Author Interview: Lisa Bloom

Interview by Adam Shepard featured on Booksincommon.org

 

Lisa Bloom author of Suspicion Nation, took time out of her busy schedule to give insight on her book and speaking engagements for Books In Common.

What are some of the “teachable” moments in your book that make it work well for a speaking engagement?

Racial bias: No one thinks she is racist in twenty-first century America, and yet racially disparate outcomes are all around us. Blacks are four times as likely as whites to be arrested and incarcerated for marijuana possession, for example, though the two groups use at the same rates. White men with felony convictions are more like to get the job than black men with clean records, when both have identical resumes. And on and on. How is this possible? The answer: implicit racial bias, the field of study that administers cheat-proof tests for hidden racial bias. It turns out that 80% of whites and 50% of blacks test for moderate or severe racial bias against African Americans. The good news: once we’re aware of our subconscious biases, we can eradicate them.

I cover this topic extensively in my book, Suspicion Nation, because racial profiling was at the heart of the Trayvon Martin case, as it is in so many cases.

Pretending we live in colorblind America, ignoring evidence of racial bias, is not helping us advance. It is holding us back. The “teachable moment” is the mountain of evidence that racial bias still plagues us, but also the fixes that can help us overcome it. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said: “All we say to America is be true to what you said on paper.”

Would you share some notable experiences you’ve had at speaking events that you’ve participated in? 

Very enthusiastic! I’ve been bowled over by hugs from strangers, standing ovations, sold out events, and every time, far more hands up in Q and A sessions than I could answer in the time allotted.

What inspired you to write this story?

I covered the George Zimmerman trial gavel to gavel for NBC News and MSNBC, and as I did, I saw a grave injustice unfolding right before our eyes. I saw a prosecution team that wasn’t arguing its strongest evidence, was putting on unprepared witnesses, and gave such a weak closing argument that both sides seemed to be arguing reasonable doubt, assuring an acquittal. When the case was over, I had to know what happened, what we weren’t seeing on TV. So I did my own investigation, and the results were shocking, and became my book,Suspicion Nation. My conclusion is that the State of Florida bungled the case from beginning to end, but also, that our culture and laws created the perfect storm that allowed this case — and many others like it — to happen.

Many people felt in their gut that the Trayvon Martin case was an injustice. I did too. But a gut feeling wasn’t good enough. I had to get the facts. Once I had them, I had to expose this injustice for what it was. That’s why I wrote the book.

Your latest book, Suspicion Nation, is a very current look at racial injustice. What do you think are some of the more engaging discussion topics, and why? 

Why are we so uncomfortable talking about race?

Black America largely feels that white America no longer believes that racism is a problem. Are they right?

What can we do to push forward on this issue and truly become an egalitarian society?

What about gun laws? Stand Your Ground laws? How did they contribute to this case? Are they creating a more dangerous, violent country?

 

This entry was posted in Issue #7 and tagged . The original entry can be read here.

Suspicion Nation Interview with Publishers Weekly, “And Justice For All”

by Wendy Werris

In summer 2013, civil rights attorney and legal analyst Lisa Bloom covered the trial of George Zimmerman—who was accused of murdering 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla.—for NBC. Halfway through the proceedings, Bloom had an “aha” moment that planted the seed for her forthcoming book, Suspicion Nation: The Inside Story of the Trayvon Martin Injustice and Why We Continue to Repeat It (Counterpoint, Feb. 26).

“I started to notice there was a great deal of very powerful evidence in the case that the prosecutors weren’t arguing,” Bloom says. “One of the most important pieces of evidence came from Zimmerman’s videotaped reenactment for the police, where he states that Trayvon saw his gun, holstered behind his right hip, and reached for it during their scuffle, which is why Zimmerman shot him.” But Bloom, who reviewed the evidence and watched each day’s proceedings during the trial, realized that it wasn’t possible for Martin to have seen the gun—because it was holstered behind Zimmerman, who was lying down and also wearing a shirt and a jacket. “I watched this over and over again and thought, how did they miss this? And what else are they missing?” Bloom says.

