Guest Post: The Spirit of Nelson Mandela

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****One of my best friends from law school was born and raised in Ghana and is now living and working in Johannesburg, South Africa.  On the day Nelson Mandela died, I asked if she would write for me and express the feeling on the ground. She described how emotion-filled and somber the country was.  And on today when the world prepares to publicly pay tribute to this great man, she shared this special note.****
 

I woke up this morning at 4 a.m. I gazed out of the window. It was dark; it was raining. The rain came down hard as if the clouds are in mourning. I got up 30 minutes grudgingly. You see, I had decided the day before to go to the gym at 5 a.m. I figured if I went early enough I could make it to my 8 a.m. meeting. The meeting was cancelled at the last minute. I decided to go anyway. I got up, got dressed, got into the car and started driving. As I drove to the gym, a mere 15 minutes away. I listened to the radio. There was commentary about the life of Nelson Mandela intermingled with gospel songs.  I became filled with a palpable sadness. I thought about Mr. Mandela. A man who had dedicated his whole life to a cause: the freedom of his people from oppression. He sacrificed so much for this cause: his family, his own sense of freedom. He spent 27 years in prison. 27 years! A lifetime… Africa…no the world, has lost an amazing man, an icon. But Mr. Mandela’s struggle for freedom is part of who he is. Another part of this incredible man is this incredible compassion and ability to forgive.

Mr. Mandela’s longtime personal assistant, Zelda la Grange, is a white Afrikaner who was an employee of the former Apartheid government. You hear stories of him helping the prison guards with legal issues while he was in prison. What a man.  It is one thing to not want to take revenge on those who have hurt you deeply. It is a totally different thing to want to help those who have wounded you.  Mr. Mandela took turning the other cheek to another level, an inspirational level.

Mandela was often criticized for promoting reconciliation between white and black South Africans. What was lost on those critiques is he was promoting forgiveness and healing so that South Africa could put their painful past behind them and move forward as a nation.  Forgiveness: what a simple word yet an act that is unbelievably difficult for even the most generous spirit.

Everyone has been hurt by someone in their lifetime. Sometimes, wounds can be so deep they leave us with lasting feelings of anger and bitterness.  Anyone who experienced what black South Africans experienced during Apartheid would have understandably deep feels of anger, bitterness and resentment.  Yet by encouraging his people to embrace forgiveness, Mandela was also encouraging his people to embrace peace, hope, gratitude and joy; emotions they had never experienced before. He was not asking them to do it so that the former Apartheid regime would go scot-free. Mr. Mandela was asking black South Africans to do it for themselves so that they could enjoy that sense of peace that would allow them to move on with their lives.

Today, the world pays tribute to Mr. Mandela. As the heavy rain pours, the mood is solemn; the city and country is filled with a profound sense of loss.  People are trying to continue with life as usual. However, today is not a day where life will be or should be usual.  Today is an emotional day and rightfully so.  Today is a day when we must all pause and reflect on the teachings of Mr. Mandela. Yes, he was a teacher.  He taught us all about forgiveness and about living life with compassion and a lack of bitterness.  Mr. Mandela taught us about leadership in every aspect of the world. For that, we thank you Mr. Mandela.  Thank you.

(written and published with express permission of Susan Quist.)

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The Evidence of Things Not Seen–Zimmerman Verdict

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There is no more perfect place to be than in Washington DC, when the verdict in the Zimmerman trial came down. The place where the halls of justice of our nations highest court echo the voices of Thurgood Marshall, Brown vs. Board of Education, and the extinguishing of DOMA. The place where our Black President calls home. The place where laws are debated and created. The place where I found out that the struggle not only still continues but that it is more dire than ever. The place I found out that a jury found George Zimmerman not guilty.

As I left the group of women I was having dinner with and took a cab through the city, I could not help but gaze out of the window. I rolled down the window trying to catch the sounds of the city as we drove by. Black men stood in groups and all i could hear was “This is un-fucking believable”. Black women walked out of restaurants shaking there heads and seemed so solemn. It was a much quieter Chocolate City than I was used to. And then there were the white people. The white people who were walking around like it was business as usual. They were yelling and shouting with drunken tones like they had not one care in the world. It was an ordinary Saturday night. What a dichotomy.

