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this is a really extraordinary honor for me I spend most of my time in jails and prisons on death row I spend most of my time in very low-income communities and the projects in places where there’s a great deal of hopelessness and being here at Ted and and seeing the stimulation hearing it has been very very energizing to me and one of the things that’s emerged in my short time here is that ted has an identity and you can actually say things here that have impacts around the world and sometimes when it comes through Ted it has meaning and power that it doesn’t have when it doesn’t and I mention that because I think identity is really important we’ve had some fantastic presentations and I think what we’ve learned is that if you’re a teacher your words can be meaningful but if you’re a compassionate teacher they can be especially meaningful if you’re a doctor you can do some good things but if you’re a caring doctor you can do some other things and so I want to talk about the power of identity and I didn’t learn about this actually practicing law and doing the work that I do I actually learned about this from my grandmother I grew up in a house that was the traditional African American home that was dominated by a matriarch and that matriarch was my grandmother as she was tough she was strong she was powerful she was the end of every argument in our family she was the beginning of a lot of arguments in our family she was the daughter of people who were actually enslaved her parents were born in slavery in Virginia in the 1840s she was born in the 1880s and the experience of slavery very much shaped the way she saw the world and my mother and my grandmother was tough but she was also loving when I would see her as a little boy she’d come up to me and she’d give me these hugs and she’d squeeze me so tight I could barely breathe and then she’d let me go and an hour or two later if I saw her she’d come over to me to say Brian do you still feel me hugging you and if I said no she’d assault me again and I’ve had to say yes she’d leave me alone and then she just had this quality you always wanted to be near her and the only challenge was that she had ten children my mom was the youngest of her ten kids and sometimes when I would go in spend time with her it’d be difficult to get her time and attention my cousins would be running around everywhere and I remember when I was about eight or nine years old waking up one morning going into the living room and all of my cousins were running around and my grandmother was sitting across the room staring at me and at first I thought we were playing a game and I would look at her and I’d smile but she was very serious and after about 15 or 20 minutes of this she got up and she came across the room and she took me by the hand and she said come on Brian you’re not gonna have a talk and I remembered this just like it happened yesterday I never will forget it she took me out back and she said Brian I’m gonna tell you something but you don’t tell anybody what I tell you I said okay mama she said now you make sure you don’t do that I said sure then she sat me down and she looked at me and she said I want you to know I’ve been watching you and she said I think you’re special she said I think you can do anything you want to do I will never forget it and then she said I just need you to promise me three things Brian I said okay mama she said the first thing I want you to promise me is that you’ll always love your mom she said that’s my baby girl you have to promise me now you’ll always take care of her well I adored my mom so I said yes mama I’ll do that then she said the second thing I want you to promise me is that you’ll always do the right thing even when the right thing is the hard thing and I thought about it and I said yes mama I’ll do that then finally she said the third thing I want you to promise me is that you’ll never drink alcohol well I was nine years old so I said yes mama I’ll do that I grew up in the country in the rural south and have a brother you’re older than me and a sister you’re younger when I was about 14 or 15 one day my brother came home and he had this six-pack of beer I don’t know where he got it and he grabbed me and my sister we went out in the woods and we were kind of just out there doing the stuff we crazily did and he had a sip of this beer and he gave some to my sister and she had some and they offered it to me I said no no no no that’s okay y’all go ahead I’m not gonna have any beer and my brother said come on we’re doing this today you always do what we do I had some your sister had some have some beer I said no I don’t feel right about that y’all go ahead y’all go ahead and then my that started staring at me he said what is what’s wrong with you have some beer then he looked at me real hard he said oh I hope you’re not still hung up on that conversation mama had with you I said well what are you talking about he says oh mama tells all the grandkids that they’re special I I was devastated

