Op-Ed: Prosecutors of All Colors Perpetuate Racial Disparities in Our Criminal Justice System

“If we are innocent, free us. If we are guilty, convict and sentence us fairly.”

This was the call for equality made by a group of black prosecutors who work in Santa Clara County, as I do. These prosecutors were responding to a growing belief that district attorney offices are just as responsible for the racist and violent policing practices that have inspired the recent wave of protests around the world.

These black prosecutors wholeheartedly deny that their office, and others like it, “are actively, affirmatively and proudly dehumanizing black people.” They ask their critics: “If this is how you view all prosecutors, are we, as black prosecutors, ‘race-traitors’ in your opinion, or are you saying that black people can’t or shouldn’t play a role in the criminal justice system in a way to overcome systemic racism?”

I understand their anger. I share in that anger. I am a black public defender.

Most of what I do is in direct opposition to prosecutors. But even as a black public defender, I have faced some of the same criticisms about being complicit in a criminal justice system that creates, perpetuates and furthers disastrous racial disparities. I have been accused of being a “race-traitor” and a “public pretender,” secretly working with the police and prosecution to ensure my clients end up incarcerated. As a black person working within the criminal justice system, these types of attacks are unavoidable.

I also have deep respect for black prosecutors. Even though the nature of our jobs means we are always in opposition to each other, I know they have had to work harder than their white counterparts to get to where they were. They were able to convince a system designed to see black people as less than human, that they are in fact humans.

Indeed, they convinced that system that they are humans capable enough to take part in running that same system. That takes intelligence and that takes courage. I see these black prosecutors, and I love them.

I have not seen, however, any black prosecutor using their unique position to actively support the Black Lives Matter movement.

Instead, I have seen prosecutors of all colors with caseloads filled with the George Floyds who were lucky enough to survive their encounter with the police, only to be charged with “resisting arrest” or “battery on an officer.”

I have seen prosecutors of all colors insist on convictions for those charges specifically because one of those offenses can act as a bar against suing the police for their brutality.

I see prosecutors of all colors refuse to call black people by their names in court, furthering the dehumanization that black people go through whenever they encounter the criminal justice system.

I see prosecutors of all colors get angry and frustrated at black people when their attorneys convince a judge to throw out evidence because a police officer violated the Constitution. I see prosecutors of all colors coach officers on how to testify to ensure that evidence will not be thrown out next time those officers violate the law.

I also do not see the picture of justice these black prosecutors are trying to paint. “If we are innocent, free us. If we are guilty, convict and sentence us fairly.”

That may be what these black prosecutors want in our county, but their years of service have not provided anything like that.

Black people represent 2 percent of the population in my county, but represent 12 percent of the people the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office sent to prison. For comparison, white people represent 21 percent of the people sent to prison but represent 34 percent of the total population.

This math does not paint a picture of equality. Instead it shows us that for black people in my county, the proportional prison population is six times the total population while the proportional prison population for white people is six tenths the total population. Black people are not convicted and sentenced fairly in my county.

It is important to recognize that these numbers are taken directly from the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office directly. They have issued a report on racial disparities in the justice system in our county. While I have no reason to doubt the validity of these numbers, this is their own report. They chose what data to share and how the internal “studies” were conducted. Yet, these numbers still paint a clear picture of racial injustice.

These black prosecutors are not wrong for claiming they should not be condemned because of these racial disparities. They are not “race traitors,” and their office is better because of the work they do. None of that changes the role that prosecution plays in perpetuating the racial disparities and racial brutality that have inspired outrage and protest across our nation. Prosecutors of all colors are complicit.

So, to all black prosecutors, please understand that black people need you. But we need to you to join us in our call for true justice. We need to recognize what polling tells us that 87 percent of black people have already recognized: the U.S. criminal justice system treats black people less fairly. I wish I could believe your office was somehow different. But I have eyes, and they have been open. So please, tell your bosses to listen the pleas of black people. Tell them they need to do things different.

“If we are innocent, free us. If we are guilty, convict and sentence us fairly.”

Tell your bosses to make this our reality.

William Brotherson is a Santa Clara County deputy public defender. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside. Send op-ed pitches to [email protected].