Was justice served in this case? I feel like justice was buried the day Trayvon was killed and George Zimmerman was sent home by Sanford Police. And with every march and protest and we shoveled another pound of dirt off that elusive thing we call Justice. The people demanded an investigation and an arrest. And we got it. We must acknowledge the win in that. We must acknowledge the justice in that. And that investigation led to the trial that supporters demanded to determine the guilt or innocence of this man who killed Trayvon that night in the rain. That is our system. We allow for a jury of one’s peers to decide their guilt or innocence. That happened here today. Our system worked.

The process was initially flawed and then remedied. But did Trayvon Martin receive justice? No. Today, justice jumped back into the grave. It didn’t show up. A young Black man has been buried and his killer is going free. The disappointment and sadness that overwhelm me is certainly shared by many across the world tonight. I don’ t own the patent on the outrage that causes the tears to roll down my hot face. It is shared by many, of all races tonight as we rest comfortably in our beds while Tracey and Sybrina Fulton face the second worst night of their lives.

I was rendered speechless. I was paralyzed with sadness. My hands shook so badly that I couldn’t text, tweet, or eat. I was useless. Justice? Where is justice? Where is the day of reckoning that this case demanded? I thought it would be today. But as I rode in that musty cab through the city I realized it wasn’t today. But it was coming. And I had to be ready for it.

Florida is my native state. They get a lot of shit wrong. They have hanging chads. They have bad Governors, horrible Mayors, and suspect laws. But we do not have to play the hand we are dealt. WE have the ability to change the game, not just in Florida but throughout the nation.

Laws don’t just create themselves. They are drafted by people we ELECT — or DON’T elect through our inaction — as our representatives to state and federal government. What people have to understand is that this is not just about the killing on this innocent young life, Trayvon Martin. This is about electing people smart and progressive enough to work towards the repeal of laws that allow Trayvon Martin murders to go unpunished. This should call everyone to action, white, black and otherwise.

There is no need for Diddy to stand atop a bus and tell y’all to go Rock the Vote. No need to Harlem shake you to the polls. This is a 3-alarm fire, a wake up call. We live in a very different country than many people thought right now. One where states are allowed rule women’s bodies with no input from its owner and where citizens are allowed to profile and kill young boys for walking or standing while black.

What will you do differently tomorrow or next week the wake of the verdict in the Zimmerman trial? How will you do the work to ensure that the next Trayvon gets justice?

That will be the day of reckoning. That will be the day that we have justice for Trayvon. When this travesty is a thing of the past and our young men can walk the streets without being attacked for their “looks”. Then, we will have justice. Get off your twitter soapboxes and get in the game. March with your votes. March with your dollars. Rise up and be the change on the local and state levels that will make a real difference.

I have never had so much faith in 6 white people at the same time ever in my life. And I told anyone who doubted this jury, faith and fear could not co-exist, therefore I was choosing faith. I stand by that tonight. I choose faith. Faith that people will not let Trayvon’s death be in vain. Faith that moves the mountains that are laws that allow our young people to be killed with no remorse or regard. Faith that we will overcome this hurdle, this devastation, and this miscarriage of justice.

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Zimmerman Defense Attorney Don West. Parenting Gone Wrong

Zimmerman Defense Attorney Don West. Parenting Gone Wrong

“Celebrating” with his daughters after cross examination of Rachel Jeantel. Thank goodness Instagram can catch the stupidity of all and memorialize it for posterity. #badtaste #appledoesntfallfarfromthefree #poorjudgment

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It’s Easy to Gawk at Rachel Jeantel