and I’m going to admit something to you I’m gonna tell you something I probably shouldn’t I know this might be broadcast broadly but I’m I’m 52 years old and I’m gonna admit to you that I’ve never had a drop of alcohol I don’t I don’t say that because I think that’s virtuous I say that because there is power in identity when we create the right kind of identity we can say things to the world around us that they don’t actually believe makes sense we can get them to do things that they don’t think they can do when I thought about my grandmother cart of course she would think all her grandkids were special my grandfather was in prison during Prohibition my male uncle’s died of alcohol related diseases and these were the things she thought we needed to commit to well I’ve been trying to say something about our criminal justice system this country is very different today than it was 40 years ago in 1972 there were 300,000 people in jails in prisons today there are 2.3 million the United States now has the highest rate of incarceration in the world we have 7 million people on probation and parole and mass incarceration in my judgment has fundamentally changed our world in poor communities and communities of color there is this despair there is this hopelessness that is being shaped by these outcomes but one out of three black men between the ages of 18 and 30 is in jail in prison on probation or parole in urban communities across this country Los Angeles Philadelphia Baltimore Washington 50 to 60 percent of all young men of color in jail or prison or on probation and parole our system isn’t just being shaped in these ways that seem to be distorting around race they’re also distorted by poverty we have a system of justice in this country that treats you much better if you’re rich and guilty than if you’re poor and innocent wealth not culpability shapes outcomes and yet we seem to be very comfortable the politics of fear and anger has made us believe that these are problems that are not our problems we’ve been disconnected it’s interesting to me we’re looking at some very interesting developments in our work my state of Alabama like a number of states actually permanently disenfranchise us you if you have a criminal conviction right now in Alabama 34 percent of the black male population is permanently lost the right to vote we’re actually projecting in another 10 years the level of disenfranchisement will be as high as it’s been since prior to the passage of the Voting Rights Act and there is this stunning silence I represent children a lot of my clients are very young the United States is the only country in the world where we sentenced 13 year old children to die in prison we have life imprisonment without parole for kids in this country and we’re actually doing some litigation only country in the world I resent people on death row it’s interesting this question of the death penalty in many ways we’ve been taught to think that the real question is do people deserve to die for the crimes they’ve committed and that’s a very sensible question but there’s another way of thinking about where we are in our identity the other way of thinking about it is not do people deserve to die for the crimes they commit but do we deserve to kill means fascinating death penalty in America is defined by error for every nine people who have been executed we’ve actually identified one innocent person who’s been exonerated and released from death row a kind of astonishing error rate one out of nine people innocent I mean it’s fascinating in aviation we would never let people fly on airplanes if for every nine planes it took off one would crash but somehow we can insulate ourselves from this problem it’s not our problem it’s not our burden it’s not our struggle well I talk a lot about these issues I talk about a race and this question whether we deserve to kill and it’s interesting when I teach my students about african-american history I tell them about slavery I tell them about terrorism the era that began at the end of Reconstruction that went on to World War two we don’t really know very much about it but for African Americans in this country that was an era defined by terror in many communities people had to worry about being lynched they had to worry about being bombed it was the threat of terror that shaped their lives and these older people come up to me now and they say mr. Stevenson you give talks you make speeches you tell people to stop saying we’re dealing with terrorism for the first time in our nation’s history after 9/11 they tell me to say no tell them that we grew up with that and that era of terrorism of course was followed by a segregation a decades of racial subordination and apartheid and and yet we have in this country this dynamic where we really don’t like to talk about our problems we don’t like to talk about our history and because of that we really haven’t understood what it’s meant to do the things we’ve done

historically and we’re constantly running into each other we’re constantly creating tensions and conflicts we have a hard time talking about race and I believe it’s because we are unwilling to commit ourselves to a process of truth and reconciliation in South Africa people understood that we couldn’t overcome or part time without a commitment to truth and reconciliation in Rwanda even after the genocide there was this commitment but in this country we haven’t done that I was giving this lecture in Germany some lectures in Germany about the death penalty it was fascinating because one of the scholars stood up after the presentation and said well you know it’s deeply troubling to hear what you’re talking about I said we don’t have the death penalty in Germany and of course we can never have the death penalty in Germany and the room got very quiet and this woman said there’s no way with our history we can ever engage in the systematic killing of human beings it would be unconscionable for us to intentional deliberate way set about executing people but I thought about that what would it feel like to be living in a world where the nation-state of Germany was executing people especially if they were disproportionately Jewish I couldn’t bear it it would be unconscious and yet in this country in the states of the old South we execute people where you’re 11 times more likely to get the death penalty if the victim is white than if the victim is black 22 times more likely to get it if the defendant