have the opportunity to send in books to people who want them, and who need them, and for whom they can really, again, be transformative in how they think about who they are in relation to the world. Whether or not they’re someone who gets out, or whether or not they’re someone who stays in under a life sentence, books can change everything for somebody on the inside.
Clint: So I’m really, really excited and glad to see that the public pressure and the pressure from those folks who need it most, really came through. Good news. Thankful. Lots of work to do.
DeRay: Hey, you’re listening to Pod Save the People. Don’t go anywhere, there’s more to come.
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DeRay: And now, my conversation with Amy Campanelli, the public defender for Cook County.
DeRay: So Amy Campanelli, thank you so much for joining us today on Pod Save the People. Amy Campanelli: Thank you for having me.
DeRay: You know, I wanted to talk about the Cook County Police Station Unit, because I hadn’t heard of a sort of a model like this, and it’s my understanding that you have a different level of access to people in police stations, but can you just help me understand what your office has done around this unit, and has it been successful? Are there still kinks to work out?
Amy Campanelli: Okay, so, right when I became public defender in 2015, about a year after that, I started meeting with Chief Judge Tim Evans, who is in charge of the over 400 judges in Cook County. And I started to talk to him, with other advocates, about having public defenders in police stations to represent people to stop abuse of police in the police stations, and it took a while.
Amy Campanelli: We had several meetings, and finally, of course, then Laquan McDonald happened. Laquan McDonald was shot on the street, Garry McCarthy was the superintendent at that time, and I’m sure that that had some sort of effect on Chief Judge Evans, because I came back to him, I said, “Now, let’s get public defenders in police stations.”
Amy Campanelli: Under the law, public defenders are normally appointed in court.
Amy Campanelli: And that could be anywhere from a couple days after arrest, sometimes maybe even longer, and sometimes it’s too late. So I said, “You could appoint me. You could write a court order, and you could appoint my office to represent people upon arrest, once they request counsel.”
DeRay: Oh, wow!
Amy Campanelli: So he did it! I applaud him. I cannot thank him enough.
Amy Campanelli: And what I did was, I asked every lawyer in my office to sort of pitch in. My lawyers are unionized, my support staff, my investigators are all unionized, so there was a little bit of hesitation on lawyers. We’ve never been in police stations. We’re in court. And I had to put together a training, which I did. I brought in private lawyers who go to police stations all the time when they get called by families. We trained everybody in the office, and we started to do it.
Amy Campanelli: We worked with First Defense Legal Aid. They have been here in Chicago doing this work for 20 years. The problem is, the police don’t give access to clients who they arrest, they don’t give them the phone to make a call to a lawyer, or call their family, who could then call a lawyer.
Amy Campanelli: One of the things that Chief Judge Evans was very concerned about was that it was, like, less than one half of 1% of the people who get arrested in Chicago had access to a lawyer. DeRay: Wow.
Amy Campanelli: Even though First Defense Legal Aid had been doing the work for 20 years. DeRay: So first of all, I had never heard of this. This is fascinating. Are there any other places that have this like this?
Amy Campanelli: No. I am the only public defender office, that I know of, in the country that is doing this work.
Amy Campanelli: Now, Keir Bradford, who’s the public defender in Philadelphia, has some social workers in police stations, but they sort of refer clients that the police give them to services. It’s not like being there, helping clients invoke their rights, telling clients to remain silent, making sure that a client is not isolated for two days, not given medication, not given food, actually physically or mentally abused by police. When you have a lawyer there, they can’t do that. DeRay: So when somebody gets arrested now, what happens? Can you walk us through how this process actually changes the experience?
Amy Campanelli: We found out that there’s been a law in the book since 1965 that says that every place where someone is held in custody by law enforcement … this is a state law in Illinois—
Amy Campanelli: There has to be a poster on every room, where everyone is held in custody, that tells you what your rights are. And the two most important rights at the top, the first and second, and the right to communicate with an attorney, and the second one is the right to consult with an attorney. And we found out that those posters were never put up, and if the commander, or whosever in charge of that police station, willfully does not put up these posters so people know what their rights are upon arrest, it’s a class three felony.