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“Sak Pase.” That’s the greeting that Rachel Jeantel and many in her community would reply to. It means “what’s up” in Creole, the language native to Haiti, where she and her mother are from. I knew immediately that she was of Haitian (and Dominican) descent based on her last name, Jeantel. I know this because I spent the first 16 years of my life growing up in the most diverse city in the United States. Miami. My neighborhood school was the same school Rachel attends. The roux of this perfect gumbo of Caribbean culture is where we both call home. But one thing that creates a divide between this community and mainstream America is often the dialect and accents that those outside of that community often have trouble understanding.  For the past two days, Rachel Jeantel has been on the stand in the Trayvon Martin murder trial doing her very best to hold it together while America has turned her appearance and her acumen into fodder for their jokes.  People focused more on how she delivered her message, than the fact that this key witness was struggling to detail the last moments of her friend’s life, which she unknowingly bore witness to.  Never mind that she speaks THREE languages though English is not her first language. It’s easy to gawk at a large, dark-skinned, young black woman and pick her apart like vultures because her subjects and verbs don’t agree. And that goes for the Whites and Blacks alike who have torn her down on social media today.  But why are we, the Judgy McJudges of America so focused on that? What everyone should have paid attention to was the fact that Rachel Jeantel never wavered from her version of the events the night Trayvon was killed. She may have told MORE of the story to those who asked the right questions, but she never wavered. Talking to teenagers is like pulling teeth with a rusty wrench. But if you ask the right questions, you get the right answers. And the State did that when Rachel was on the stand. The sad part of the long, painful two days of testimony wasn’t the muffled sound of Rachel’s voice or the combative nature of her responses at times. The sad part was the disrespect of Defense Attorney Don West who knew of Ms. Jeantel’s challenges and limitations and exploited them so deeply on cross examination.

As an attorney, I understand the need to score points on cross especially with such an important witness.  But what I do not think he placed true value in, was the six women sitting in the jury box watching him attempt to ridicule and embarrass a 19 year old girl on the stand in front of millions of viewers.  Women do not play those games. White, latina, black or otherwise, women are inherently the more empathetic sex especially related to violence against women and children. And the assault waged on Rachel today was indefensible. Asking (in a condescending voice)  if she can read, and “are you ok? You seem so different today than yesterday.” Inferring that she was somehow changed by conversation with others or perhaps medicated in an effort to get under her skin was disgusting.  The utter disrespect he showed will backfire on him with those jurors. Most of black America seemed to be in one big prayer circle around Rachel Jeantel today because of the fear that people outside of her community will never be able to see through the messenger to get to the message.  I pray that they are wrong.

Originally published by HLNTV.com on June 28, 2013 on http://www.hlntv.com/article/2013/06/28/rachel-jeantel-jokes-speech-trayvon-martin-zimmerman 

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Life After Section 4

I have the pleasure of having friends in all different walks of life who write, speak, preach, and teach on different subject areas. I asked a few friends to write what they thought about the SCOTUS rulings this week and I would share them with the world. Here is one thought, written by my friend Fred Hicks.

 

“My experience with John Lewis in Selma earlier this year was a profound experience that demonstrated the fortitude it took to advance civil rights and ensure equal protection for all… I’m hopeful Congress will put politics aside, as we did on that trip, and find a responsible path forward that ensures that the sacred obligation of voting in this country remains protected.”- Eric Cantor, REPUBLICAN, Virginia

