assistant attorney says thank you by giving back to Detroit | Michigan News


By SCOTT TALLEY, Detroit Free Press

DETROIT (AP) – The date was August 26, 1979. The location was Cobo Hall. And a 17-year-old named Opolla Brown really wanted to meet a living legend who was once on the FBI’s Most Wanted List – political activist, author, scholar and scholar Angela Davis.

The message that day: “Save Dodge Main,” a reference to the old jewel Hamtramck which employed 36,000 auto workers at the end of World War II, was displayed on a shirt worn by Davis, while Brown was more used to wearing his McDonald’s uniform than summer. Nonetheless, Brown, a then-new freshman at Wayne State University who still saw Mack and Bewick as her turf, felt she deserved a moment with Davis as much as anyone. So she took her step, reports the Detroit Free Press.

“I saw a documentary about Angela Davis when I was 6 and thought she was a lawyer,” said Brown, who moved to Detroit from Chicago with her mother later that year. “I don’t know how I got this in my head, but that’s what I thought, so I decided then that I was going to become a lawyer, like her. By the time I visited her in Detroit, I knew she was an activist – not a lawyer – and a renowned teacher. But what mattered most to me was that she was fighting for the people.

“That’s why I went straight to that stage and introduced myself and told her how much I admired her and how inspired by her. There were tons of people and security, but I was like, “I have to meet her, I have to touch her hand. This is exactly how I felt, I had to touch his hand.

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This sign was on a door at the Dodge Main plant of Chrysler Corp. at Hamtramck on August 12, 1979. The automaker announced months ago that it would close the plant in an attempt to improve its financial situation. It’s been an eventful week for the No.3 automaker as it tries to bail out money problems.

Despite the passionate message on Davis’ shirt that day, and despite the zealous efforts of many in Hamtramck, Detroit and other parts of the country, Dodge Main could not be saved. The plant, which in its heyday was one of the few fully integrated automotive manufacturing and assembly plants in the world, closed in 1980.

However, Davis remains an inspiration to Brown, who is now an assistant district attorney in the Wayne County District Attorney’s Office, which pursues felony cases throughout the county. Her McDonald’s uniform is long gone and has been replaced by a professional wardrobe, which Brown has carefully and proudly assembled over the years to present a professional image in court that reflects the respect she has for the people she has. she serves.

But Brown, who lost her sight in one eye due to a childhood accident, says she never wants to be judged by her physical condition, or even the clothes she wears. Instead, she said she hopes her actions reflect her commitment to improving life in her community. And as she neared her 60th birthday on December 6, Brown made it clear that her commitment and love for her community is stronger than ever.

“It’s amazing to me because I honestly thought that by the time I got to that age, all the things that people like Angela Davis and Dr. King were fighting against would be gone, that it would be over. But here we are dealing with issues like police killing people across the country, ”Brown said. “What’s really important for Detroit, and black people in general, to understand is that as a prosecutor you make these important decisions. You can tell (the police) that you violated that person’s rights; or I do not sign this mandate because you had no probable cause; or you will not get this warrant because it is not valid. As prosecutors, we are able to effect change and improve the criminal justice system. That’s why I think my work continues to be very important to my community and we need more black prosecutors, period.

A graduate of Saint Clair Elementary School, Joy Junior High School and Denby High School, Brown said events during her early school years laid the foundation for a criminal justice system fairer at the local level to which it is proud to contribute today.

“I couldn’t be a prosecutor in Wayne County and support the kinds of police situations that we’ve seen in other places, and that’s why people should give Coleman Young credit,” said Brown, who was a student at Joy Junior High when Mayor Young first took office in 1974. “He got rid of STRESS (Stop The Robberies, Enjoy Safe Streets unit of the Detroit Police Department) which harassed black people, mistreated them. Blacks and brutalized blacks. And he didn’t get rid of all the white cops – he didn’t. What he did was integrate policing with blacks, Hispanics, whites and everyone, and that’s one of the main things he did during his tenure as mayor ( January 1, 1974 to January 3, 1994).

“The type of police brutality that we have seen in other places has not been tolerated in Wayne County, and primarily in Detroit. And nationally, when they talk about criminal justice systems, they talk about Wayne County because it’s so big; and they’re talking about New York and Los Angeles counties; and for many years we have been the model.

