On September 10th, Mark O’Mara visited Yakima, Washington as part of the Masters of Advocacy program. What started as an invitation from Assistant Professor Kimberly Bellamy-Thompson to visit the charming Heritage University -- a small school hidden among the hops fields in the high desert -- grew into a community event that addressed issues of race, justice, and democracy.
The day started with a CLE seminar on Dynamic Voir Dire and Jury Investigations before members of the Yakima County Bar Association. A special thanks to Amy Peters and Megan Murphy who promoted the event, and brought together some very interesting folks to participate in the seminar.
At noon, the Downtown Yakima Rotary asked Mark to speak. Mark talked about the need to provide better training and more pay to law enforcement officers. Yakima County Sheriff Brian Winter was in attendance, and after the presentation, the Sheriff and Mark spoke one-on-one about the crisis of trust in law enforcement.
Later, Mark visited the Yakima Herald to speak to Editorial Page Editor Frank Purdy about issues in the criminal justice system, including the problems with minimum mandatory sentences such as Washington’s first-in-the-nation three strikes laws.
Next, Mark passed through the Union Gap for an intimate conversation with students at Heritage University. Heritage is unique as it serves a population of students who are primarily Native American or the children of migrant workers. Mark described his journey from growing up in Queens, New York to becoming a criminal defense attorney, and he talked with students about their goals for the future.
The evening held the main event: a televised town hall discussion about Race, Justice, and Democracy hosted by Enrique Cerna from Seattle’s KCTS 9. More than three hundred crowded into the beautiful Yakima Valley Museum to take part in the event. Mark joined an impressive panel which included Laura Contreras of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project; professor and author Christopher Parker; and Sue Rahr, who leads the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission. In one of the most poignant moments of the evening, the panel discussed that nature of “institutional racism” and the fact that despite all the progress our country has made in the pursuit of civil rights, there still exists disproportionate advantages for whites.
The trip concluded with a VIP reception to thank the sponsors who generously contributed time and money to make the event a reality. Sponsors included The Center for a New Washington at Heritage University, Humanities Washington, KCTS 9, Yakima Herald Republic, Yakima Valley Community Foundation and the Yakima Bar Association.