I’ve considered going to law school for some time, and over the last couple of years I’ve been compelled to study the law by a couple of run-ins with law enforcement, men and women wearing the badge who are so corrupted by their power, that even watching fictional television shows based on cops irks me. Nonetheless it is thanks to cops that I have an even greater interest in civil rights and the law. In barrios like my own cops take privileges with information and disinformation, and we ourselves are at fault for not knowing our rights and how to catch cops in their own steaming piles of lies. But this is more intended to be ruminations about the conflicts I have about attending law school or not.
I think the main conflict I have about law school is that, if I were to successfully survive law school, and pass the bar exam, would I really be able to stick around in the profession, knowing that it doesn’t work. Many a times I hear about cases where people are convicted without enough evidence or as one tweeter with the handle @WickedBitch posted: “there are so many "u will get 12 yrs for this or that nonviolent crime, but u will get a year if u plead and take strike"”. How fucked up and broken is the judicial system of this is the offer? Of course the person is going to take a strike if it means lesser time. For some time in California this gave many DA’s and even public defenders the comfort of speedy trials or settlements. Get them in and out of the revolving door as fast as possible. Fortunately 3 strikes has been done away with, and now both public defenders and DA’s need to do actual work. But even in counties like my own, Monterey County to be exact, a largely conservative county, young men are sentenced based on bullshit, tattoos being used as evidence against them, where you aren’t really facing a jury of your peers, you’re facing a jury who is being blitzkrieg-ed by the images and rhetoric of the DA, saying hey, he wears a Niners jersey so he must be in the red gang! Or hey, a cowboys jersey, that’s the blue gang! Convict! Guilty! Case closed! Next?!
This is where my conflict about law school comes in. I would simply be replicating what is engrained in that system. I might be swallowed up that system and I would disappear into possibly becoming corrupted by the consistency of it, and/or becoming complacent about my original pursuits and intents. I came across a lawyer a who refers to himself as a “social justice” lawyer, but then he asked – “Can you afford me?” I never realized that “social justice” was so expensive, until he named his prize. I heard a colleague tell me about a friend of his, that went to law school and tried to help out the raza, but then fell into charging people a lot, because he needed to make a living. I understand, being knowledgeable in law is the bread and butter of lawyers, and law school is not cheap. But again, this is where my conflict lies. I was reading through Occupied America, and came across something that rings so true and to a certain extent speaks to my conflicts, it’s about Assemblyman Pablo Herrera and his disillusionment with legislature in 1891 after trying to “pass reform legislation to regulate railroad rates . . .” :
“Gentlemen . . . I have served several years’ time in the penitentiary but only sixty days in the legislature . . . I have watched the proceedings here carefully. I would like to say that the time I spent in the penitentiary was more enjoyable than the time I spent here. There is more honesty in . . . prison than . . . [in] the legislature. I would prefer another term in prison than another election in the house.” (Occupied America:A History of Chicanos 6th Ed. 88)
He could have stayed in there constantly facing defeat at the hands of those in power or he could have been swallowed up by the system and gone corrupt, forgetting his original intent to begin with. This seems to happen regardless of what occupation a person ends up in. I remember watching The Wire (a great show by the way) and in the show the African-American politicians are just as corrupted as their Anglo predecessors. The African-American politicians simply reproduce the politics that were performed by those before [see: Clay Davis], continuously feeding the monolith. There’s an Anglo councilman [see: Tommy Carcetti] who works his way into a seat of political power and is able to get the voters to swing his way as he incites change once he takes office for his district and later as mayor, but eventually when faced with becoming governor he abandons all the work he was doing with the local police department. He is swallowed up by the system and instead becomes a part of it [I’m paraphrasing from my memory of the show, so I’m sure I’m off about some things].
What happens there also happens with many Mexican-Americans who become involved in machine politics. It’s great to see a brown face with political clout, but then that brown face becomes blurred into a different hue, as it blends in with the rest of the political machine. In other words we are guilty of this regardless of our race, class, ethnicity, or gender. Call it what you will, complacency, or simply just acceptance, but that is where my conflict lies, becoming a lawyer would to a certain extent be me acknowledging that the judicial system works the way it is currently, even though I know it doesn’t, for if it did, what’s occurring in Arizona wouldn’t be happening right now, nor would we have cops that would rather see Xicanos/as dead, still running around in Anaheim, or a cop that pepper sprayed students in UCDavis on paid leave for 8 months. 8 MONTHS of paid leave! Was it really that hard to hold him accountable after viewing the videotaped evidence? But you can tell if it took 8 months, there were shitty politics behind the scenes taking place.
Maybe it’s just me, I tend to have a chip on my shoulder when less is expected of me. Maybe that’s also why I’m interested in law school, because I recall an incident when I was first accepted into graduate school. Before I left the state, I went to the financial aid office on my campus in California, to inquire about the school I would be attending. The financial aid advisor looked through a booklet for the school I was inquiring about, and came across the main campus and it’s law school as they were listed separately (even though the law school is on the main campus), she looked at me and asked/said-“What program are you attending? . . . It can’t be law school . . .” I smiled, because she caught herself, and tried to right her wrong, “Oh, not that you couldn’t be in law school . . .” I kept smiling and told her the name of the grad program. She congratulated me, because I’m guessing I was the first Xicano student she had in her presence who was pursuing a grad school degree. And you know, a Xicano/a in grad school makes sense, but one in law school would be ludicrous. Maybe that’s another reason why I’m interested in law school, because I want be able to have the degree and rub it in her face, to show her that it CAN be law school. Regardless, I struggle with my own ideologies about the judicial system, among other issues.
“Political participation gives the illusion that change is possible through the ballot box. The illusion discouraged direct action, and the shift from more assertive tactics like fence cutting took place.” – Rodolfo Acuña Occupied America 6th Ed. 87