Monroe County Public defenders march for Black Lives Matter
Public defenders around Rochester and community members marched in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement from the Public Defenders’ office to the Public Safety Building on Monday afternoon, one of many protests across the nation led by public defenders all calling attention to systemic racism and police violence
Investigator Leslie Gordon addressed the crowd of around sixty people. She said that her own son was falsely accused of a crime and convicted, and then later acquitted.
“I know what it feels like to think no one hears you, that no one cares that no one stands with you,” she shouted into a megaphone outside of the Public Safety Building.
Danielle Ponder, diversity and inclusion officer for the Monroe County Public Defenders’ Office, said that in her work, she’s seen predominantly black and brown people incarcerated for low-level infractions like having an open container in public on weekends.
Clients have been charged with failure to use a sidewalk, for not having a bell or light on their bike, things she hasn’t seen white clients charged for. Her own brother spent 20 years in prison for a low-level robbery.
“When I think about my brother I think about his children. You know, they lost a father because of $170.” she said over the phone ahead of the march. “It impacted their lives. My nieces and nephews really struggled while my brother was gone and even now they have to struggle to rebuild a relationship with him.”
While public safety alternatives like defunding police departments may sound extreme, she said she believes police reform hasn’t worked. Ponder thinks communities need to invest in addressing the root causes of crime.
“The majority of my clients who committed petty larceny, they really needed drug treatment programs,” she said.
“It really is about how we change individual behavior. And I think we change individual behavior by helping people get what they actually need. Whether that’s treatment, whether that’s a better support system. Sometimes it’s just a job.”