Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 38

TAKING THE STAND

TURNING OFF THE WHITE NOISE OF

SYSTEMIC RACISM

Getty Images / Pool

By Natasha Távora Baker

"Taking the Stand" appears periodically
in Washington Lawyer as a forum for
D.C. Bar members to address issues of
importance to them and that would be
of interest to others. The opinions
expressed are the author's own. For
submissions, email editorial@dcbar.org.

T

he current national spotlight
on white supremacy brings
me back to late last year,
when I saw the play White Noise
by Suzan-Lori Parks at the Berkeley
Repertory Theatre in California.
White Noise tells the story of Leo,
his girlfriend, and their friends
Misha and Ralph.

Leo suffers from insomnia, and one of his
coping mechanisms is to go for walks. One
night, he takes a different walking path and
gets beaten up by cops who are suspicious
of a Black man in a wealthy neighborhood.
To overcome this traumatic experience, Leo
proposes becoming Ralph's slave (Leo is Black;
Ralph is white) for 40 days. Ralph accepts.
Where my story intersects with Leo's is the
point where Ralph forces Leo to wear a slave
collar borrowed from a museum. It's an enor-
mous metal ring covered in large spikes that
was designed to keep slaves immobile;
should they try to run with it and fall, they'd
be impaled.
While watching Ralph present the collar to Leo,
I experienced something I had never experienced before: dissociation. Instinctually, my
body switched into survival mode, blurring
my vision and dulling my hearing to help me
detach from what was happening on stage.
I cried and shivered. I felt lightheaded to the
point of almost passing out. I would have
welcomed falling unconscious if it meant
not feeling anything for a little while, at least
until intermission.
The slave collar scene triggered traumatic
memories for me, and I dissociated to cope.

38 WASHINGTON LAWYER

*

NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2020

I had flashbacks to times when I had seen
my clients in chains - when I stood next to
them or sat in front of them, trying my best
to defend their humanity while they couldn't
even hold a pen properly. I was triggered
because shackles are a modern version of
what Leo was forced to wear.

MODERN-DAY SHACKLES
From 2017 to 2019, I was a Skadden Fellow at
Open City Advocates (OCA), a nonprofit legal
organization in Washington, D.C., that provides
post-sentencing representation and mentoring
to indigent juveniles in the local juvenile justice
system. OCA also provides significant assistance when clients end up in the adult system.
As a fellow, I routinely visited clients in jail.
In D.C. Superior Court, incarcerated defendants
wait in an area behind the courtroom before
their cases are called. It is composed of a series
of rooms that are like Russian nesting dolls.
From the courtroom, to the left or right of the
judge's bench, you walk through a door into
a hallway, which leads to another door that is
locked. The guards - who are U.S. Marshals in
the District - must let you in. Once through
that door, you find yourself standing in a room
that contains multiple cages. Your client is
inside one of those cages, chained at the



Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020

Digital Extras
Your Voice
From Our President
Practice Management
Calendar of Events
Family Law Assistance Network feature
An Avalanche of Evictions feature
Pro Bono Partnerships Forged in Crisis feature
Help for Pro Se Litigants Feature
Qualified Immunity feature
Taking Legal Support to the Streets feature
Taking the Stand Turning off the White Noise of Systemic Racism
Taking the Stand Situational Principles Aren't Really Principles
On Further Review
The Learning Curve
Member Spotlight - A. Benjamin Spencer
Member Spotlight - Amber Harding
Worth Reading
Attorney Briefs
Speaking of Ethics
Disciplinary Summaries
Pro Bono Effect
A Slice of Wry
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - Cover1
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - Cover2
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 1
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 2
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 3
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - Digital Extras
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - Your Voice
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - From Our President
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 7
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - Practice Management
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - Calendar of Events
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - Family Law Assistance Network feature
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 11
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 12
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 13
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - An Avalanche of Evictions feature
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 15
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 16
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 17
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - Pro Bono Partnerships Forged in Crisis feature
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 19
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 20
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 21
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 22
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 23
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 24
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 25
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - Help for Pro Se Litigants Feature
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 27
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 28
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 29
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - Qualified Immunity feature
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 31
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 32
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 33
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - Taking Legal Support to the Streets feature
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 35
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 36
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 37
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - Taking the Stand Turning off the White Noise of Systemic Racism
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 39
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - Taking the Stand Situational Principles Aren't Really Principles
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 41
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - On Further Review
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - The Learning Curve
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - Member Spotlight - A. Benjamin Spencer
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - Member Spotlight - Amber Harding
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 46
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 47
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - Worth Reading
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 49
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 50
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - Attorney Briefs
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - Speaking of Ethics
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 53
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 54
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - Disciplinary Summaries
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - Pro Bono Effect
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 57
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 58
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 59
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 60
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 61
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 62
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 63
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 64
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 65
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 66
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 67
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - A Slice of Wry
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - Cover3
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - Cover4
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