VERDICT: It’s a Keeper
Do Better: Spiritual Activism for Fighting and Healing from White Supremacy
By Rachel Ricketts (New York, NY: Atria Books, 2021). 357 pgs. $18.99. Order, www.amazon.com.
Reviewed by Renee Crain
White supremacy, as defined by author Rachel Ricketts, is the “common, status quo, globally held, and often unconscious belief that white people, and thus white ideas, beliefs, actions, and ideologies, are in some way superior to all other races.” Do Better: Spiritual Activism for Fighting and Healing from White Supremacy is Ricketts’ expansive and almost manifesto-like book on our society’s seemingly intractable and most significant Achilles heel: racism.
A former corporate lawyer, Ricketts is acclaimed for her groundbreaking spiritual activism series. Alternating her personal story with instances of white supremacy, she says that grief and “righteous rage” compelled her to write this book.
Ricketts concludes that her mother’s death, the events that occurred in the 2017 Unite the Right white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., and the COVID 19 pandemic, in which a disproportionate number of Black and marginalized people died, and many other systemic recurring events are all caused by white supremacy. She believes today’s social and political climate is finally awakening white people to white supremacy and anti-Blackness in ways they have resisted before and that now is the time to confront and fight against all aspects of white supremacy.
Ricketts’ revolutionary approach to fight white supremacy is to practice “spiritual activism,” meaning to use culturally informed spiritual practices such as meditation, breathwork, Reiki, and yoga. This spiritual activism is to be used daily in one’s actions, thoughts, and speech patterns. It requires deep inner and anti-racist individual work, which would then lead to external, societal collective shifts.
Book sections titled “Spiritual Soulcare Offering” and “Call to Action’’ contain questions and exercises to reveal, confront, and heal from any white-supremacist feelings a person may harbor. These sections also are resources for people who are victims of white supremacy. The reader is guided through a series of behaviors and stances including being a spiritual activism ally, practicing wise compassion, the art of apology, maintaining an awakened work environment, the harms of cultural appropriation, the effects of intentions, and the particular role that white women can play in anti-white-supremacy work.
This book can be used as a guide, a workbook, or a reference manual. The glossary contains up-to-date definitions in the area of social justice and anti-racism and bigotry, for terms such as “heteronormativity,” “ misogynoir,” “spiritual bypassing,” and “intersectionality” (the latter created by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, a professor at Columbia Law School, who earned an LL.M. at the U.W. Law School in 1985). This glossary is useful to fully understand pronoun identifiers and social justice terminology and is a crucial part of the anti-white-supremacy healing process.
Ricketts makes clear that anti-white-supremacy soul-care work is difficult, arduous, and sometimes painful work. Readers might need to revisit parts of the book as they go along their spiritual activism journey. Some parts of the book may be difficult to digest for some. And Ricketts says readers will fail but must retry on their spiritual activism journey with the ultimate goal of doing better. WL
Renee I. Crain, U.W. 1986, is a customer service representative with Weinbenger Divorce and Family Law Group in Parsippany, N.J.
VERDICT: It’s a Keeper
Autopsy of a Crime Lab: Exposing the Flaws in Forensics
By Brandon L. Garrett (Oakland, CA: Univ. of California Press, 2021). 252 pgs. $29.95. Order, www.amazon.com.
Reviewed by Irwin Kass
What an eye opener! The author, Brandon L. Garrett, is a professor at Duke University School of Law and director of the Wilson Center for Science and Justice. According to its website, the center’s goal is to improve the criminal justice system in three ways: accuracy in criminal cases, equity in criminal outcomes, and behavioral health needs. This book discusses the center’s investigation into why forensic evidence, such as fingerprints, bite marks, hair, blood, and ballistics, is not reliable and which improvements need to be made now.
The modern-day forensics timeline begins with the case of Frye v. United States. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled in 1923 that testimony based on new scientific techniques should be allowed if there was general acceptance in the scientific community. This ruling controlled for many years. Beginning in the 1990s, many convictions were overturned based on DNA testing.
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The law changed in 1993 with the U.S. Supreme Court case of Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals. The Court ruled that techniques must stand up to rigorous testing notwithstanding general acceptance in the scientific community. Because of Daubert, there was renewed hope that forensic evidence would be more reliable. In 2002, Daubert was codified into Federal Rule of Evidence 702.
