It was time for my weekly haircut, so I visited my local barbershop. Anyone who has visited a black barbershop knows debate and conversation are constants unless a good football or basketball game is on television. This day was no exception.
I started the conversation by asking the younger cats if they had heard of Bobby Shmurda, the hot, new, young, Brooklyn rapper, who raps about murdering other young black males. Of course they knew him and loved his latest song, “Hot Nigga”, which to date has almost 30 million views on YouTube. Undoubtedly, his YouTube success caused a major record label, Epic Records, to leap at the opportunity to sign this cool young rap phenom and sensation.
To everyone’s surprise, I was not impressed with Bobby Shmurda. Instead, I shared my condemnation of his video, anger with Epic Records, and pity for this talented but misguided young man. The rationale for my critical comments, I explained, was that as a pastor and criminal defense attorney, I know firsthand the tragedy of eulogizing young black male murder victims and representing the young black males who murdered them. The daily murder and incarceration of young black men is nothing to glorify and dance about, I said loudly. Additionally, I shared my very painful and personal experiences of eulogizing both of my younger brothers who had been killed tragically in the streets.
Everyone agreed with my logic, but one young cat wanted to know how could I, a minister, also be a criminal defense attorney? He saw a conflict in a presumably righteous preacher representing criminals. I welcomed the question because it afforded me the opportunity to educate this young brother and preach Christ to him simultaneously. Here was my response:
First, I explained to him that not every person the state prosecutes is guilty. Sometimes the state gets it wrong, witnesses get it wrong and innocent people, especially black males, suffer the consequences. Without criminal defense attorneys advocating and fighting for the accused the state would prosecute, convict and put to death many more innocent people. In fact, given the dire consequences of prosecuting innocent people, William Blackstone, the English Jurist, famously said, “it is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.”
Second, I explained the enjoyment that comes from advocating on behalf of my clients, especially young black men, who made wrong decisions – often for reasons they neither understood nor controlled. I discussed many of these reasons in a previous blog. As a convicted felon, the young brother said it was surprising and refreshing to hear a criminal defense attorney express real concern for his clients. Apparently, his past experiences with criminal defense attorneys had been unpleasant. I was happy to show him that not all criminal defense attorneys were stereotypical.
The Amendments to the Constitution
Third, I discussed the Amendments to the Constitution, specifically the 4th, 5th, 6th, 13th, and 14th Amendments. I explained these Amendments were added to the Constitution – some by the founding fathers, some through acts of Congress – for the expressed purpose of protecting the rights of the accused or minorities. My job as a criminal defense attorney, I said, is to force the state to respect these Amendments and other rights that the accused enjoy whether they are guilty or not. Without respect for these Amendments, I proffered, the state could become a dictatorship very quickly. They understood that.
My Faith in Christ
Last, I talked about my faith in Christ. I reminded them that everyone stands before God the Father charged with, indeed guilty of, breaking God’s laws. The Father found us not guilty, however, because Jesus was executed for our crimes and lawlessness. Now, Jesus intercedes before the Father in the High Court of Heaven, and the Holy Spirit is on earth advocating for us when we fail. I explained that this analogy, on a much smaller scale, describes the role criminal defense attorneys play in the lives of their clients.
When the conversation ended, the young brother better understood and appreciated the work of criminal defense attorneys. He no longer saw a contradiction between a righteous preacher and a criminal defense attorney who sincerely tries to help his accused, maybe even guilty, clients. Even more important, he had a better understanding of the work and ministry of Christ and the Holy Spirit in all our lives. All in all, it was a very positive experience.