is black and the victim is white in the various states where there are buried in the ground the bodies of people who were lynched and yet there is this disconnect well I believe that our identity is at risk that when we actually don’t care about these difficult things the positive and wonderful things are nonetheless implicated we love innovation we love technology we love creativity we love entertainment but ultimately those realities are shadowed by suffering abuse degradation marginalization and for me it becomes necessary to integrate the two because ultimately we are talking about a need to be more hopeful more committed more dedicated to the basic challenges of living in a complex world and for that mean for me that for me that means spending time thinking and talking about the poor the disadvantaged those who will never get to Ted but thinking about them in a way that is integrated in our own lives you know ultimately we all have to believe things we haven’t seen we do as rational as we are as committed to intellect as we are innovation creativity development comes not from the ideas in our mind alone they come from the ideas in our mind that are also fueled by some conviction in our heart and it’s that mynhardt connection that I believe compels us to not just be tended attentive to all the bright and dazzling things but also the dark and difficult things václav havel the great Czech leader talked about this he said when we were in Eastern Europe and dealing with oppression we wanted all kinds of things but mostly what we needed was hope an orientation of the spirit a willingness to sometimes be in hopeless places and be a witness well that or Taoiseach of the spirit is very much at the core of what I believe even Ted communities have to be engaged in there is no disconnect around technology and design that will allow us to be fully human until we pay attention to suffering to poverty to exclusion to unfairness to injustice now I will warn you that this kind of identity is a much more challenging identity than ones that don’t pay attention to this it will get to you I have the great privilege when I was a young lawyer meeting Rosa Parks and Miss parks used to come back to Montgomery every now and then and she would get together with two of her dearest friends these older women a Johnny car who was the organizer of the Montgomery bus boycott amazing african-american woman and Virginia Durrell white woman whose husband Clifford Durr I represented dr. King and these women would get together and just talk and every now and then this car would call me and she’d say Brian miss parks is coming to town we’re gonna get together and talk do you want to come over and listen and I’d say yes ma’am I do and she said well what are you gonna do when you get here I said I’m gonna listen and I’d go over then I would I would just listen it was be so energizing and so empowering and one dime I was over there listening to these women talk and after a couple of hours miss parks turned to me and she said no Brian tell me what the equal justice initiative is tell me what you’re trying to do I began giving her my rap I said well we’re trying to challenge injustice we’re trying to help people have been wrongly convicted we’re trying to

confront a bias and discrimination the administration of criminal justice we’re trying to end life without parole sentences for children were trying to do something about the death penalty we’re trying to reduce the prison population we’re trying to end mass incarceration I gave her my whole rap and when I finished she looked at me and she said mmm she said that’s gonna make you tired tired tired and that’s what miss Carlene Ford she put her finger my patient says that’s why you’ve got to be brave brave brave and I actually believe that the Ted community needs to be more courageous we need to find ways to to embrace these challenges these problems the suffering because ultimately our humanity depends on everyone’s humanity I’ve learned very simple things doing the work that I do it’s just taught me very simple things I’ve come to understand and to believe that each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done I believe that for every person on the planet I think if somebody tell us a lie they’re not just a liar I think if somebody takes something that doesn’t belong to them they’re not just a thief I think even if you kill someone you’re not just a killer and because of that there’s this basic human dignity that must be respected by law I also believe that in many parts of this country and certainly in many parts of this globe that the opposite of poverty is not wealth I don’t believe that I actually think in too many places the opposite of poverty is justice and finally I believe that despite the fact that it is so dramatic and so beautiful and so inspiring and so stimulating we will ultimately not be judged by our technology we won’t be judged by our design we won’t be judged by our intellect in reason ultimately you judge the character of a society not by how they treat the rich and the powerful and the privileged but by how they treat the poor the condemned the incarcerated because it’s in that Nexus that we actually begin to understand truly profound things about who we are I sometimes get out of balance all in with this story I sometimes push too hard I do get tired as we all do sometimes those ideas get ahead of our kind of thinking in ways that are important and I’ve been representing these kids who have been sentenced to do these very harsh sentences and I go to the jail and I see my client who’s 13 and 14 and he’s been certified to stand trial as an adult I keep start thinking well how did that have then how can a judge turn you into something that you’re not