*The criminal justice system and the African American community have shared a love hate relationship ever since the United States was officially founded in 1776. Within that span millions of Americans of African descent have been jailed. Some of them were as guilty as you can get, but too many were innocent.
For us, even a 2% wrongful conviction rate is far too much, but it would be a safe bet to say that African Americans have a wrongful conviction rate at least quadruple that estimate since the founding of this country. For the sake of objectivity we will ride with that 2%.
What is the reasoning behind African Americans being convicted at rate that far exceeds that of most other ethnic groups? Lawyer turned author Muhammad Ibn Bashir believes he has an idea as to why. Lack of education as to the inner workings and true nature of the legal system of these United States of America. After a stint as a columnist with ‘Don Diva’ magazine, Muhammad has landed a book deal with Cash Money Content for “Raw Law,” a book designed for those traditionally taken advantage of by the criminal justice system in general, and for young black males in particular.
“It’s a book written about the criminal justice system, but it’s written about and for a group of people that I feel is being underserved by the criminal justice system,” explained Bashir. “I put pen to pad to try to talk to the urban and hip-hop community and give them a resource that they can go to. I’m hoping that as the community gets a little more knowledge they would get a lot more out of their criminal justice system.”
There are some that believe that young African Americans are at a disadvantage in comprehending something as complex as law, but we are not among them. However, we did ask whether he felt the language that is inherent to a law book is appropriate for his target audience.
“What I try to do is create a storytelling adventure and it includes the law, and the phrases, and places them into a ‘fact pattern’ so that everybody can be drawn into the fact pattern,” he explained. “There’s a fact pattern on every topic that I’m addressing. I deal with the Patriot Act, I deal with probable cause, I deal with theft cases, and also the mindset of what brings people into the criminal justice system. I talk about how the criminal justice perceives you if you get caught in it. I tell them what they can expect once they face the criminal justice system whether you’re dealing with a prosecutor or trying to hire a lawyer or public defender. This particular book is written like a conversation. It almost demands that you ask a question of yourself or that you engage in some type of dialogue. Hopefully that strategy of writing is what will encourage people to move on and that’s the type of reviews we’ve been getting.”
Though criminals are not all the same in mindset and intentions, there are some who are career criminals who would use any information they can get to further their clandestine endeavors. EUR’s Lee Bailey asked whether he thought this book would be worthwhile considering that fact.
“We give people stories that they can see and, hopefully, visualize and start to see and feel,” he continued. “One line I use is ‘the best way to protect yourself in the criminal justice system is not to get in it because you can’t win in this particular system. The deck is stacked against you, and even that expression is broken down to the point where everybody can feel it and, hopefully, understand it. I try not to mince any words in letting them understand that the system is stacked against them. So, if you want to try to play this game and think you can win just remember that you’re playing with your life.”
Many of us have heard how the criminal justice system is stacked against certain groups of people, but there are but a few who can cite more than a handful of factual instances off the tops of their heads. Bashir says his book breaks it down for those that want to know: Urban, poor, disadvantaged, young, black.
“It’s stacked up against you at each of those categories, but at different degrees. It’s stacked up against the community because the system is a money making system and there for it needs a product. The product is prisoners. It needs felons. It needs people committing offenses. It’s stacked up against young people because young people are cannon fodder. They don’t have the education or the seasoning to avoid the mistakes that lead you in. It’s stacked up against young black males because, historically, the criminal justice system was designed to be stacked against young black males. It’s the grandson of slavery, in my humble opinion. When you put all of those categories together then this is why you have an urban guide to the criminal justice system and this why you have to try to avoid it.”
Muhammad Ibn Bashir is a trial lawyer by profession so, one might ask, is it in his best interests to be helping individuals avoid circumstances that they would have to pay him to help get themselves out of. Well, not really. You’ll never run out criminals, will we?
“That’s not a reality,” said Bashir. “One thing that you learn growing up in the mud is that there’s going to be some people who get it, then there’s going to be people that no matter how much you kick and holler just don’t. There’s always work if you’re a criminal trial attorney. This beast that we call criminal justice is swallowing up generation after generation of children. Sometimes you have to do something that changes the circumstances.”
Bashir is an attorney, and a black man from humble beginnings. So, one would think, that he would automatically look to give back, right? Of course that’s rhetorical, but in Bashir’s circumstance it wasn’t his blackness or his level of success that moved him. It was the plight of criminal children. Clueless criminal children.
“Do you know what’s it’s like to sit across the table from a kid who’s charge with a murder or charged with a robbery and they don’t have a clue as to what a robbery really is or a clue as to what their conduct really led to?” he asked. “When you’re trying to get that message across you can see in their eyes that they’re just not getting it. You can see in their eyes that they’re thinking ‘What’s wrong with what I’m doing?’ At some point you get a little frustrated. So, the book was a way for me to vent and also a way of me saying that I have to get the message out to a broader audience. We have to find a way to change this.”
“Raw Law” is the first offering from Atria in conjunction with Simon and Schuster and Cash Money Content. Yes, that Cash Money!
“Cash Money Content, it’s an interesting story,” he explained. “I actually self-published this book. I couldn’t get a lot of people interested. When they think you’re writing something that goes directly toward educating black people you always get a problem with it. That’s just my humble opinion, especially in corporate America. So, I hooked up with ‘Don Diva’ magazine and they saw the book, thought it was invaluable and they offered me a column in their magazine. I began to write in this magazine and, since the magazine is national and international, the word began to get out that there was a column called ‘Raw Law’ and it’s connected to this book. Other people began to take stock and interest in the column and the book. Don Diva shopped it, Cash Money Content got hold of the book and thought it was something that could really help the community. They decided to release this product as being their first effort at releasing books.”
Another reason Bashir feels “Raw Law” is invaluable to young black people is its conversational style. He wants to have a conversation with the community and not just tell it what to do, as is so often the style of other books of its ilk.
“People never talk to this community,” said Bashir. “They always talk about this community and they only talk about them as being the scourge of America. This is the community that created Hip-Hop, this is the community that really created R&B, this is the community that really created Jazz, this is the community that took the NBA and the NFL to heights unknown. This is the community that has produced geniuses, not only on an intellectual level, but in music, sports, arts, etc. But, somewhere, locked in that community, is the lack of understanding of what it takes to get out of that paradigm or to make that transition from the 13th Amendment, where they told us slavery was abolished except when you commit a crime, this is the only community that does not understand that particular paradigm. You are locking yourself into slavery again if you decide to use criminality as a way of life. ”
“Raw Law” can be found at Amazon.com and wherever books are sold.