Amy Campanelli: So what we did was, we got these posters made up, and I worked with Chicago Police Department, we made the posters, and we also put up my phone number, which is, by the way, 1-844-817-4448 for anyone who’s listening. And we put up the phone numbers in English, Spanish, and Polish next to the poster, so that when you’re sitting in an interrogation room and you’re maybe handcuffed, you can read the poster and then you see the phone number.
DeRay: Oh, wow.
Amy Campanelli: And then you say, “Oh, I wanna call that number. I have a right to call a lawyer for free.”
Amy Campanelli: And then this April, I put together a formal unit, so I wasn’t using all the lawyers of my office. I have nine lawyers who are standby, ready, willing, and able 24/7 to go to police stations when they get the call. And that’s what we’re doing.
Amy Campanelli: In the last couple months, we’ve maybe had about 96 visits, and I think we’ve walked out uncharged about 19 adults and maybe eight juveniles. So what does that tell you?
Amy Campanelli: It tells you they shouldn’t have been arrested in the first place.
DeRay: And you think about all the people who didn’t benefit from this over the decades where they were just languishing in police departments.
DeRay: Now, I wanted to ask you about something else that I … you know, I know a lot about the national level in other places, but I don’t know a lot about in Chicago or Cook County is about, what’s happening with the bail reform? It’s my understanding that the courts administratively work to end money bail, and it seems like there are some people who are part of the criminal justice community, structurally, who were in agreement about ending money bail at some point, and are no longer in agreement, so it doesn’t seem, from an outsider’s perspective, it doesn’t seem as smooth in execution as people had planned for it to be, but you are closer to the issue than me, so I thought I’d ask.
Amy Campanelli: Well, I think the stakeholders … you know, myself, Kim Fox, the state’s attorney, Dorothy Brown, the clerk, certainly Chief Judge Evans, Toni Preckwinkle, the president of the Cook County board, and Sheriff Dart … we are the stakeholders. And Chief Judge Evans entered this historic order in September of 2017. He entered an order, directed at his judges, on how to do bail hearings, and he put together a risk assessment tool.
Amy Campanelli: And what we found was before he did the court order, it seemed like the judges weren’t really following what his directive was. They didn’t want to change. They thought, “Well, I have an Illinois state statute, this order, certainly my Chief Judge is telling me to do this,” so what he did was, he took out all those judges! And he replaced them with new judges!
Amy Campanelli: So we’ve seen a lot of benefit from these newer judges. Now he’s trained all his judges, of course, to follow his order, and I think we’ve had great success with bail reform here.
Amy Campanelli: Now, getting rid of money totally, you can never issue a cash bail, that’s a bigger hurdle, right?
DeRay: Right. So if it’s not the end of all money bail, what did Judge Evans’ order actually do?
Amy Campanelli: The most important thing it did, he said, was if you are going to ask someone to put up money for their release … so if the judge is going to set a money bail … the judge must consider the present financial ability of that person to pay that money.
Amy Campanelli: So let’s say the client, in court, tells their public defender or defense counsel, “I have $200 to post. That’s all I have,” the most the judge should set is a $2,000 D-bond, because here in Cook County, you have to post 10%.
Amy Campanelli: Now if the judge sets a $50,000 D-bond, knowing that that client can only post $200, the judge has to make a finding on the record and put it in writing why. And then that’s in a transcript, and then I can take that transcript and I can go up to a higher court and have another court review it. So it’s more transparency.
Amy Campanelli: So far, 9 out of 10 people are coming to court, and 9 out of 10 people who are released are not re-offending. And that 1% that is re-offending, it is like .4% of those people are re-offending in a violent manner. It is very low. It’s working! And our jail population is going down.
DeRay: So I know earlier this year, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart wrote a letter saying he had public safety concerns about people charged with gun crimes who have been released from jail with electronic bracelets. What’s happening there?
