Cook County Illinois’s public defender and Equitas National Advisor Amy Campanelli describes her work providing “a voice for the voiceless.”
Adapted from Progressive.org
Public defenders serve as a voice for people in these communities. We hear their stories, we see the excessive use of force by police. We experience the system as it processes human beings into prison inmates.
As public defenders, we represent some 80 percent of the people who pass through our criminal courts system. (I don’t call it the criminal justice system, by the way. When it becomes just on a daily basis, I will start calling it the criminal justice system.)
We work to help judges understand a whole person, not just see a potential criminal.
There must be an obligation to treat everyone in the criminal courts system as our brother, our sister, our child. When we recognize our connection to every person who touches our lives, we will treat them with dignity and fairness and love. As the Bible notes, “That which you do to the least of my brothers and sisters you do to me.”
The abuse and racism that I have seen for decades is why I have pushed to have a police station representation unit where we have attorneys available twenty-four hours a day, every day of the year, to go to any place where anyone is arrested in Cook County. Because it will not change from within. History has shown us that police reform will never come only from within.
Attorneys are needed for oversight, to protect every individual whose liberty is at stake. No one should have to go to a police station without a lawyer. I am trying to change expectations and culture. I’m trying to change the narrative around how poor people, the accused, the arrested, the incarcerated, deserve to be treated.