District Attorney in Pennsylvania Responds to Accusations of Systemic Racism by, uh, Being Systematically Racist

Allegheny county District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr.
Allegheny county District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr.
Photo: Keith Srakocic (AP)

I’m no social scientist, yet I can’t help but theorize that white men are possibly the most sensitive group in this country—by far. If dealing with a thin-skinned president for four years didn’t clue you in on that, then you’ve had to have noticed how white men across the country continue to lose their shit at even the slightest hint of criticism. Our latest instance of white fragility takes us to Pennsylvania, where a district attorney responded to a Black attorney’s comments on systemic racism in the DA’s office by forbidding prosecutors from offering plea deals to the attorney’s clients.

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Yup, because that’ll show ‘em you’re not a racist.

According to the Tribune-Review, on May 13, Black attorney Milton Raiford spoke out against systemic racism in Allegheny County’s legal system during a trial before Judge Anthony Mariani. His client had pleaded guilty to aggravated assault, and as the hearing ended, Raiford asked if he could add something to the record. He then spoke at length about what he felt was systemic racism in Pittsburgh, and the lack of meaningful reform efforts when it comes to criminal justice reform.

“I just want to say that it is very disheartening that in this county, that we had no comment from the district attorney’s office, no comment from our administrative judge at this division, no comment from the supreme court, who seems like they are totally ignoring which way the wind is blowing nationally, that all of these people are being shot for nothing, all of these people are dying for nothing,” Raiford said, according to the transcript. “And we’re trying to get back to normal.”

When asked by Judge Mariani if he felt his Black and brown clients were given worse plea deals because of their race, Raiford replied, “Your honor, I think the DA’s office is systematically racist. And I think that the criminal justice system is systematically racist.”

Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. responded to this criticism by going full white man and instructing his deputy prosecutors not to offer plea deals to Raiford or his clients.

“On May 13, we experienced another issue of unprofessional conduct in the courtroom of Judge (Anthony) Mariani, this one involving Attorney Milt Raiford,” the email Zappala sent to his prosecutors read. “The transcript will evidence what is presently considered a convoluted critical diatribe. You are being advised of what actions will be taken.” Zappala went on to instruct the prosecutors that “no plea offers are to be made.”

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That, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call a bitch move. What makes it even more of a bitch move is that at no point did Zappala ever reach out to Raiford to talk to him about the comments. Raiford only found out about Zappala’s email when a reporter told him about it.

“It’s numbing. It’s a vindictive thing to do. There’s no reason for it,” Raiford told the newspaper. “I don’t know why he’s making my clients suffer because of something I said.”

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From the Tribune Review:

In an interview about Zappala’s email, Raiford said he has asked — weeks and months before he made his comments in Mariani’s courtroom — to meet with Zappala to talk to him about these issues. He said he got no response.

“I’d think he’d know my heart by now — particularly since I’ve never done anything but support him.”

Still, Raiford, who once served as headmaster for Imani Christian Academy in Pittsburgh, cited multiple studies that show that Black people in Pittsburgh have worse outcomes in terms of health and earning potential, he said, and many Black people are moving away because of it.

“The worst part of it is the criminal justice system,” Raiford said.

By refusing to negotiate in good faith with Raiford, Zappala is punishing his clients, Green, the Fordham law professor, said.

“It’s not equal treatment,” he said. “It’s undeniably harming the lawyer and their livelihood and deprives the clients of their right to counsel.”

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It’s truly peak whiteness that ol’ boy did the exact thing that Raiford criticised him for doing as a response to his criticism. You can’t be like “Well that’s an unfair claim! Now you get no plea deals!” On top of looking racist, you now look dumb as hell, as well. Zappala could potentially face sanctions for refusing to offer plea deals to Raiford’s clients. The Oregon Supreme Court issued a reprimand to a prosecutor in 1976 when he refused to offer plea deals to 15 defendants.

Predictably, Zappala hasn’t made any public comments regarding his email. How many times do we have to teach you this lesson old man: don’t buck if you’re not willing to knuck. I’m pretty sure that was Newton’s third law of motion. Come on now.

The stylin', profilin', limousine riding, jet flying, wheelin' and dealin' nerd of The Root.

DISCUSSION

sigmapapi
sigmapapi...(No me importa!)

The DA should lose his job and his license. His position and directive does not allow for due process and full access to the court for those charged and represented by a particular attorney. That alone is cause for disbarment.

But its Pennsylvania, the ass will run for judge next and win of course.