Today, I catch up with another Arizona legal event of note: the Arizona Black Bar’s Hayzel B. Daniels Scholarship Award Dinner.
Held on October 16, 2014, at the Phoenix Art Museum, the event carried through on its theme of “closing the opportunity gap and building coalitions.”
In the story of bridging the gap between communities, the keynote speaker was an inspired choice. Attorney Connie Rice is the co-founder of the Advancement Project, described by organizers as “an organization that was created to develop and inspire community-based solutions based on the same high quality legal analysis and public education campaigns that produced the landmark civil rights victories of earlier eras.”
Rice spent decades suing for justice in Los Angeles, but her work yielded not only positive outcomes for underserved communities; it also yielded respect and more from California centers of power. For as Judge Carol Berry introduced her, “Connie Rice would wake up every morning thinking of new ways to sue the Los Angeles Police Department. Today, they give her a parking space.”
Rice’s remarks were salted with numerous memories of toiling in the high-pressure L.A. legal community. “I learned from Johnnie Cochran,” she said of the storied trial lawyer. “I did whatever he did—but better.”
Her speech at the Phoenix Art Museum focused on the LAPD, which she claimed has come a long way.
Recalling her initial impressions, Rice said, “I had never been to a town where everyone hated the cops.”
Her answer to alleged dehumanizing practices was through the courts.
“Back then, I was totally fearless. We had seven major class actions; we won. But with every victory, what could I show the community?”
To Rice, the problems—and the solutions—lay deeper.
“Why do the police have to brutalize people?” she wondered. “Why do they make every African American get out of their car and lie on the ground?”
Part of the solution, she started to believe, came from new ways of seeing. For if an officer could look at a little Black boy and “see only an arrest statistic, and not feel love,” change would never occur.
The drug war and the prevalence of gangs was then making parts of Los Angeles a place of daily terror. And that spurred Rice to consider new approaches.
“I was winning my cases, but my clients were losing their lives. The first of the civil rights is the right to be safe. The first of all freedoms is the freedom from violence.”
She told the audience that her book Power Concedes Nothing is where she “documented my journey into copland and gangland, and then knit them together.”
The book explains how she was invited into the police department to help investigate police corruption and stayed to help rewrite the department’s anti-gang efforts.
Those efforts are credited by Rice with significant decreases in gang-related deaths. And it was “the most important thing I’ve done.”
Of her work with the police department, Rice says, “It’s all about cross-pollination, the opening of hearts and minds.”
Rice says the approaches are replicable across the country.
“If we can turn the LAPD into a bunch of heartfelt cops, anybody can do this. The lesson is, you can unlock everybody’s heart if you take the time to learn what’s in others’ hearts.”
To hear from Connie Rice herself, watch this video from a previous award.
Congratulations to the Black Bar and its leadership, including its President Gerald P. Richard II. Not only is he an esteemed attorney who serves as the Assistant to the Phoenix Police Chief, he also was an event honoree, receiving the Cecil B. Patterson Jr. Community Service Award.
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