Imagine yourself in a foreign land, you don’t understand the language, you don’t understand the culture and you don’t know anyone else that shares a similar experience as you. You try to fit in as much as you can with no success. You try to navigate your way through education, employment, housing, and legal issues. You are getting by, but most of the time you have absolutely no idea what is going on.
So many people in the United States share this experience. Not just Ethiopians. Many immigrants as a whole. I have come face to face with so many people who become intimidated by the court systems in this country. I don’t blame them. It is not only intimidating to someone who is from a foreign country, it is intimidating even for those of us who have grown up here.
As an attorney, one of my biggest concerns is that so many people don’t know their rights. People are automatically intimidated by the legal system, and assume that an accusation is a finding of guilt. However that is not at all the case. I can only help those I know, but how do we help those throughout the country. I find that people are often frightened by the possibilities of punishment by a harsh legal system. They are not to be blamed for these fears. It is true, what is one to do, if no one around you knows what you are saying. How do you preserve your rights? How do you say I want an attorney when you don’t know how to say that? I believe it is the obligation of the police, those who have first contact in many cases, to try to explain things in a culturally sensitive manner so that people are not automatically frightened and intimidated. We must avoid admissions of guilt when people aren’t really guilty. This can be done by sharing knowledge and remembering that We ALL HAVE RIGHTS!
It is my desire and hope that minority communities, especially the Ethiopian Community as a whole can begin to look past the various barriers that stand in the way of unity. Overcoming that obstacle will lead to a community that is large in number, united and moves forward to tackle these issues. Different people know different pieces of information, but if we don’t share that information how can we possibly move forward and grow. While I advocate being helpful to one another and supportive and sharing knowledge to advance our community I must also say that those that are seeking assistance, advice or help must also take some responsibility. You have to use the information you are given for it to be useful. You have to ask for help to receive it. And you have to remember that everything has a time and a place and when asking someone to help you it should be on that person’s terms , not on yours.