Americans, provoked by recent police-involved killings of
George Perry Floyd, Jr., Breonna Taylor, and others, have
declared a war against racism. The fight, significantly, has
shifted from calling out individual bias to reforming entire
systems of bias and bigotry. The demand for fairness and
equity in the criminal justice system lies at the center of
the current conflict.
In this article, I spoke with local attorney RaShya Ghee,
who brings an activist, academic, and legal praxis
perspective on solutions needed for institutional change.
Ghee teaches Race and American Law at the University of
Toledo Law School and heads RaShya Law, focusing on family
law and criminal defense.
Perryman: Iím appreciative
that you took some time to speak with us. Please
tell our readers a little bit about you.
Ghee: Iím born and raised
here in Toledo, Ohio. I went to Central Catholic
and then to the University of Toledo for a
bachelorís degree in political science and an MBA in
finance. Then I went to the University of Minnesota
for law school. I have been in private practice and
always been interested in race and racism,
particularly how it interacts with the law - what
the law does to combat it, how the law doesnít do
enough, and what the law has historically done to
protect racism. Thatís been my work for at least 10
For a long time outside of
academic and activism pockets, this work wasnít talked about
or being done outside of the people who were doing it or
interested in it intellectually. What weíve been saying for
all this time, everyone else is starting to see. So now,
people say, ďOh, the stuff youíve been saying all along, can
you come tell us more so we can fix it?Ē So thatís my
background in a nutshell.
Perryman: How prevalent is
police misconduct in Toledo?
Ghee: I donít know if I can
give you statistics because how would we know? Thatís part
of the work thatís being done. We need mechanisms in place
that can accurately record these incidents because people
are significantly less likely to report police brutality, in
part, because of how our system is structured. My guess is
that whatever the numbers are, theyíre severely
Perryman: Why are people
Ghee: One, you have to go to
the police to complain about the police, so thatís
intimidating. Second, if youíve been in trouble or have
contact with the law, you are worried about police
retaliating against you. Third, you worry about not being
believed, especially if you have a record. Also, police
departments, as a whole, work not to make the information
Perryman: What are some
inequities in the entire criminal justice system that should
be of concern to us as a community?
Ghee: Even locally, we found
that black folks were significantly more likely to be
charged with offenses like disorderly conduct, possession of
drugs, or obstructing official business, these kinds of
subjective offenses. African Americans are significantly
more likely to have charges, be charged, or prosecuted.
Blacks are significantly more likely to receive confinement
as a punishment and receive longer sentences. And, they are
less likely to be referred to diversion programs, or have
their judicial release request granted. Almost every turn
in the criminal justice system from their interactions with
law enforcement to the charges that prosecutors decide to
bring, to the way theyíre sentenced, weíre just more likely
in all the wrong ways and less likely in all the right ones.
Perryman: Looking at the
role of the public defenderís office, would you say that
there is a crisis in defense of the poor and indigent?
Ghee: Yes, but I will not say
that that exists because of the quality of public defender.
I know people whoíve been public defenders who I believe are
incredibly competent and incredibly passionate. What I tell
people is, it doesnít matter how skilled you are as a
carpenter. If I give you a broken hammer and a dull
screwdriver, what you can accomplish is limited. The crisis
isnít because public defenders arenít competent so much as
because they are overburdened and under-resourced.
Perryman: What are some
policy change recommendations necessary to bring fairness
and equity in the criminal justice system?
Ghee: There are four major
areas that I think where reforms are necessary. First is
policing, second is our courts, third is our jails and
prisons and our laws is fourth. Each area has its own areas
Perryman: Letís start with
Ghee: We keep creating police
without any rhyme or reason. We donít know why we need more
police. No science that says you need two police officers
for every block in the city or whatever. No oneís asking
that question. How many do we have, why isnít this enough?
How do we know this isnít too much? I think we need to take
a serious look at whether our public safety model presently
exists in our societyís best interest when you have entire
subsets of the population saying that itís not.
We know what causes
violent crime. We know unemployment causes violent crime.
