Solano County Deputy Alternate Public Defender Shelly Saini tirelessly and compassionately advocates for her indigent clients, who are predominantly people of color. In the wake of the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Willie McCoy, Sean Monterrosa, and so many others, Ms. Saini, a woman of South Asian descent, decided to stand in solidarity with people of color everywhere by wearing a face mask with the words ADO for Black Lives across it, ADO for Alternate Public Defender Office.
While attempting to enter the downtown Fairfield jail to visit her client on June 24, 2020, Ms. Saini was confronted by a correctional sergeant who took issue with her mask. When Ms. Saini arrived at the jail the doors were locked. She asked the sergeant if she could get inside, but he disregarded her request demanding, What’s on your face? Ms. Saini informed him it was a mask. She again asked how she could get inside, but he did not reply. Ms. Saini demonstrated the doors were locked by pulling on them. The sergeants only response was that it was open. He then questioned Ms. Saini’s reason for being there and she informed him she was there to see her client. At this time another officer inside the jail unlocked the door for her. While Ms. Saini spoke with this officer, the sergeant started to raise his voice and demanded to know who she works for. When Ms. Saini informed him she works for the county, the sergeant replied he would be filing a complaint.
The sergeant later contacted the Public Defender of Solano County, Elena D’Agustino, to voice a baseless claim that Ms. Saini’s mask amounts to political activity barred by county policy, and expressed his intent to file a formal complaint. The sergeant’s threat to file a formal complaint and direct contact with Ms. Sainis boss, simply because he disagrees with the phrase ADO for Black Lives, reflect a misguided attempt to silence Ms. Saini that will not be tolerated.
At its core the statement ADO for Black Lives is about recognizing black people are human beings and their lives have value. For one to be offended by this affirming and fundamental principle underscores how little this sergeant understands what it means to be black in America today. There is nothing political about believing a black person has the right to live. There is nothing political about believing a black child deserves to grow up without fear. There is nothing political about believing a black person deserves to live without fear that their loved ones will not return when they walk out the door in the morning. This country’s shameful history of criminalizing and dehumanizing black people persists to this day and rears its ugly head in the form of structural racism and mass incarceration. Without intentional work on the part of all of us to confront our own implicit biases, we, too, further perpetuate a criminal injustice system that devalues blacks and people of color.
Ms. Saini should be commended for her willingness to call attention to the persistence of anti-black racism and the fact that violence and discrimination continue to threaten black lives. We stand in solidarity with Ms. Saini and affirm that black lives do indeed matter.
Vincent R. Maher
Daniel J. Russo
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