Panelist Elisabeth Epps Fights for a Fair Justice System

I am one of the few people you’ll meet who moved to Colorado in large part because of marijuana, who doesn’t smoke it.

Having worked with and for public defenders’ offices in Washington, DC; Charlottesville, VA; Western District, VA; and most recently in Colorado, I have seen families torn apart by the racist criminalization of marijuana. And yet, during my time as a law student, I had never seen drugs consumed and sold so liberally, brazenly and fearlessly as was done by my white classmates.

I did not go to law school to deal with marijuana charges, and I thought working as a public defender in Colorado would spare me that fate. It didn’t.

I was a Deputy Public Defender in Jefferson County, CO, until life took me on a different path. I defended folks often charged with crimes that weren’t drug offenses, per se, but where an officer’s alleged smelling of marijuana was a pretext for contact, which led to further criminal involvement. The Black community in Colorado makes up less than 4% of the population, while it makes up roughly 11% of Denver’s population; nevertheless, our clients were overwhelmingly people of color because their neighborhoods and bodies are over-policed.

Now, I am actively involved in fighting back against the deleterious war on drugs, which is an ill-disguised war on Black, Brown, Native and poor people. The Denver Justice Project (DJP) exists for three reasons, all of which are directly related to how drug use and abuse are handled in the criminal legal system: (1) to transform the culture of law enforcement; (2) to end mass incarceration; and (3) to achieve racial justice. Our work at DJP is aimed at dismantling and replacing the systems that allow racist drug laws to harm our community.

– Elisabeth Epps, Denver Justice Project

Join Elisabeth Epps and our other panelists for an interactive audience discussion following the screening of The House I Live In on August 7 at Sie FilmCenter in Denver.