Amy Campanelli: Well, first of all, Sheriff Dart is not one of the participants in the bail reform courtroom. It’s the public defender, it’s the prosecutor, and it’s the judge—
Amy Campanelli: And probation, who does the risk assessment. So when Sheriff Dart gets an order that one of my clients is to be put on the bracelet, the judge, who is in the best position to make that decision with all the evidence in front of him, has made an order. And for Sheriff Dart to sort of give an opinion that this person is dangerous, I have issue with that. He really isn’t’ able to say this person is dangerous. The judge has said, “This person is appropriate to be released on the electronic monitoring program, and Sheriff Dart, you must do that.”
Amy Campanelli: I don’t have any numbers, and I would like to see Sheriff Tom Dart’s numbers, if he is showing that people are re-offending while they’re on the bracelet, or they become a danger. He’s just looking at the charge. He’s making this unilateral decision without all the information in front of him.
DeRay: Can the courts make him do it? So what happens—
Amy Campanelli: Absolutely!
DeRay: Are they making him do it?
Amy Campanelli: Absolutely! There’s a lawsuit that was pending because he didn’t allow a couple … there were some private attorneys who filed a lawsuit, some of my clients. He administratively decided that he didn’t want to put them on the bracelet. He doesn’t get to do that.
Amy Campanelli: You know, this is the thing about it. We know that it’s not a perfect system, right? We know there could be someone who is released into the community who could commit a horrific crime. The public needs to understand that that could happen. Nobody knows for sure, right? We are trying to put monitoring in place to keep the public safe, and to make sure people come back to court.
Amy Campanelli: But if one person out of a thousand is on the bracelet, or is released to the community and commits a horrific crime, does that mean we punish the 999 who haven’t? Of course not! That’s not how we do it. And we don’t blame the judge, and we don’t blame Tom Dart who put him on the bracelet, and we don’t blame the prosecutor, and we don’t blame the defense attorney. The person who commits the crime is to blame.
DeRay: So you brought up Laquan McDonald. Obviously most people across the country know about this case, know about Van Dyke being convicted. I know that there’s a consent decree that is ongoing that seems to still be an issue. What’s your role in that process, if you have a role in that process, and how would you explain the consent decree process to people who aren’t’ as close to that process, but care about these issues?
Amy Campanelli: Well, we’ve had hearings before, Federal Judge Dow, and I talked about what I know from being a public defender for almost 30 years. And I talked about what I saw, and the stories that I heard from my clients after arrest. The abuse I’d seen, whether it was physical abuse, broken fingers, black eyes, bruises on their chest. Being isolated in a room for two to three days, not given their medication, not given water, not even the ability … I mean, I’ve had clients tell me many times that they weren’t allowed to use the bathroom and they urinated on themselves in the interrogation room. Asked for a lawyer, wasn’t given a lawyer. Asked for phone calls, weren’t given phone calls. Mistreated by the police upon arrest.
Amy Campanelli: That’s what this consent decree is about. It’s stopping the mistreatment. It’s trying to bring trust between police and communities so that we can solve crime, so that we can bring everybody together and help the police do their job.
Amy Campanelli: And one of the things I did say is that I had cases, many cases, where witnesses and victims were treated like suspects, for years, also locked in rooms, not being able to use a phone until they made an identification that they should’ve never made, and the wrong person was charged, and the wrong person went to court, and then they’re wrongfully convicted. These are things that happened over and over, and there was never accountability on the part of the police.
Amy Campanelli: Well, what happened is, I would get these cases, I would have these clients, I would present these issues to the judge and the prosecutor, and I might win the case, or I might lose the case, but nothing ever happened to the police officer who wrote a false report or abused my clients. I would actually tell my clients, “Do not complain. If you write a complaint, what would happen is, an investigator from the Office of Professional Standards would go talk to my client, without me present, write a statement, give it to the prosecutor, who would then use that statement against my client in their case.
DeRay: Oh, wow.
Amy Campanelli: And nothing ever happened with the complaint. The police weren’t disciplined. So now it’s coming out to the public, now after Laquan McDonald, we’ve seen … you know, there’s three officers coming up to trial next month—
DeRay: Oh, there are?
Amy Campanelli: For false reports. Oh, yeah, for the false reports in the Laquan McDonald case.
DeRay: Oh, wow.
Amy Campanelli: You know, now that we have the video and the body cameras and the dash cameras, you can’t lie as easily anymore.