18 Comments

  1. Those are significant accusations, if true. Let’s see if you can actually substantiate your claim or if you are full of it: provide simply 10 examples of innocent black people in your personal experience as a black public defender in Santa Clara who were convicted through illegal or manufactured police evidence and/or testimony which was introduced by specific prosecutors in Santa Clara County. That should be easy as you have been working as a public defender in Santa Clara for two years and your letter outlines the scope of your experience. Please provide…if your claims are true.

    • Wow, wow, and wow, Mr. Black prosecutor Olusere..! Is Jeff Rosen promoting you after this defense of the Santa Clara County DA office? DA JEFF Rosen is the top criminal of this county with permission from the supervisors to protect criminal law enforcement engaging in sexual crimes against children, Domestic Violence, and other crimes. Cindy CHAVEZ and DAVE Cortese know of these crimes by law enforcement and DA’s passes to them. The Morgan Hill Police still has an IRS evidence and other evidence. You are a Black prosecutor but you are also a piece of sh!t defending what has no defense. RECALL DA JEFF ROSEN! If Jeff Rosen has forgotten all these stories, tell him I can connect him to the former wife of one of these criminal law enforcement. The one that exposed him in front of county supervisors and the public during the Children Sexual Abuse forum. He has her email and phone too; the same for the supervisors. This systemic corruption by DA Jeff Rosen and his corrupted monkeys cannot be covered with an opinion in the San Jose Inside! No public relations can save Jeff Rosen from his trashy DA career and BX. FUERA DA JEFF ROSEN! NO PASSES FOR CRIMINAL POLICING AND PROSECUTORS! WE THE PEOPLE; WE TGE POWER!

      • Isn’t it the SCCBOS who are over Sheriff Smith and Smith is over Rosen? Tell us the pecking order, please.

        • My opinion, Chavez, Cortese, Smith, Rosen, SJPD Chief and SCC judges were a corruption club and very loyal to one another. The Persky Recall divided these alliances. This recall was about what is being discussed here, racial, gender, and SES affecting access to justice for some and others not being accountable for their criminal acts. Their privilege status granted them leniency. This is why Turner did three months in jail for a similar crime a Black male was given years in prison, sentence. Jeff Rosen decided to reinforce alliance with SCC judges during the Recall. His wife is a judge. My take is that Smith tried to walk the road less traveled for once. This was very inconvenient for corrupted DA Jeff Rosen. His tantrums and anger towards Smith have been displaced in local papers and other news. His corrupted reputation as grown and made public. People in this county no longer respect his judgement or authority. He has been publicly shamed by members of the public in front of supervisors. I think local officials are walking away from him because the people of Santa Clara County has zero patience for his corruption and for those supporting him. DA JEFF Rosen has to go! For the rest of our public officials…WALK TO THE LIGHT OF JUSTICE AND RIGHTEOUSNESS. There is no more breaks for corruption! El valiente vive hasta que el cobarde quiere. WE THE PEOPLE!

    • Do not worry Black prosecutor Olusere, I am writing a book of significant accusations, CRIMES, including victims’ personal stories that include possession of images of children being sexually penetrated by adult males, law enforcement officers watching these images for sexual gratification purposes, other sexual crimes against children, local women being physically and emotionally victimized by their law enforcement husbands, father, … and Jeff Rosen and other county people covering for them, their political union power, and law enforcement privilege to commit crimes on and off duty. THIS IS HOW SYSTEMIC CORRUPTION LOOKS LIKE! RECALL JEFF ROSEN!

  2. Being a Black prosecutor does not make someone a traitor of his or her own race. On the contrary having a DA or public defender office that is representative of the county and the state are measurable steps to clap back on racism and discriminatory systems. This representation by itself is not sufficient. The characters of those representing others are equally important, so they will have the [email protected] to counter act Group Think culture and abusive Bx. I truly believe this. This is why I supported and continue to support KAMALA Harris presidential…Senatorship. However, putting a Black person to speak in the name of all Black prosecutors or to clean the trashy path of the Santa Clara County DA’s corruption is non effective. We the people of Santa Clara County have true stories of police and DA corruption and excellent memory. We are in favor of racial and SES justice. WE ARE NOT IN FAVOR OF GIVING PASSES TO CORTUPTED PROSECUTORS, POLICE, JUDGES. Recall JEFF ROSEN!