Brown also speaks passionately about Timothy Kenny, Chief Justice of Wayne County 3rd Circuit Court; Wayne County District Attorney Kym Worthy, who was elected to a fifth term in August, and the late Judge George Crockett III (son of Judge George Crockett Jr.).

Brown said it was Judge Kenny, during the five years she worked for him as a research lawyer, who opened his mind to the positive role prosecutors can play in his community. And as Brown recounts, a legal opinion she wrote in a pinch impressed Worthy (then a Wayne County Circuit Court judge) enough to never forget, leading her to offering Brown the opportunity to spread her legal wings when Worthy appointed her deputy prosecutor 17 years ago. But it was Crockett, many years earlier, who set Brown on fire with a few magic words.

“When I graduated from Wayne State, I worked for five years before going to law school, and had about five jobs, including an internship at the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice,” said Brown said. “I was working in pre-trial services, and I would come into Judge Crockett’s courtroom and make arguments for the defendants for the bond – either the same custody or the lowering of the bond – and someday Judge Crockett said, ‘Oh, I think you’ll make a great lawyer’ and I was just beaming! Then I had the opportunity to go to Cooley Law School in Lansing, which was a huge sacrifice. At one point I was trying to work in Detroit and go to Lansing daily and it almost killed me. I eventually had to suspend my job in Detroit for a year, then later take a year off from law school – and none of my classmates thought I was coming back – but I had received enough support and support. encouragement along the way to stay with that.

“Lots, lots of people held my hand and cheered me on when I needed it most, like Judge Crockett did in his courtroom, and that’s what got me. brought to this point today. “

Brown thanked him as he gave back.

“Throughout my career, I have always lent myself, so to speak, to young people who work in the law. And if they’re brand new, I would always give them my card and tell them where they can find more knowledge, ”said Brown, who also served as chair of the Michigan State Bar’s criminal law section. and was a board member of the Wayne County Advocacy Program, which provides continuing legal education to Wayne County criminal lawyers. “There have been a lot of prosecutors and defense lawyers that I have personally mentored. Some are judges now, or in private practice, and they do great things. “

One thing that isn’t so great for Brown is his inability to visit Detroit schools and talk to young people about the DA’s office and the law in general due to COVID-19. Brown says she longs for an in-person courtroom as well, but it’s clear that working from home doesn’t diminish her purpose or mission in any way, in large part because of her late mother Ollie Mae Brown.

“My mom worked afternoons in the (Chrysler) plant, which meant she would come in at 2 pm and get out at 11 am,” Brown said. “Because of his hours, I absolutely helped raise my younger siblings (Oliver, David, Lacriest and Donna) and I don’t regret it and neither do they. We had dinner at 6 am; you must have been home by the time the street lights came on; then you have a bath and a story. And that’s exactly how my siblings raised their children.

“But even with my mom working those hours, I learned so much from her. She exposed me to books and showed me the importance of being responsible, paying the bills and saving for a nice, clean home like the one she moved us to in Elmdale. Now I am fortunate to be comfortable in a house I have lived in for 10 years, which is within walking distance of a place I love, Eastern Market. And now that I have to work from home I’m in a comfortable space where I can always do my best for Wayne County and that’s very important.

These days, Brown says his world is often confined to a small but comfortable space in his home, which connects his kitchen, dining room, and living room. In this zone, it feeds, works, prepares for work and decompresses with books and television. But even when she moves to other parts of her house, Brown says she still remembers why her job really matters every day.

“The day I had my washer and dryer delivered, one of the two delivery guys said, ‘You’re a prosecutor, aren’t you?’ and I was like ‘Oh boy, here we go’, ”Brown recalls. “He went on to say that I had sued his son. And after I gasped, I heard him say, “I want to thank you for saving his life.” He then added that his son had graduated from a community college and was going to university (four years) because he had obtained the HYTA (Holmes Youthful Trainee Act, which offers young adult offenders the opportunity to not commit a criminal offense permanent criminal record).

“You know, as prosecutors, we’re not a judge or a jury, and it’s not about wins or losses. What we are trying to achieve is the truth. And if finding out this truth can improve someone’s life, our community will be better for it. “

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