DeRay: Right. I saw in the news that you were trying to launch a mental health unit through your office, and I just wanted to know what that meant. What would that do? How’s that been? What would it add to the opportunities for the people you serve?
Amy Campanelli: Right, well so far, I didn’t get everything I wanted for the unit, because I wanted it to be more expansive, but I’m starting out with one clinical psychologist who hopefully has some forensic background, and two licensed clinical social workers.
Amy Campanelli: And what this unit would do is they would screen cases for me before I would have to hire an expert witness. They would consult with my lawyers and screen clients. Perhaps there’s a client my lawyer has that, you know, there’s something with this client, I don’t understand, I can’t really talk to him, and then we could screen to see if that client needs an examination for a fitness to stand trial. Or, what’s going on with this client? Is he or she suffering from some sort of mental health issue? What is that issue?
Amy Campanelli: And then looking at that issue, and helping us direct where we go with the case. They would help us review medical records and mental health records that we don’t understand, ’cause we are not mental health specialists. We’re not the experts. We’re lawyers.
Amy Campanelli: Act as a liaison with our client’s current treatment providers in the community. To better paint a picture of who this person is, and give that picture to the prosecutor. Give that history to the judge. Whether my client is convicted or whether we’re doing a plea bargain, the judge should know, who is this person I’m sentencing?
Amy Campanelli: I know it will bring better outcomes for my clients, and therefore for the communities. ‘Cause the criminal system, quite frankly, is very ill-equipped to deal with mental health issues.
DeRay: The Cook County Jail has the single biggest mental health facility in the country, I’ve been told.
Amy Campanelli: Right, but it’s a jail.
Amy Campanelli: It’s not a psychiatric facility. It never has been, it never will be. Sure, there’s triage there. Sure, there’s mental health treatment there. But it’s not a psychiatric facility, it’s not a psychiatric setting. It’s a jail setting, and it’s corrections-based.
Amy Campanelli: One thing I wanted to tell you that we’re starting is this fitness diversion program. When a client comes into court and they’re charged with some sort of misdemeanor or low-level felony case, instead of immediately asking for an evaluation on their fitness, and keeping them in jail for that, we’re gonna get them stabilized in a hospital in the community. And once you get someone stabilized, they’re no longer in need of a fitness evaluation. And we’re gonna try and keep them in the community. And then we’re gonna bring them back to the court, and hopefully the goal of all of us is that we’re probably gonna dismiss the charges. Because the charges stem from their mental health issue.
Amy Campanelli: Now, I’m not talking about violent offenses here, I’m talking about the misdemeanor offenses that bring these clients to us. And we’re all working together on this, and this is gonna be successful. They’re already doing this in Miami, and it’s working fabulously.
DeRay: And what is participatory defense? I’ve seen that you’ve been a proponent of that, and it’s one of the things that I have read about, but I’ve not been in a space with a public defender to ask them to help me just understand it better. What does that mean?
Amy Campanelli: So a couple years ago, I went to a leadership conference in Valparaiso with several public defenders across the country, including Keir Bradford from Philadelphia. And what we learned, we learned about this participatory defense, which is a community-organizing model that enables accused individuals, their families, and their communities to have a direct positive impact on the outcome of the case. It builds relationships between the community, public defenders, and the clients.
Amy Campanelli: It was created by De-Bug, which is a non-profit organization in San Jose, California, and what it does is it enables the loved ones, whose son or daughter or brother is involved in the system, and they provide mitigation information to the lawyer. They work together. And what we’ve seen is that in San Jose, it’s had a significant impact in the outcomes of cases, including acquittals, charges being dismissed or reduced, and prison sentences reduced or avoided.
Amy Campanelli: So I invited the non-profit organization to come to discuss the program with my public defenders this last summer, and with the local restorative justice community providers … we call them restorative justice hubs … who already exist in Chicago … we have, I think, six hubs … with the goal of establishing this program here in Cook County.
