2 Lawyers Of Color Face 45-Year Sentences — For Vandalism
Urooj Rahman and Colinford Mattis (Photo: Courtesy of Hyder Kazmi, left; Meghna Philip, right)
Colinford King Mattis had a lot of fun with his essay in a high school English assignment asking students to describe themselves as a metaphor.
Mattis described himself as a piece of vintage furniture that you are not sure you want, but you still bring it home and put it in a room - and it somehow brings the room together perfectly, and you don't know how you lived without it in the first place.
In the past few days, dozens of colleagues, friends, and former classmates have come together and used the same hopeful metaphor. When the 32-year-old lawyer is sitting in a Brooklyn prison waiting for a bail hearing, he can't imagine a room without Mattis. He is a loyal, community-minded man who poses no threat to society and deserves to be released pending trial.
Mattis and Urooj Rahman, 31, were arrested in New York City on May 30 in protests against racism and police brutality after George Floyd's death by Minneapolis police officers. The two were accused of attempting to burn an empty, already damaged vehicle from the New York City Police Department. No one was injured in the incident. Now Mattis and Rahman are faced with additional federal fees that include a mandatory minimum sentence of 45 years and life imprisonment - for what essentially amounts to property damage.
Activists and lawyers are alarmed by the unusually tough charges against them and believe that Mattis and Rahman shouldn't wait for the trial in prison. They say that they are not a threat to society - as the prosecutor argues - and are highly unlikely to pose a flight risk or commit another crime. Mattis is a corporate lawyer trained in Princeton and NYU Law. Rahman joined Fordham Law and works for Bronx Legal Services to help low-income clients fight evictions in an apartment court. Both grew up in New York and have close ties to their communities.
Mattis and Rahman - a black man and a Muslim woman - are in prison at the same time that the cops who killed Breonna Taylor fatally have not even brought charges against them.
The contrast is particularly strong at this moment. People all over the world stand up and demonstrate against racism. Lawyers familiar with their case say it is highly unusual for defendants like Mattis and Rahman - Ivy League educated and human rights-minded people with no violent background - to be held in prison and not on bail.
The decision whether to release the accused or pending trial determines whether they can be at home to help defend them or whether they are in prison, where COVID-19 is still widespread. where inmates are often victims of violence; and where they are separated from their lawyers, colleagues and friends.
Hundreds of NYU law students and professors - more than 850 - wrote to express their concern about the federal government's aggressive charges and the search for pre-trial detention. as did the Legal Services Staff Association. Fordham Law School collected 650 signatures from students and faculty. They wrote, "We believe that law enforcement and the Justice Department's efforts to detain Urooj and Colin are a gross violation of federal law enforcement powers and an attempt to suppress and delegitimize dissent against police brutality."
The director of Mattis' former high school, St. Andrews Boarding School in Delaware, made a statement to the school community to support their former student. HuffPost spoke to Darcy Caldwell, his former English teacher who described him as a teenager, who had overcome enormous academic hurdles to be successful in her class.
"Colin has so much to offer this world and I hope he has a chance," she said.
Alexa Caldwell, Darcy's daughter, attended school with Mattis and attended a school conference with him in 2006. He was always concerned about social justice, said Caldwell. She remembers how she took the bus back to the hotel and how he and his girlfriend Ikenna Iheoma couldn't stop talking about a senator they met. It wasn't someone she'd heard of before - his name was Barack Obama. They even took a picture with him.
Colin Mattis, right, with then Sen. Barack Obama in 2006. (Photo: Courtesy of Ikenna Iheoma)
First, after their arrest, Mattis and Rahman went to judge Steven M. Gold, who virtually led their indictment. He found that Mattis and Rahman could be safely released with electronic surveillance. But then the federal prosecutors appealed the verdict; They believed the two were a potential threat to society and a flight risk. The case was then investigated by district judge Margo K. Brodie. She reviewed Judge Gold's decision and decided that Mattis and Rahman should also be released. Mattis and Rahman were released on a $ 250,000 bond with GPS monitoring.
From there, the case took a most unusual turn, according to lawyers familiar to him. The government appealed almost immediately. They announced that they would request an emergency stay because of the district court's decision to send them home. On June 5, a three judge panel at the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit revoked Mattis and Rahman's bond on the grounds that the defendants were a constant danger to society. They were detained again that day.
It is noteworthy that two of the three judges on the jury, Judge Michael H. Park and Judge William J. Nardini, were appointed by President Donald Trump, lawyers say.
"The disproportionate persecution of Urooj and Colin is another repeat of the Trump administration's attempt to reduce police violence in the United States," the Fordham Law School signers wrote in their open letter. "Indeed, Rahman, a Pakistani Muslim immigrant, and Mattis, a young black man, are convenient scapegoats given the country's deeply rooted and violent history of racism and Islamophobia against black people."
It is an extraordinary step for the government to put them back in jail, said J. Wells Dixon, a senior lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights. What stands in stark contrast is the idea that as a white cop who is accused of murdering a black man, you have to get out on bail, he said. But if you're black and Muslim, you're too dangerous to wait for the process from home.
"It's an example of everything that's wrong with the criminal justice system," Dixon said on a phone call to HuffPost. "It's why thousands of people around the world have taken to the streets."
Pre-trial detention has a huge impact, according to the authors of a recent paper on what happens to suspects during pre-trial detention. Detention during pre-trial detention causally increases the likelihood of conviction, the severity of the judgment and, in some jurisdictions, the likelihood of the suspect's future contact with the criminal justice system.
"You are facing an obligatory minimum of 45 years," said Dixon. "How does that fit together? It is shocking and horrific that someone in the United States could be jailed for 45 years because they destroyed an empty police car that had previously been destroyed. That is not right."
On Tuesday, Mattis and Rahman will stand in front of another jury - none of them will be appointed by Trump.
CORRECTION: This article initially stated that Derek Chauvin, the policeman accused of murdering George Floyd, was released on bail. He did not.
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