Natashia Deón is an author, lawyer, and founder of Redeemed, a non-profit organization that launched a social media movement under the hashtag #EndArrest Executions. (Photo by Casey Curry)
"You should now know that there is no justice."
When Los Angeles-born Natashia Deón heard these words over a decade ago, she was a corporate lawyer. It was during an insurance case against her company that was filed by a claimant who had broken her hip in an avoidable fall. A strange thing happened: the applicant's lawyer offered to pay the costs of her lawyer's fees, a fraction of what the company was willing to pay. The move not only surprised Deón, but also made it clear to her what was fair for the customer.
"I shouldn't stand up for your client," Deón recalls the opposing lawyer. "I said," This is not right, it is not fair. "
And then the judge who led the case said these words, which eventually led them to a life that was about defending and defining that very thing. "I knew then that I would go," she recalls.
For Deón, the word "justice" resonated on a personal level: her father was a deputy sheriff for L.A. County. She grew up in a church founded by African Americans who moved to California to escape the suppression of Jim Crow's southern laws. And she herself had once been a victim of a violent crime and "I knew what it felt like to be alone in a fight."
So, give up a fight for justice? "That's why I didn't become a lawyer. I still believed I could make a difference."
Today you can rightly say that she did just that.
As an award-winning author of the historical novel "Grace", nominee for the NAACP Image Award and multiple advocate for social justice – not to mention the wife and mother of two children with special needs – Deón's first linchpin in corporate law was community service for psychological Sick. Then she helped people clear their criminal records after serving their court sentence and paying their debts to society.
Deón says: “I was just working on starting their lives again. Seal records and move on. At 50, they are often not the same person as at 18. "
A fresh start is key to stop relapses and help people live productive lives. Criminal records, housing, employment and even permanent relationships elude many. Without the opportunity to continue, the descent into hopelessness can form its own vicious cycle.
Deón was certain that this work could be an important link in creating more justice in society. In 2018, together with his lawyer Charles Hamilton, he founded Redeemed, a nonprofit organization to expand its work with the help of legal volunteers and a cadre of co-authors who work with clients to help them write appeals for record deletion .
Deón says her work has always been based on the reality that "the criminal justice system is a racist system, which means that the results disproportionately put black and brown people in prison". She has witnessed the criminalization of black people in primary school and arrests for school events with which white children in suburbs speak strictly and are suspended: “The permission that is often given to white children is not granted to same way to black and brown children. Now you have a record and the cycle begins. "
And then the murder of George Floyd by the police triggered cultural accounting and inspired Deón's recent effort: lobbying California lawmakers for a number of new laws that were recorded in the #EndArrestExecutions social media movement.
"You cannot impose the death penalty on civilians who have not been charged with a crime," she says.
She imagines a time when "(police) cannot kill runners and cannot kill the fighter if they are not directly threatened with a lethal weapon." She says her suggestions under #EndArrestExecutions increase officer control. "I know it doesn't seem like Hollywood for the bad to get away, but that's real life. This actor will not get up and play in another film. "
Deón calls herself a reformist: the solution is not to cut police forces and transfer their work to other systems such as healthcare. "This is what I'm passionate about. Find the right solutions, not only for civilians, but also for police officers. How can we change this relationship to make it healthy for everyone? I think every system has its own disease. At the moment we are in such a historical moment. Let us focus on policing while we have the strength and the strength to change that now. We have all of these options. "