‘Just prosecutors’ learn lessons from hip-hop, BLM
The traditional adversarial approach undermines the US criminal justice system and even turns so-called progressive prosecutors into “victory seekers rather than neutral agents of justice”, warns a Virginia law professor.
In a recent article published in the Washington University Law Journal, Brandon Hasbruckassistant professor of law at the Washington and Lee University School of Law, writes that the role of prosecutors, as the most powerful actors in the American criminal justice system, needs to be fundamentally rethought.
“The necessary reforms of our prison system must start with the prosecutor,” the newspaper said. “Our adversarial justice system so convincingly diverts prosecutors from delivering justice to maximize convictions, that it can seem impossible to be both a good person and a good prosecutor.”
Hasbrouck says the concept of a “fair prosecutor” can sometimes be overshadowed by the notion of a “progressive prosecutor.”
“The prosecutor’s duty is to see that justice is done,” Hasbrouck begins, noting that this is rooted in the concepts of promoting civil liberties, equal protection and due process rights for defendants.
Yet, Hasbrouck notes, some prosecutors have adopted a partisan role “at the heavy cost of seeking justice” and instead act as partisan agents of politics and politics.
As a result, marginalized communities of color continue to be negatively and disproportionately affected by the justice system, he said.
“Darkness is punished,” writes Hasbrouck. “Black people are disproportionately arrested, charged, convicted and sentenced longer than the population as a whole.”
In addition to racial overtones in unjust prosecutions, people continue to be convicted of minor offenses and then imposed lengthy sentences, unjust fines and fees, ultimately generating a cyclical incarceration crisis.
But a movement like Black Lives Matter and even some of the values expressed in hip-hop music can provide a better conceptual framework for “building a prosecutor who improves the ideology and administration of justice in the United States.”
“There are a lot of commonalities in these seemingly disparate theoretical threads, where justice is painted – not in terms of definition, but in concrete actions – for prosecutors,” he continues.
Looking at the prosecutions through the lens of abolitionist constitutionalism, Hasbrouck explains how it’s a prosecutor’s job to uphold the Constitution — which details anti-racism guidelines and the constitutional rights of anyone convicted of a crime.
In these situations, Hasbrouck says an anti-racist perspective on prosecutions would change unfair prosecutions.
Hasbrouck notes that hip-hop has provided artists with a “pathway to liberation” by portraying issues within the justice system and using passion in ways that other forms of activism do not always embody.
Hip-hop artist Nas, for example, used the 1971 Attica prison riot as the backdrop for some of his work, while Jay-Z poignantly addressed the concept of “three-fifths of a man” in interviews.
Discussing the Black Lives Matter movement, Hasbrouck suggests that, rather than simply acknowledging the experiences of marginalized communities through their art,” [the movement] calls us to lend our efforts to their active resistance.
In other words, while music is a creative outlet for expression, the Black Lives Matter movement is about action.
The Movement was successful in getting law enforcement agencies such as the Minneapolis Police Department to embrace change. Although efforts to abolish or defund the police have failed, the department has implemented progressive policing reforms like community policing and training in implicit bias and de-escalation, Hasbrouck writes.
“Prosecutors who understand liberation justice appreciate that our system was designed to target and imprison black and brown people,” he adds.
“Because of this profound injustice, prosecutors must become advocates for the movement working to dismantle white supremacy through the decriminalization of drug offenses, the dismissal of prosecutions, motions to strike out, and the elimination of cash deposit.”
Brandon Hasbruck is an assistant professor of law at Washington and Lee University School of Law, where he researches and teaches in the areas of criminal law, criminal procedure, traffic law, and abolition. This academic year, WLU law students voted him Faculty of the Year.
The full document is available here.