“People must be taught how to treat you, and those lessons are transferrable.” –-Laura Coates
From the beginning chapter of Just Pursuit we are thrown into former federal prosecutor, Laura Coates’ personal struggles with the ‘rights and wrongs’ as explicitly laid out by the justice system. In her role of prosecuting a car thief, whose victim, Manuel, turns out to be an illegal immigrant who has been in the United States for over twenty years, and is a citizen in good standing, and gainfully employed, Coates lands in a quagmire of ‘official’ precedent that she must follow. This unequivocally means that she is bound by law to report Manuel’s illegal immigrant status to ICE. It is decision that rips Coates apart and leaves her with the ‘worst day of her life’ feeling.
In fact, she says, “I regretted soliciting my colleagues opinions, knowing each ear I bent could become a loose lip.”
As we move through Coates’ behind-the-scenes-experiences, we watch as she is invited by a ‘White male colleague’ to a basement holding cell where bizarrely, she is ‘taught’ to interrogate a Black defendant.
A Black accomplished prosecutor whose mandate and mission is to fight for fairness, Coates often develops personal respect and empathetic attachment to the people she represents.
“I did not try to judge the participants then, nor will I now.”
However, Coates is an expert on describing the situations of her victims, such as the physically and verbally abused woman whose hand is so swollen from a beating that she can’t take her ring off.
“She began trying to pry it off, but it was trapped below a swollen joint of a finger with a severed nail. She yanked away with both her arms bent at the elbows, parallel to the ground.”
Coates repartee to an annoying defence lawyer who has arbitrarily confronted her in a quiet basement café, where she is effectively hiding out looking for some solace and silence, is magnificent.
“I swiped my tongue across my upper canine to clear a piece of lettuce that, like her, refused to get lost.”
Just Pursuit, A Black Prosecutor’s Fight For Fairness, is a series of court room machinations that cover a variety of judicial dockets, but come alive with Coates intimately descriptive narratives of the who’s, how’s, and whats.
The chapter covering the sexual abuse of a young woman by her stepfather is intricately weaved into the alarming actions of the presiding judge. In the sacrosanct setting of the courtroom, whose “benches had transformed into church pews as hushed whispers of ridicule and judgement of the defendant rose like hymns,’ and where the public’s assumptive belief centres on a judge’s objective empathy and complete attention to the case at hand, Coates observations as to what she sees on the judge’s computer screen when she approaches the bench, blows our collective faith in the judge’s magisterial abilities right out of the water.
It was a jolt of information that I had to reread several times to absorb, I was that blown away.
“Justice is a cost-benefit analysis that cannot reverse the loss or suppress the memory of the wrong. But it begins the process of healing.”