As a political consultant who has, on occasion, successfully navigated the world of Democratic and Republican politics, I bend towards viewing issues through the lens of coalitions rather than partisanship. That is, I believe that at the state and local level we are entering an age when there are few permanent allies or enemies and that policies will be made through fleeting partnerships. Perhaps this is a personal coping mechanism I’ve adopted more than it is a new reality. We will soon know.
Yesterday June 25, 2013 the US Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. There are eighteen provisions to the VRA, although most are only familiar with Sections 2 and 5. Section 2 allows for legal redress when someone is denied the right to vote. First the right to vote must be impeded and then the policy can be challenged. In most instances, the legal hearings will not be completed in time to impact the election in question, thus allowing the policies to achieve their goal. This makes Section 2 a reactive legal remedy. Section 5 places certain jurisdictions that meet certain criteria under additional review through a process called Preclearance. Before a jurisdiction covered by Section 5 can make changes to voting processes they must submit a plan to the US Department of Justice for approval. This is pre-emptive. When taken together, Sections 2 and 5 serve as bookend legal protections, in certain jurisdictions, for protecting the right to vote established by the 15th Amendment to the Constitution. Until yesterday most Americans, of any hue, had never heard of Section 4. By now all of you reading this have learned that this is the part of the legislation that uses a formula to determine which jurisdictions are subject to Preclearance. Without a Section 4, there cannot be an effective Section 5, thus leaving only the reactive legal remedy (Section 2) in place. It is the formula laid out in Section 4, not 2 or 5, that the Supreme Court ruled illegal. Further, the Court said that Congress must create a new formula that IS legal, which will be determined by the Courts.
So what does all this mean? There are three things we know for sure:
1) The 9 states and the 50+ counties in five (5) other states are no longer subject to Preclearance. This means they can enact laws regarding voting they deem appropriate, as long as these laws do not violate laws around voting such as using a literacy test or poll tax. Preclearance is over until Congress creates a new formula the Court approves, which leads to points 2 and 3
2) It is up to Congress to create and pass a new formula for determining which jurisdictions must go through Preclearance. This is the same House and Senate that is locked in perpetual gridlock, with one chamber often passing legislation the other kills immediately; even when America’s financial standing is at stake. It is this Congress that now has to come up with a formula
3) Assuming Congress can pass a formula for Section 4, when (not if) the formula is challenged, it must pass the review of the Supreme Court, possibly with the same judges who just overturned a formula that was agreed upon with overwhelming bi-partisan support in both chambers, including the two Senators who represent the plaintiff in the case ruled upon by the Court after and the need for which was supported by thousands of pages of examples of modern day attempts to suppress the vote.
So, Congress must do the near impossible and pass legislation in both the House and the Senate that creates a new formula. The new formula must be able to gain the approval of at least one of the five justices who struck down Section 4. Then, and only then, will we have Section 4 fully restored allowing Section 5 to do its job and provide pre-emptive protections for voters.
In the wake of the decision, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor made the statement cited in my opening. I believe this is the one issue that can achieve, again, bi-partisan support. IF the Supreme Court is right, then we will see Democrats and Republicans find a formula that ensures that the areas with the highest propensity for voter disenfranchisement are subject to review. Herein is the positive opportunity. Congress has the opportunity to actually expand the Voting Rights Act, if not in scope but in a targeted way that reaches areas outside the current (past) scope. What do I mean?
All of American learned in 2000 that certain counties in Florida have trouble counting ballots. Well America, we Floridians still can’t quite get voting right. The same counties that held up a nation in 2000 were STILL struggling to process votes in 2012—Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach. Had a few other states gone for Romney, we would have had a repeat nightmare situation where the eyes of the world were on South Florida. I’m talking about the same South Florida that had to stay open past 2 AM for people to vote, even though the polls theoretically close at 7pm. Guess what? These counties are OUTSIDE the Preclearance requirement of the Voting Rights Act.
College students in Ohio, Wisconsin and the Northeast faced voting challenges. State legislatures passed laws in 2011 billed as fighting voter fraud but were meant to disenfranchise voters. There was enough time to mount challenges using Section 2. Stories like this abounded across the country. Many of these jurisdictions did not meet the Section 4 formula and thus were not subject to Preclearance. My point is that, theoretically, this is an opportunity to catch injustices that are otherwise missed.
Finally, this is an opportunity to expand our thinking about Preclearance. Yes, the Voting Rights Act was passed on the backs, blood, sweat, tears and lives of African Americans. But we were not alone. The legal fight for equality was a joint venture between African Americans and Latinos. NAACP lawyer and eventual Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall studied Mendez v. Westminster, which set the legal precedent for Marshall’s most famous case Brown v Board of Education and he understood the implications of Hernandez v. Texas, which established that all Americans are subject to equal protections under the 14th Amendment. In fact, Lau v. Nichols, a case involving an Asian student, chipped away even further at discriminatory practices.
I believe there will be an attempt by Congress to keep Section 4 alive. It will be difficult to reach a consensus on what the formula will look like—I can see where any legislator whose district would be impacted by a new formula objecting—but there will be an attempt. While we wait on Congress to find a formula palpable to both Congress and the Supreme Court, there are three policies we can pursue that will protect the right to vote and protect the integrity of our electoral system.
1) Pass legislation requiring all Section 2 challenges to be decided by at least the state level Court of Appeals before an election is certified. If upheld, a new election must be held.
2) Federally fund all regularly scheduled elections. Elections are expensive for government. The federal government can heavily subsidize elections and tie the subsidies to specific policies, such as early voting periods.
3) Eliminate the formula altogether and make every jurisdiction subject to Preclearance. During the oral arguments, Chief Justice Roberts asked if the South is inherently more prejudiced than the non-South. The Court seemed to take issue with singling out specific areas for Preclearance. Take their point and run with it.