We know lack of education increases the likelihood that
youíll be engaged in criminal conduct, even if not violent,
in other forms of criminal behavior. And so, we have
answers. People need jobs and quality education. Why are we
not investing more in those spaces instead of putting more
money into the police? So, one of the first reforms that I
would advocate for is - people hear Ďdefund the police,í and
they think it means abolish the police. It does not. It
means to scale back this kind of punitive public safety
model and think differently about public safety. Think
about how we can do preventative issues instead of reactive
because thatís what the police is. So, I think communities
need to consider how they allocate their resources and
compare budgets and think about other ways they can utilize
the money for other things that communities need.
I also think we need to
demilitarize our police. Thereís no reason that police need
tanks and bazookas and military-grade equipment for
civilians. We need to ban warrior-style training, which
terrifies officers and makes them believe that every
encounter is likely to result in their death, thatís not
healthy. Also, police officers should have to carry their
own liability insurance in the same way that lawyers,
doctors, and most other professionals do. If they are found
to have been misbehaving outside of protocols, the taxpayer
should not have to pay for those payouts that they have to
give to citizens, and right now, we do.
Also, police need to
reform reporting mechanisms. How officer misconduct is
reported by citizens and is kept in records by the police,
all of that needs to be more transparent and folks should be
able to access it and figure out how many complaints of
misconduct that a particular officer has and of what nature
and from what neighborhoods. Civilian review boards, we
need it. Whoís policing the police? The idea that they are
policing themselves, we know just isnít true. Police
departments operate like fraternities - like a closed,
exclusive club that protects itself with a code of silence.
We need an independent body that has oversight to review
claims of misconduct and recommend punishment.
Perryman: How about the
Ghee: Judgeís discretion in
terms of sentencing is problematic. We know that there are
sentencing disparities. Judges do and say all kinds of
crazy inappropriate stuff, some of it on the record, some of
it not. Thereís no real judicial oversight for that. Even
when judges are found to have been misbehaving, the cases
are just remanded, the cases are just reversed, but the
judge doesnít get any punishment. Thatís a problem.
They also need to increase
pipeline programs that support a diverse judiciary. We need
more people from poor backgrounds, we need more people of
color on the bench.
Perryman: Talk about jails
and prisons, which keep elderly and sick confined after they
are no longer a threat to society. Include how unaddressed
violence in prisons affects people who come out and are
never physically or mentally the same.
Ghee: Youíre right;
everything you said. If you were saying it, Iíd be behind
you going ďwhat he said.Ē Jails and prisons are overcrowded
and donít have adequate medical care. They donít have
adequate resources for inmate enrichment. I think the other
thing I want people to think about is how connected all
these systems are. I canít tell you how many times Iíve
filed judicial releases that I felt should have been
granted. The person served the majority of their time,
theyíve done all these great things while they were in,
thereís no research that additional time will make this
person less likely to re-offend and the court just says no.
No rhyme or reason for not letting that person out. Itís a
And then laws; We pass
more stringent laws, Ohio particularly. Everywhere else in
the country is passing more aggressive reform laws, and we
are passing stricter, harsher laws that are designed to keep
people in prison for longer. Weíre one of the few states
that havenít decriminalized marijuana. I can talk for hours
about all the things we need to do; itís a lot.
Perryman: What is your
perspective on community policing and its value?
Ghee: I think that the idea
of community policing is worthwhile. Certainly, other
scholars have advocated for this. Police are less likely to
abuse or react punitively to a neighbor or someone they
know. So, the idea is good, but I think that we start so
many of these ideas from a place of neutrality, believing
that we can move into the space with unacknowledging some of
the kind of historical tensions that will make
The reality is that a
majority of police departments are white or majority white,
and there is a historical racial tension with the minority
communities. Iíve said on multiple platforms that police
have never been on the side of the black freedom struggle,
from the time of slavery to Jim Crow to the Civil Rights Era
to the Black Power Movement to mass incarceration. They
have always been on the opposite side of black folksí
freedom struggle. With that reality, and without addressing
the underlying tension, Iím not sure itís possible. Can you
have an authentic cross-racial relationship without any
authentic engagement about racial tensions? I donít know if
Perryman: Thank you.
Contact Rev. Donald Perryman, D.Min, at