    • ROTFLMAO @ supporting KAMA HARRIS. She was all in for Prop. 47 and even helped name it the the Safe Neighbors blah blah proposition. It was KAMALA HARRIS who failed to give the proof she had to exonerate and have a man in prison released. It took a judge to reprimand her FAILURE as a prosecutor. This gentleman would have been speaking out AGAINST KAMALA HARRIS. AND……we made the MISTAKE of voting for Kamala Harris, but never, ever again.

      • My opinion, where is that judge and where is KAMALA Harris? People learn through experience and by mistakes. This is not corruption. The gender bias is too present in Kamala’s life. A sexual predator can easily and with very little judgement become a president of the United States. Perfection is required from a woman to aspire for this position. GIVE ME A BREAK WITH THAT SH!t My Opinion!

  3. William, do you mean that public defenders are in a better position to seek “true justice” in our communities when they try to get rapists, murderers, and child molesters off so they can commit more crimes against innocent people – people of all colors? I believe someone in your office is currently in trial defending a child rapist who beat and murdered a 2 year old during the act right now. Is that justice?

  4. Here are some statistics for those of you living in San Jose.

    City of San Jose Police Stats

    In 2018 the SJPD had 1,034,790 calls for service according to the City’s opendata site.

    In 2018, there were 2 in custody deaths for SJPD, 1-Asian and 1-Hispanic according to data in the Washington Post Fatal Force database.

    According to that same database in a 5 year span 2015-2019 there were 19 in custody deaths in San Jose, only 1 of which involved an unarmed person who was Hispanic.

    The 19 deaths break out by Race as follows:
    # Race. % of Total
    1 Asian 5%
    1 Black 5%
    7 Hispanic 36%
    5 Unknown 26%
    5 White 26%

    Now compared to racial make up of the City according to the 2018 US census American Community Survey (ACS)
    1 Asian 35.4%
    1 Black. 3%
    7 Hispanic 32%
    5 Unknown 6.2%
    5 White 26%

    ACS survey adds to more than 100% that’s what they had on their site.

    As a resident over the last five years assuming a million calls for service per year you had a .0004% chance of dying in SJPD custody.

    As a black person your odds were .00002%.

    I encourage you to find this data for your City. If they don’t have it request it.

    Based on what I saw, SJPD is doing a great job, no systemic racism based on the numbers. I agree let’s fund more social programs, let’s fund schools more but don’t punish every police department especially when some like SJPD don’t fit the narrative.

    On a very important side note on the Washington Post data an unarmed black male in 2017 had a .01% chance of dying in police custody versus between a 27% to 35% chance of dying of homicide.

  5. Wow my opinion, it appears Latinos are killed equally by SJPD and COVID-19. The unkown is a big flaw of these stats…

  6. This article is extremely thoughtful and thought provoking. Thank you for sharing your perspective. I am impressed by your compassion and I am inspired by your passionate call for prosecutors to do better. We can ALL do better, but I am comforted to know there are strong advocates like you who are standing up for people in this community and challenging those who are upholding institutions that do not treat them fairly.

  7. “Black people represent 2 percent of the population in my county, but represent 12 percent of the people the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office sent to prison.”

    Does this statistic take into account the residence of the people sent to prison? As I understand it, many people come from out of county to commit crime in the Silicon Valley, such as burglaries, robberies, and human trafficking. If that statistic doesn’t consider residence, it is highly misleading and someone as educated as an attorney should know better.

  8. Wow Concern citizen, I am concerned about your intellectual potential and your lack of self-awareness. Prejudice, racism, and discriminatory Bx are learned and passed through generations. This is why we are still talking about the same social problem. I am sure you have proudly raised a new generation of racists!

  9. As a criminal defense attorney in Santa Clara County, I support and advocate for the opinions set forth in this opinion.

  10. Looked you up. You have been an attorney for all of 3 years! 😂 Tell us more about all of your experience. 😂

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