Add African-American voices to law

From the Charlottesville Daily Progress Letters to the Editor, January 30, 2015

After reading The Daily Progress story “Albemarle supervisors agree to fund extra attorney for county commonwealth’s attorney’s office” (Daily Progress, 2015 January 7), and after subsequently visiting the Albemarle County and Charlottesville commonwealth’s attorney’s offices to inquire about the presence of African-American attorneys, I learned that neither office presently has any African-American attorneys.

This is an excellent opportunity to remind both Albemarle County’s commonwealth’s attorney, Denise Lunsford, and Charlottesville’s commonwealth’s attorney, Dave Chapman, that if they believe in racial diversity they should consider hiring African-American attorneys in these very important offices.

If they are to adhere to the mission of their offices — which is dedicated to pursing justice and protecting the rights and safety of the citizens of Albemarle and Charlottesville and their visitors — then they should include a racially diverse team of attorneys that reflects the diversity in the county’s and city’s population.

Mission statements talk about how the offices aspire to enforce criminal laws in a fair, compassionate, ethical and just manner. That’s a very important aspiration. But those are subjective terms, and what is fair, just or compassionate often depends on one’s perspective and background.

The commonwealth’s attorney’s offices — and all of the law offices in Albemarle and Charlottesville — therefore would benefit from having on their legal teams attorneys who come from a similar racial background as many of the people they represent or otherwise encounter in the criminal justice system.

Coming from similar background, an attorney might be able to better understand a broader array of the social dynamics that result in the disproportionately high rate of interaction that Africans-Americans and other people of color have with the criminal justice system, as well as the unique set of challenges that they may face.

That perspective would seem to be very valuable in many aspects of the duties of the commonwealth’s attorney’s office, such as determining how best to prevent crime from happening in the first place, negotiating settlements, and determining the most suitable and effective punishment when crime has occurred.

In short, such attorneys could bring to the table an important perspective of what constitutes fairness, justice and compassion, and could help the commonwealth, city, county and all the law offices fulfill their mandate to prosecute and handle issues of justice with integrity, equality and excellence.

M. Rick Turner