According to Garrett, however, not much has improved; many convictions are still based on flawed forensics. He explains that judges are primarily at fault for not fulfilling their roles as “gatekeepers” to exclude bad evidence. He also shows that forensic experts and prosecutors for the most part have ignored, misconstrued, or improperly applied the revised guidelines.
The book cites examples of errors in charging or convicting based on faulty forensics. One case concerns a lawyer who was detained in 2004 for the train bombings in Madrid, Spain. Evidence linking him to the crimes was a fingerprint on a bag of detonators. Three FBI experts agreed with “100% certainty” that the print was from the accused lawyer. Several weeks later, the FBI recanted but only after Spanish authorities proved that the print belonged to someone else.
Another case discussed in the book is a 1982 murder conviction in which the primary evidence was the testimony of a dentist who was “certain” that the bite marks on the victim’s legs were made by the defendant’s teeth. In 2016, the Innocence Project at Cardozo Law School in New York City established through DNA testing that saliva on the victim’s legs came from someone else. The defendant was released after being imprisoned 33 years.
The book also documents ongoing crime lab problems. Concerns have arisen about FBI labs, law enforcement labs, and state labs throughout the country. One well-publicized scandal involved a lab in Houston that was closed because so many errors occurred there. The author cites many types of errors in the process, from collecting evidence at crime scenes to lab experts testifying in court. Convictions have been overturned because of poor quality control at labs. One flagrant example, in Massachusetts, involved more than 40,000 conviction reversals.
Many crime lab scandals involve drug testing. Numerous labs have been ordered closed due to errors, fraud, or backlogs. Many lab analysts have been fired for flagrant mistakes. A few have been convicted for falsifying test results, court testimony, or both. Court-ordered audits have uncovered many scandals.
Congress commissioned the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to address the forensic evidence crisis. In a 2009 report, the NAS concluded that, “With the exception of nuclear DNA analysis, however, no forensic method has been rigorously shown to have the capacity to consistently, and with a high degree of certainty, demonstrate a connection between evidence and a specific individual or source.” In 2016, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology echoed this sentiment. According to the author, systems, especially at the state level, have been slow to change their ways notwithstanding this consensus. He proposes solutions for fixing forensics from the crime scene to the courtroom.
He also cautions prospective jurors to look critically at forensic evidence, lest an innocent person be wrongfully convicted. This advice is worth remembering the next time a jury duty summons appears in your mailbox.
Irwin Kass, Chicago-Kent 1976, is retired after practicing law in Madison.
VERDICT: It’s a Keeper
Legal Heroes in the Trump Era
By Tahmina Watson (Seattle, WA: Watson Immigration Law, 2020). 126 pgs. $19.99. Order, www.amazon.com.
Reviewed by John Becker
Navigating the immigration process in the United States has never been easy. However, the roadblocks put up by the Trump administration made it even more difficult.
Tahmina Watson is an immigration lawyer in the state of Washington. After Donald Trump was elected, Watson knew that the need for immigration lawyers was going to increase dramatically.
Watson was aware that immigration law clients tend to not have a lot of money to pay lawyers and that the increased need for lawyers would outpace the supply. Even though some lawyers would be willing to help pro bono, there were not enough and many did not have immigration-law experience.
Watson founded an organization called Washington Immigration Defense Network (WIDEN), which raised funds to help train lawyers and provide “low-bono legal services.” This was a way to provide some financial compensation to the lawyers who provide time and services to assist in immigration matters.
The book, basically a short biography of approximately 15 attorneys and what they have done to help immigrants navigate the legal process, is a tribute to some of the lawyers who provided time and expertise in helping immigrants. They come from many areas of practice, not only immigration law. They practice in different fields and include law professors, former judges, and corporate lawyers.
They all have interesting backgrounds, and they all have sacrificed and donated their time to help people who are truly in need of their assistance. These people are legal heroes, and they deserve to be commended for their work and their service.
The challenges immigrants face, from difficulty dealing with the language to the complexities of the legal system, are immense. All the attorneys discussed in this book deserve the recognition that Tahmina Watson has given them for the service they provided.
Because of Donald Trump, widespread politicization of immigration, and media coverage, many people now have at least some familiarity with some of the issues and might be interested in this concise and easy-to-read book. Lawyers and other people with direct involvement in immigration matters may have more interest in the topic than the general public.
We need more people like Tahmina Watson and the people she has acknowledged in the book. They recognized a problem, and they went over and above the call of duty to assist those in need.
John Becker, U.W. 1982, is a principal at Becker French & Durkin in Racine.