2013 is a year of landmarks. The first African American President of the United States was sworn in for his second term on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. This is the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for civil rights. This is the 45th anniversary of King’s assassination. Now, at least for now, 2013 is the year the Voting Rights Act changed forever. As with every turn in American history, activism, ingenuity and persistence will determine the future.

About the Author
Fred Hicks is a former Adjunct Professor at Florida A&M University and Instructor at George C. Wallace Community College. He is a proud graduate of Clayton State University, where he served as the first African American Student Government Association President and was named the 2010 Distinguished Alumnus. He holds a Master’s degree and graduate certificate in Education Policy, Planning and Analysis from Florida State University, where he also completed his doctoral coursework. Fredrick is the President of the Hicks Evaluation Group (HEG), a full service consulting firm. He can be reached by email at: fred@hegllc.org

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SCOTUS FAIL ON VOTING RIGHTS ACT!

Well, in the biggest EPIC FAIL of the week (and it is only Tuesday), the Supreme Court of the United States, in its infinite wisdom, decided to pack us all up and send us back to 1960. While the fashion and music of that day was hot and jamming, the state of civil rights for people who look like me, were not.  Today, the decision in Shelby County v. Holder was alarming, disturbing, and could be for some a bit confusing. So instead of reinventing the wheel, I’m going to republish a great blog posted by Amy Howe, We gave you a chance:  Today’s Shelby County decision in Plain English, SCOTUSblog (Jun. 25, 2013, 2:45 PM), http://www.scotusblog.com/2013/06/we-gave-you-a-chance-todays-shelby-county-decision-in-plain-english. This gives a great synopsis of today’s decision, without all the legalese.

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“Four years ago, in a case called Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 (NAMUDNO) v. Holder, the Supreme Court reviewed a challenge to the constitutionality of the preclearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act.  As I explained in an earlier post, that portion of the Act was designed to prevent discrimination in voting by requiring a list of state and local governments identified by Congress in the 1960s as having a history of voting discrimination to get approval from the federal government before making any changes to their voting laws or procedures – both major changes and even for something as seemingly innocuous as moving a polling place across the street.  In that case, the Court ultimately dodged the constitutional question, handing the utility district a victory on another ground.  But at the same time, the Court fired off a cautionary shot to Congress, admonishing it that “[t]hings have changed in the South,” where most of the state and local governments that have to comply with the preclearance requirements are located, and that the burdens imposed by the preclearance requirements “must be justified by current needs.

Today’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder, a new challenge to the preclearance requirements, boils down to a new message to Congress:  we warned you, you didn’t listen, and now it’s your problem to fix.  The Court did not invalidate the actual preclearance provision of the statute.  But it did something just as significant:  it struck down Section 4 of the Act, which contains the formula that is used to identify the state and local governments that have to comply with the preclearance requirements.  The upshot is that although the preclearance requirement survives, none of those jurisdictions have to comply with it unless and until Congress can enact a new formula to determine whom it covers – a prospect that, given the current state of gridlock in Congress, might not happen for a while or even forever.  (It is also possible that the federal Department of Justice could bring new lawsuits under a separate provision of the Act to extend the preclearance provisions to new jurisdictions, but today’s decision could make it much harder for the government to win those suits too.)

The Chief Justice delivered the opinion of the Court, which was joined by Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito.  The Court began by acknowledging that when the Voting Rights Act was enacted, it “employed extraordinary measures” – in the form of restrictions on the independence of the covered states – to combat the “extraordinary problem” of widespread voter discrimination.  In 1966, the Court explained, these restrictions, which were intended to be temporary, were justified, and the formula used to determine who should be covered “made sense” then.

