FSU College of Law hosts ‘Race and the Law’ panel

Florida State University’s division of student Affairs presented “Race and the Law” Tuesday evening.

The free event was at FSU’s Wellness and Health Center Auditorium featured a panel discussion, provocative video footage and topics of race-related police action, criminal verdicts and criminal sentencing.

Featured panelists included  Franita Tolson, an FSU College of Law professor; Chuck Hobbs, a civil rights attorney; Diop Kamau, a former police officer and current police abuse investigator; and Jack Campbell, an assistant state attorney .

The event had a media format with video elements and audience questions. The topics explored included: racial profiling, hate speech, police and legal bias and proposed solutions to these chronic social concerns.

Antron Mahoney, an assistant director with FSU’s Center for Leadership & Social Change, served as the moderator. The first question Mahoney asked was, “Does race matter when it comes to our legal system?”

Hobbs, a trial lawyer and political columnist in Tallahassee who has served as a counselor in a number of high-profile cases in the past ten years, said race is still a factor in trials.

“Race still matters within the criminal justice system,” Hobbs said. “During the summer of the Zimmerman trial, the verdict was pretty clear that there was racial stratification.”

Hobbes spoke about being an African-American male and a law official.

The next discussion question presented to the panel was,”How does race play out in our system?”

Kamau, a civil rights activist and the founder and executive director of the Police Complaint Center in Washington, said race affects plea bargains and jail times.

“Race plays a role when you’re arrested for the wrong reason,” Kamau said. “A black man will take a plea bargain knowing he’s innocent just to avoid spending 20 years in prison.”

Kamau spoke on a personal racial profiling incident where he was pulled over by an officer. The officer smashed his body on the hood of the car just to put him in handcuffs.

The police report said Kamau tried to attack the officer and was slammed on the car out of self-defense. The charges against Kamau were later dropped. Camera footage showed the incident. Kamau was assaulted by an officer but did not use any violence or retaliate.

The panel went on to discuss race issues within the community. Students, faculty and staff were given a chance to express their feelings after hearing statistics on minorities being profiled.

Natalia Maricales, a recent FSU graduate who majored in marketing  from Deerfield Beach, Fla., said she is more open to the issue.

“Racism will always be an issue the more people aren’t talking about it,” Marciales said. “It’s 2013, and racism is still an issue that is more present now.”

Maricales said her dad, a Latino male, was profiled on numerous occasions.

The panel ended the discussion with ways to end racial issues.

“Racism starts in the home and transfers to the next generation,” Kamau said. “It’s up to the next generation to stop it.”