Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 39

TAKING THE STAND
ankles, waist, and hands, with the hand chain
attached to the waist chain. This is the same
for children and adults. Let me repeat: Human
beings are chained inside locked cages inside
a locked room.
As I sat there dissociating in the middle of the
theater, I flashed back to a time when I went
into one of those backrooms to see a juvenile
client. There he was, in the cage, chained
and sitting on a bench along with three other
chained boys, all Black, staring up at me. At
the time I wondered silently, "Is this really necessary? Have we really progressed this little?
How is this supposed to be rehabilitative?" But
I had no time for answers as I had to prepare
my client for his hearing.
I also flashed back to my client visits at the D.C.
adult jail. I remember Derek (not his real name)
sitting in front of me in the legal meeting
room, his hands shackled in a mini-gallows-like
contraption, with his arms stacked in opposite
directions and then locked shut so that his
hands could not touch.
I recalled a time I won a hard-fought negotiation with the local juvenile justice agency to
have a client released from the juvenile jail
(which is called, without irony, the Youth
Services Center) so he could show up to his
court hearing that day like a normal person
rather than as a caged animal shuffling in
from the back, chains clanging. It made
a difference in the outcome of the hearing,
and my client was allowed to go home afterward rather than return to the jail.
The brutality of the juvenile and adult legal
systems often seemed to horrify me more than
it did my clients. If my observation was correct,
perhaps it was because allowing themselves to
really internalize the hurt, fear, sadness, outrage,
and humiliation that is part and parcel of being
in the system was just too painful. My clients
have been accused of social antipathy; it is
likely a coping mechanism for feeling constantly unsafe, on edge, and unable to know
whom to trust - particularly in the juvenile
context, where the system is supposedly
designed to help kids. It is a massively disorienting experience to be controlled by adults
- be they probation officers, social workers,
correctional officers, or others - who may
at times be very supportive but who, at a
moment's notice, will also exert the state's
power and crush children mentally, emotionally, and, yes, physically. Dissociation becomes
a necessary survival skill.

TWO TYPES OF WHITE NOISE
In White Noise Leo does what my clients did. He
dissociates. He detaches himself from the pain
and humiliation of having police smash his face
into a curb by engaging in something so overwhelmingly painful and humiliating that
perhaps he can forget - and even overcome
- his trauma. As Leo says, he doesn't want his
life to be defined forever by the violence the
state inflicted upon him. Leo tells himself that
if he can survive slavery, then he can survive
anything. Of course, this doesn't work, but his
reaction to his trauma is on point. He will
destroy himself to avoid being destroyed by
what happened to him. Leo wants his pain to
be just white noise, fading into the background.
The shackling of slaves and shackling of
inmates are intimately bound by history. The
criminal legal system is a legacy of slavery.
Unfortunately, that legacy is drowned out by
the white noise of racism, so ingrained in the
American psyche that it can go unnoticed. The
end of slavery and the birth of the modern
criminal legal system allowed the violence of
racism to become a part of an amorphous
bureaucracy, and bureaucracies, of course, can't
be racist. By dispersing and diluting responsibility into an infinite sea of forms, offices, procedures, and protocols, the brutality becomes
white noise. The clanging of chains becomes
white noise. And that type of white noise is
ignored.
Leo struggles with a second form of white
noise - the type that you can never get out
of your head. It is the worst kind of earworm.
Millions of Americans have this earworm and
are met with hypocritical cries about their "lack
of civility" when they dare to speak of its existence. To exorcise the earworm requires a level
of acknowledgment, dismantling, rebuilding,
and reparations that the United States is not
ready for - and recent events have made that
resistance to liberation even clearer.

WHEN LAWYERS SHARE THE TRAUMA
We don't talk enough about how both types
of white noise affect the lawyers who work
in these worlds, how the criminal legal system
is designed to break us down along with the
people caught in its cogs. Shackling is just one
example of a system that is designed around
pain, punishment, dehumanization, and humiliation. Such a violent framework becomes
a self-fulfilling prophecy; people put in the
system are subjected to violence, increasing

the risk that they will be violent themselves
- a post-facto justification to continue separating them from society. Similarly, Leo's slavery
"solution" only results in more violence and
more pain.
It should come as no surprise then that the
lawyers who dare to represent the people in
the system also get caught up in the violence.
Like our clients, but on a much lesser scale, we
have to turn the violence into white noise to
avoid losing our minds. But like Leo, we can't
do that forever. While our trauma is secondhand and acquired from a position of power
as lawyers to our clients, it is inevitable that we
internalize some of the pain around us and
therefore burn out at an extremely high and
fast rate.
Our system is designed to reinforce a race
and class system by giving certain groups the
benefit of the doubt and protection of the law
while keeping those perpetually out of reach of
others. It's a system designed to spit out wellintentioned lawyers quickly and to turn those
who stick around into jaded perpetuators of
the system (though, fortunately, many are able
to escape this fate). But we don't have to have
a violence-first system. We can have a system
that both holds people accountable and treats
them with dignity. A system focused instead on
healing would do more to keep communities
safe and lawyers healthy.
White Noise. It's a painfully clever and accurate
play on words - the white noise of white
supremacy. I hope more of us - particularly
those of us in the legal profession who are
white - hear the type of white noise that constantly reminds us that something is not right,
rather than the type that just fades into the
background. Particularly in this moment in U.S.
history, inertia and exhaustion can tempt us to
let the momentum fade, to put in some temporary effort but then go back to our routines.
Our violence-first system is a choice, and we
can choose healing and accountability instead.
Indeed, if more of us hear the type of white
noise Leo hears, then perhaps more of us can
work not to tune out the white noise but to
turn it off.

Natasha Távora Baker is a staff attorney at Equal
Justice Under Law, which uses impact litigation to
end the criminalization of poverty.

NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2020

*

WASHINGTON LAWYER 39



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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