It turns out they were missing plenty—so much so that when Bloom flew home after Zimmerman’s acquittal, she couldn’t stop thinking about it. “I really couldn’t let it go,” she says. “A lot of people feel this case was an injustice, but they’re told that the jury system played out and the man was acquitted. But I’m here to say it was an injustice, and from a lawyer’s view inside the courtroom, I can show you what happened—how, by the last week of the trial, the evidence went in one direction, and the prosecution in another.”

Bloom has been a civil rights lawyer since 1986, and she has covered trials for CNN, the Today Show, and MSNBC for nearly 20 years, in addition to having her own show on Court TV. She says she wrote the Suspicion Nation in less than four months, working around the clock. “I wanted to do it right away, while this issue is still very much pressing in people’s minds.” Bloom’s book includes a great deal of new information, which she uncovered after interviewing Martin’s friend Rachel Jeantell, who testified during the trial, as well as one of the jurors on the case, who told her about what went on in the jury room. “My book has a lot of behind-the-scenes information, and it’s going to surprise a lot of people about the evidence that was there and that the prosecution missed,” Bloom says. “The state of Florida bungled the case from prosecutor to closing arguments to judge.”

It was natural for Bloom to take up civil rights law when she graduated from Yale law school. Her mother, attorney Gloria Allred, is a lawyer known for representing celebrity clients and taking on women’s discrimination cases. Her father, Peyton Bray, was “a hippie radical until his last days—a great, fierce independent thinker and the smartest guy I ever knew,” Bloom says. “He would give me books about anarchy inscribed, ‘To Lisa, Smash the state! Love, Dad,’ when I was 12 years old.” Bloom’s law practice in Los Angeles focuses on domestic violence, sexual harassment, and racial discrimination cases. The Bloom Firm includes four attorneys—“all of them women,” she says with a smile.

The corporate law route never appealed to Bloom. “There are plenty of lawyers happy to do that who are well paid,” she says. “I wanted to do something I believed in and cared about. I wake up every morning and I’m excited. We go up against fleets of lawyers with their investigators and publicists, so we have to be smarter and more nimble. But we can beat them, and we do.”

Suspicion Nation also delves into the issue of racial profiling in the U.S. “It runs rampant in our system,” Bloom says. “Also, our lax gun laws mean there are too many people like Zimmerman who have guns and use them with little accountability.” As part of her research, she visited the scene of the Martin shooting, in Sanford. While there, she began to question another aspect of Zimmerman’s defense: he said that Martin banged his head repeatedly on the concrete, prompting him to shoot the teenager in self-defense. “Trayvon’s body was found on the lawn, a substantial distance from the concrete. That negates part of the self-defense story. Zimmerman’s head injuries were not consistent with his head repeatedly hitting concrete.”

In her book, Bloom recounts several incidents similar to the Martin shooting that have occurred since then. “And those are just the ones that have gotten publicity,” she notes. “Racial profiling is everywhere. It doesn’t just happen in Sanford, but also in Michigan and Wisconsin and New York City. A lot of this is reminiscent of trials from the civil rights era in small towns in the South, where a white person kills a black person and walks.”

Bloom is passionate about finding ways to prevent more crimes—and trials—like Zimmerman’s. “We need more black prosecutors, for one thing,” she says. “Only about 5% of them are black. Prosecutors are more powerful than judges: they decide whether to charge a person or not, what to charge the defendant with, which plea bargains will be offered, and how sentencing is determined.”

Suspicion Nation also suggests that judges should reconsider how they give jurors instructions before each trial. “For instance, a judge could say, ‘Most of us, including myself, are [racially] biased in one way or another. Set aside these biases while you’re serving on this jury. Change the race of the person on trial in your mind and see how that affects your judgment.’ ”

Suspicion Nation is set to be published on the second anniversary of Martin’s death, and it will be the first book about the Zimmerman trial. “The Trayvon Martin case is iconic, one that people will be studying 30 years from now,” Bloom says. “And as I discuss in the book, [the verdict] was almost preordained. I wanted there to be something on record that explains what happened and why it went wrong. This was different from a lot of cases I’ve covered—much bigger than just these two guys on that dark night in Sanford, Fla. It really had struck a nerve.”

