By Sheryl Nance-Nash
Somebody had to tell the truth and Muhammad Ibn Bashir, Esq. decided it had to be him. In his newly released book, Raw Law: An Urban Guide to Criminal Justice, Bashir, who served as a public defender and co-counsel on the defense during the World Trade Center bombing trial, details the raw and honest experience of serving in the legal arena for 20 years. The father of five who grew up in the housing projects in Elizabeth, NJ, has seen much to break his heart. He reflects on his thoughts and experiences that are in his book with TAP.
Why did you decide to write this book?
It evolved from anger. Criminal justice is never addressed as a civil rights issue. Our communities are under siege, but we don’t recognize this. We need to find ways to keep our kids out of the system. There is not enough education about the realities of the system. I’ve seen generations of families and it didn’t seem like anybody was getting it. I went to law school hoping to change the world, but it didn’t happen fast enough. I’m hoping the book creates dialogue.
What is one of the biggest myths about the criminal justice system?
That you can get a fair trial. If you’re charged by a police officer, there’s an assumption that you must be guilty of something. There isn’t a presumption of innocence. In order to get a fair trial you need a prosecutor who is fair. You need a good lawyer, and if you don’t have the money to hire one, you must rely on a legal aid attorney who is likely overburdened, yet you face the state that can bring many resources into the court room. Then there’s the judge that probably doesn’t know your world. The jury often votes on emotion. There are so many layers in the trial process. You’re guilty until proven innocent.
What is one truth about the criminal justice system?
Perception is bigger than fact. Perception is as important as the facts of the case. Two defendants in a suit, one black and one white; the white man will be the one who gets the benefit of doubt and that’s just the reality. I’ve often had people in the court room assume that because I am a black man I must be the defendant.