“Mere access to the courthouse doors does not by itself assure a proper functioning of the adversary process.” - Thurgood Marshall
Recently news broke about Warren Demesme, a Black man, who told detectives, “…just give me a lawyer dog," but the police ignored his request. The Louisiana State Supreme Court found the defendant’s reference ‘ambiguous and did not constitute an invocation of counsel that warranted termination of the interview.’ This is simply unconscionable.
It is undisputed that Blacks are racially profiled and discriminated against consistently by law enforcement, due to implicit bias stemming from the horrendous history of this nation. Any police officer in this country therefore should know that in the Black community, the term ‘dog’ or ‘dawg’ refers to another human being.
This case illustrates the crucial need for all police departments to participate in comprehensive Cultural Awareness Training. Learning how to navigate across cultural lines would improve communications and allow for more dignified exchanges between the community and law enforcement, decreasing the probability that individuals’ rights will be violated. The protections we are afforded under the U.S. Constitution, especially the right to counsel, should be applied fairly to all people. Poverty, lack of education, and other social issues should not feed the pipeline to prison.
Melanie Elizabeth Bates is a consultant and attorney based in Washington, D.C. The views expressed here are her own.