 

http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/authors/profiles/article/60966-and-justice-for-all-lisa-bloom.html

Ban Children From Violent Media

Children under 14 should be barred from access to violent films and video games, online content, and music, period.  Right now, kids can download music or shows that celebrate rape and murder, adults can bring toddlers in to R-rated movies depicting people getting shot in the face, and kids can play violent slasher video games online at will, damaging our kids (especially our boys) and perpetuating our thug culture.  It’s got to stop.  And the way to stop it is by keeping kids away from this stuff.  We can do it if we decide we want to do it.

        Under our current ridiculously lax movie rating system, “PG-13” means parents are advised that the film may not be appropriate for kids.  Yet a ten year old sees the rating as enticing and can legally walk right in.  “R” means a kid is supposed to get in only with a parent or “adult guardian” so a twelve year old can entreat his eighteen year old cousin — if the theater is even enforcing the rating to begin with — and in he goes.  Most of us are used to attending adult-themed movies with scores of kids seated around us cheering for knife fights and beheadings.  Am I the only one squirming and thinking, Why are kids in here?

        Germany is considering restricting access to adult-themed films to children under 12, and we too should keep our kids out. According to one study, 2.5 million children aged 10-14 watch R rated movies in America yearly, more than 12% of kids.  Some gruesome horror movies, such as Blade, Hollow Man and Bride of Chucky have had child audiences up to eight million.
Can anyone tell me what is gained from ten year olds watching acts of butchery and slaughter (other than million of dollars in profits for the giant media companies that produce these films)?  By the time the average American kid starts kindergarten he’s watched eight thousand murders and one hundred thousand acts of on screen violence.  Is there anything good about that?
Because here’s what’s lost:

  • On screen carnage scares the crap out of normal, emotionally healthy kids, giving them nightmares, confusing and traumatizing them.
  • Many studies show that violent images desensitize children, meaning that they lose their natural aversion to mayhem and come to accept people punching and shooting each other as a normal, even “cool” reaction to anger.
  • Children who watch R rated movies are more likely to be fight, drink alcohol, do drugs and be promiscuous.  
  • The United States has 19 times the rate of gun violence of other affluent countries.  We have the highest rate of incarceration in the entire world, or in human history.

        Kids who listen to today’s rap music suffer from the same problems, becoming more accepting of aggression, bloodshed, and misogyny.  As I show in my book Swagger, two out of three of the top-selling rap songs today celebrate violence (especially gun violence and beating up or murdering gay men), rape (including rape of little girls), and illegal drug use.  The parental advisories on CD packaging have become meaningless as most music is purchased online.
But it’s up to the parents, you may say.  If only all our kids were blessed with moms and dads who carefully monitored their video games, who listened to the lyrics in their music and led thoughtful discussions about them, who shielded them from age-inappropriate gory films.  We live in the real world, though, and millions of our kids are watching and listening to this stuff, absorbing the message that manhood equals thugdom, and that shooting your rival is a satisfying solution to conflict.

        Movie ratings should ban kids under 14 from entering films with violent scenes.  Theaters should be required to check ID and to enforce the ban.  Online providers of movies, TV shows, or music with offensive lyrics should require age verification before they make a sale, as porn sites are required to do.  Will some wily kids still sneak in to movies, and get past online verifications?  Sure.  But this would keep many kids away from age-inappropriate violent images, and would be an enormous improvement over the current system.

         We don’t let parents decide that it’s okay to let their kids watch pornography.  Why not?  Because we’ve correctly decided as a culture that sexually explicit films are harmful to children’s development.  And sex (ideally) is a normal, healthy human activity.  A bazooka to the face is not.  Why do we ban our kids from the former but not the latter?

         We must take seriously that we live in the most violent culture in the developed world, and stop desensitizing our kids to it.  Let’s let them believe that violence is scary and awful for as long as possible.  Because it is.

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