and the judge is certified him as an adult but I see this kid and I and I was up too late one night I started thinking well gosh if the judge can turn you into something that you’re not the judge must have magic power so yeah Brian the judge had some magic power you should ask for some of that and because I was up too late and wasn’t thinking real straight that started working on a motion and I had a client it was 14 years old a young poor black kid and start working on this motion within the head of the motion was a motion to try my poor 14 year old black male client like a privileged white 75 year old corporate executive and I’ve put in my motion that there was prosecutorial misconduct and police misconduct and judicial misconduct it was a crazy line in there about how there’s no conduct in this county it’s all misconduct and at the next morning I woke up and I thought did I dream that crazy motion or did I actually write it into my horror not only had I written it but I had sent it to court couple months went by and I just had forgotten all about it and I finally decided oh gosh I got to go to the port and do this crazy case and I got in my car and I was feeling really overwhelmed overwhelmed and I got in my car and I went to this courthouse and was sitting what this is gonna be so difficult so so painful I finally got out of the car and I started walking up to the courthouse and as I was walking up the steps of this courthouse there was an older black man who was the janitor in this courthouse when this man saw me he came over to me and he said who are you I said I’m a lawyer he said you a lawyer I said yes sir and this man came over to me and he hugged me and he whispered in my ear he said I’m so proud of you and I have to tell you it was energizing it connected deeply with something in me about identity about the capacity of every person to contribute to community to perspective that is hopeful well I went into the courtroom soon as I walked inside the judge saw me coming and he said mr. Stevenson did you write this crazy motion I said yes sir I didn’t we started arguing people started coming in because they were just outraged I had written these crazy things and police officers were coming in and system prosecutors and clerk workers before the court was filled with people angry that we were talking about race that we were talking about poverty that we were talking about inequality and out of the corner of my eye I could see this janitor pacing back and forth and kept looking through the window and he could hear all of this hot air he

kept pacing back and forth and finally this older black man with this very worried look on his face came into the courtroom and sat down behind me almost a council table about ten minutes later the judge said we would take a break and during the break there was a deputy sheriff who was offended that the janitor had come into court and this deputy jumped up and he ran over to this older black man he said Jimmy what are you doing in this courtroom this older black man stood up and he looked at that deputy and he looked at me and he said I came into this courtroom to tell this young man keep your eyes on the prize hold on I’ve come to Ted because I believe that many of you understand that the moral arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice that we cannot be full evolved human beings until we care about human rights and basic nigde T that all of our survival is tied to the survival of everyone that our visions of technology and design and entertainment and creativity have to be married with the divisions of humanity compassion and justice and more than anything for those of you who share that I’ve simply come to tell you that to keep your eyes on the prize hold on thank you very much so you heard and saw an obvious desire by this audience this community to help you on your way and to do something on this issue other than writing a check what what could we do well there are opportunities all around us if you live in the state of California for example there is a referendum coming up this spring where actually there’s going to be an effort to redirect some of the money we spend on the politics of punishment for example here in California we spend we’re going to spend 1 billion dollars on the death penalty in the next 5 years 1 billion dollars and yet 46% of all homicide cases don’t result in arrests 56% of all rape cases don’t result so there’s an opportunity to change that and this referendum would propose having those dollars go to law enforcement and safety and I think that opportunity exists all around us now there’s been this huge decline in crime in in America over the last three decades and part of the narrative of that is sometimes that it’s about increased incarceration rates what would you say to someone who believe that well actually the violent crime rate has remained relatively stable you know the the great increase in mass incarceration in this country wasn’t really in violent crime categories it was this misguided war on drugs now that’s where the dramatic increases have come in our prison population and we got carried away with the rhetoric of punishment and so we have three strikes laws that put people in prison forever for stealing a bicycle for low-level property crimes rather than making them give those resources back to the people who they victimized I believe we need to do more to help people who are victimized by crime not do less and I think our current punishment philosophy does nothing for no one and I think that’s the orientation that we have to change Brian you’ve you’ve struck a massive chord here you’re an inspiring person thank you so much for coming to talk you

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