Sunday, May 19, 2024

Q&A with Debbie Hines


Debbie Hines is the author of the new book Get Off My Neck: Black Lives, White Justice, and a Former Prosecutor's Quest for Reform. She is a former Baltimore prosecutor, assistant attorney general for Maryland, and trial attorney.


Q: What inspired you to write Get Off My Neck?


A: As a former Baltimore prosecutor, assistant attorney general for Maryland and trial attorney representing individuals accused of crimes plus seeing family friends impacted by the prosecutorial system, I had a rare background as a Black woman to see the system.


In 2017, I was asked to speak as a guest lecturer at Johns Hopkins University on any topic of my choice.  At that time, I chose the topic of racial disparities in the criminal justice system from 1619 to the present. The presentation was more historical and academic in nature than the book I chose to write. My initial research and presentation at Johns Hopkins became the precursor for Get Off My Neck.


I kept putting off the thought of writing a book as it seemed that I needed more hours in the day to process thoughts for writing a book, research, and the process of writing it. My work as a trial lawyer did not allow for a lot of extra hours in the day or night. Then March 2020 and the pandemic came. Everything shut down. I finally had the time to think about writing a book. The writing started later.


My true inspiration for writing the book is my mother for whom I dedicate the book. My mother always felt that I could do anything if I put my mind to it—as she would say. By her life’s example, I was inspired to write this book and tell my truth.

Q: The Kirkus Review of the book called it a “forceful plea to reform the toxic entanglement of prosecution, policing, and probation in the criminal justice system.” What do you think of that description?


A: Get Off My Neck is more than a book about reforming prosecution, policing, and probation. It is plea to reform the entire prosecutorial system from how we prosecute, who we prosecute and why we prosecute disproportionate numbers of Black people.


It is not only a plea to reform the prosecutorial system but a roadmap of how we can work in alliances to transform a system aimed at spending billions to prosecute millions of people every year without making us any safer.


Q: How was the book’s title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: When Rev. Al Sharpton gave the eulogy for George Floyd in June 2020, his words resonated with me and what I experienced in the criminal justice system. 


Sharpton spoke of how the story of George Floyd was the story of African Americans for over 400 years in this country. He said that African Americans could be anything that we wanted to be or dreamed about but you wouldn’t get off our necks. 


The title signifies that the criminal system has kept its knee on the necks of Black people since slavery up to today. I explain it in more detail in the introduction of Get Off My Neck. As some people may believe, the American dream is available to any one regardless of race, I know another version of the American dream that is not available to disproportionate numbers of Black people due to police, prosecutors, and an unjust system.


Q: What do you see looking ahead when it comes to criminal justice reform?


A: I see that we can accomplish the reforms that I discuss in Get Off My Neck. It will not be done overnight. I see that once the 26 million folks who protested in 2020 in the largest protest in US history realize that the power for change lies within the people uniting with racial justice organizations, progressive lawmakers, and others that major change will take place. The power lies with us –we the people.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Every day, I read to stay current on the happenings of the criminal system. As I give talks around the country and virtually, I give updates on issues since my book was published. I’m looking for ways to partner with other racial justice organizations just as I suggest that readers do. The book is one medium.  I also see how the criminal stories of injustice in Get Off My Neck could be more widely explored in other mediums.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Anyone who would like to know more about my work can check out my website @, follow me on Twitter/X @iamdebbiehines or Instagram @iamdebbiehines I’d love to connect with readers!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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