Amy Campanelli: And the beautiful thing about this participatory defense is it’s entirely community-led and community-driven. So I’m hopeful that we’re moving forward here, they’re doing this in Philadelphia, Keir’s been doing it a while, and after this training and the pilot of the program here in Chicago, I believe I will get better outcomes for my clients. That the community … you know, if you have a loved one … I’ll just say one more thing …
Amy Campanelli: If you have a loved one who’s involved in the system and you’ve never been to court, it’s really scary. You don’t know what an arraignment is, you don’t know how to set bond, you go to court and you see a judge way up high. But if you already know what’s gonna happen in court, ’cause you’ve participated in this community-led program called “participatory defense,” someone comes with you to court, they explain what just happened to your loved one … it’s better for all of us. It brings more trust into the system side.
Amy Campanelli: I always say, “Guilty or innocent, if you believe you’ve been treated fairly in the system, you will do better.” You will do better on probation, you will come to court when you’re supposed to, and you will feel better, even if you’re sent to the penitentiary, if you got a fair shake.
Amy Campanelli: But when you feel you’ve been mistreated in court, mistreated by the police out on the street, mistreated by the police in the police station, mistreated in court because your bail was set too high and nobody considered your ability to pay, people didn’t have the time for you in court, nobody explained anything to you, these are all things that are gonna add to the community feeling that their systems that they pay for are doing the right thing.
DeRay: One of the questions, as we come to a close is, there are a lot of people in this [moment 00:56:10] who feel like they’ve done everything … they’ve voted, they’ve protested, they’ve called, they’ve emailed … and things aren’t changing, what do you say to those people?
Amy Campanelli: What I say is, they have to continue to have hope, because things are changing. Hope goes away when issues are not raised. The consent decree gives me great hope. Protests on the street give me great hope. Transparency, sharing of data from the body cameras, from dash cameras, from pod cameras, these things give me great hope. Things are changing.
Amy Campanelli: Racism now is confronted daily. We’re talking about it. That’s how we move forward. The MeToo movement, right? Compare it to that. We’ve always had sex harassment, but now, by confronting the issue, progress is occurring. We’re realizing that we can move forward because we know what the problems are, and change only comes if you know what the problems are and then you try to fix them.
DeRay: And the last question is, what’s a piece of advice that you’ve gotten over the years that’s stuck with you?
Amy Campanelli: When I was young, I was about eight years old, my mother brought me to a meeting at the Catholic grade school that I went to, and there was a big meeting because the Arch Diocese of Chicago had decided that they were gonna bus the Black children in from the south and west side to get a Catholic education.
Amy Campanelli: They had a meeting at the school, my mother brought me to this meeting … I’m not sure why, maybe my brothers and sisters didn’t wanna babysit me … and I always said God had a plan for my mom that day, because we sat in that meeting when the head priest told everybody that we were gonna bring these kids, they were gonna go to school, we were gonna integrate them in the school … and this is in the 70s … and there was a man who stood up in front of us … he was right in front of me, I can picture him today … and he stood up and he said, “If you bring those,” and you know the word he used, “into this school, I’m taking my kids out.”
Amy Campanelli: And my mother didn’t hesitate. She stood up and said, “Shame, shame on you!” It brings tears to my eyes, ’cause she was so courageous, and as she was walking me to the car, she was so mad, and her red hair was flying, and she grabbed me by the arm and she turned me around, and she said, “Amy, that was hate. Don’t you ever let me see you hate like that.”
Amy Campanelli: And that was a good piece of advice.
DeRay: Where can people go to stay up on what you’re doing, and what your office is doing, to stay informed?
Amy Campanelli: Www.cookcountypublicdefender.org
Amy Campanelli: It’s a great web page, it has everything I’m doing, and obviously I just want to make sure people, if they’re arrested, they call us so we can help them in the police station, and at that first intercept. But they can go on the web page, cookcountypublicdefender.org
DeRay: Boom. Well, thank you Amy. I consider you a friend of the Pod, and we can’t wait to have you back.
Amy Campanelli: Thank you, I will gladly come back. Thank you so much, DeRay.
DeRay: Well, that’s it. Thanks so much for tuning into Pod Save the People this week. Tell your friends to check it out, make sure, too, rate it, wherever you get your podcast, whether it’s Apple podcast or somewhere else, and we’ll see you next week.
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