But today, fifty years later?  Not so much.  In the Court’s eyes, “things have changed dramatically.”  When judged by a variety of measures – such as voter registration, voter turnout, and the number of African Americans elected to office — conditions have improved significantly in the states that are covered by the preclearance requirements.  The Court agrees that these changes “are in large part because of the Voting Rights Act”; despite those improvements, the Court complains, the formula that determines who must comply with the preclearance requirement is “based on decades-old data” and practices – such as literacy tests – that were long ago abandoned.  Because it isn’t fair for Congress to “rely simply on the past” to single out a few state and local governments for unequal treatment “based on 40-year-old facts having no logical relationship to the present day,” the coverage formula cannot stand.

The last section of the Court’s opinion is the judicial version of throwing the Voting Rights Act ball back across First Street N.E. to Congress.  Emphasizing that invalidating a federal law is one of its most serious responsibilities, and that it “do[es] not do so lightly,” the Court makes clear that in its view, only Congress is to blame here.  Four years ago, it warned Congress that the constitutionality of the law was in doubt; “Congress could have updated the coverage formula” then, but it failed to do so. “Its failure to act,” the Court explains, “leaves us today with no choice but to declare [the coverage formula] unconstitutional.”

Continuing a pattern that we have seen in several other cases this week, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg filed a dissenting opinion, which was joined by Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan.   Where the majority had cited improvements in voter registration and voter turnout as support for its conclusion that the Act’s coverage formula was unconstitutional, the dissenters focus on other, more subtle discriminatory tactics, such as racial gerrymandering, that are used to dilute the impact of minority votes.  Congress voted to renew the preclearance requirement and the coverage formula, the dissenting Justices argue, because it concluded – based on a “massive legislative record” – that they were still needed to head off these tactics.    And given Congress’s special role in enforcing constitutional provisions prohibiting racial discrimination in voting, the dissenters would defer to that determination.

When the Court issued yesterday’s decision in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, civil rights groups breathed at least a qualified sigh of relief.  After months of worrying that the Court might prohibit the use of affirmative action in higher education altogether, affirmative action survives – at least for now.  By contrast, today’s decision was pretty much as bad as voting rights groups had feared:  although the Court did not strike down the preclearance requirement, it rendered it essentially ineffective until Congress can decide who should be covered by the requirement going forward.  And no one expects that to happen anytime soon”

 

 

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Brian Banks’ Accuser to pay $2.6 Million Judgment (or not….)

 

Another moment for SWEET JUSTICE! Well kinda….

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As reported by the Long Beach Telegram-Press, Wanetta Gibson, the woman who claimed that then high-school student Brian Banks raped her, only to years later, be caught on tape denying that a rape ever happen, has been told to pay the piper.  The Long Beach Unified School District won a $2.6 million default judgment against Ms. Gibson, who sued the district back in 2002, claiming that inadequate security at Long Beach Poly High School led to her being raped by the high school football star. Brian Banks served five years in prison for this alleged crime while Wanetta walked away with a $750,000 settlement from the District.  She has to repay over twice that amount because of the punitive damages and attorneys fees assessed.

 

Brian Banks hasn’t gotten a million dollar settlement, the school district has. Wanetta Gibson hasn’t been jailed for making false accusations or the conspiracy to destroy Brian Banks’ life.  In fact, she continued to defraud others and had multiple run-ins with the law over the past 10 years.  So what makes anyone think that the school district will recoup this million dollar judgment. Yes they can take her future wages. Yes they can take her property. But all reliable sources indicate….that she has NONE. She will never make enough money to pay all of that money back. Nor is she sitting on a car or mansion that they can repossess to collect the judgment. So, it sounds good, and is great on paper but….it won’t change the past and it won’t pay Banks for his time he lost.Brian Banks has been trying to reclaim his years, busting his butt at one football camp after another has last month signed with the Atlanta Falcons. I am grateful that he gets the chance to live out his dreams and maybe I’ll even make it down to the Georgia Dome to see the brother play next season.

 

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