The late comedian Richard Pryor once stated in his routine, "I went downtown to get justice. I didn't get it but that is just what I saw 'Just Us'".
I don't have to tell you that when it comes to equal justice our system is falling way short for the common man. If you want justice you have to have sufficient legal representation and the most common way to get that is through money – plenty of it. We, as a people, are being abused due mainly to our economic status and lack of access to good legal representation.
Some of our neighborhoods and economic centers have been demolished for the sake of highway improvement, gentrification. If, in the past, we had good legal representation we would still have the Claiborne District in New Orleans, the viable Fillmore Business Center in San Francisco and Black Bottom in Detroit. Every city has an example of how "they" came in and destroyed our communities for "their" vision.
As a graduate in correctional administration, I have experienced the very sad state of affairs with our prison population. After interviewing inmates at various venues, it becomes clear the majority, repeat MAJORITY, of people who are incarcerated should not be.
A public defender is the weakest link in the criminal defense system and the alternatives are far too expensive for the majority of our people. Thus, we go down a lifelong journey of criminal records and blockage from most economic opportunities, which lessen our quality of life immensely.
Founder, Chairman and CEO of Pre-Paid Legal Services, Harlan Stonecipher, has publicly stated, "Those words atop the Supreme Court Building 'Liberty and Justice for All' are just a lie." Most of us will agree with that. What is unique about Mr. Stonecipher is he has built and implemented an alternative to limited viable legal access.
Pre-Paid Legal has a network of major law firms from state to state. These attorneys are available whenever a subscriber of Pre-Paid Legal calls on them. They are there to provide them their best legal advice and representation. Whether someone has thrown trash on your property or your child has been thrown in jail and booked for charges, they are there to help you fight for your legal rights.
It's like a good insurance policy. You pay an affordable monthly fee and have big, downtown attorneys to represent you and bring closure to any challenge. Your cleaners destroyed your clothes and refuses to reimburse you; the city wants to condemn your property and offers you a fraction of the true value; you are getting sickly and want to update your will; someone files a frivolous lawsuit against you; the school principal expelled your child for vague reasons; and so on.
The latest challenge in our communities is the collapse of sub-prime mortgages, which threatens foreclosure to thousands of Black families. Losing your dream home and all your equity is a hurt that will last for at least a decade. Get good legal representation and exhaust all your options. Make sure your attorneys are as competent as those of your banker or mortgage company.
Have teenage children? Make sure the next time they run into an abusive police officer who is having a bad day that you have legal protection for them. Most of us have experienced such to an alarming degree. Let's have an option that doesn't exhaust our finances.
Harry Alford is the co-founder, president/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce.