As a black woman working as a criminal prosecutor, Laura Coates said she often felt judgment standing in the role many people expected a white man to stand in.
Coates, a CNN legal analyst, spoke with Jim Braude about Greater Boston Thursday about his new book, “Just Pursuit,” which details his experiences as a black prosecutor and how racism seeps into every corner of the justice system.
“The perception was that there was no possibility of really being, on the one hand, a civil rights supporter – and also a prosecutor,” she said. in a criminal courtroom – as a defendant or perhaps a defense attorney – I think you have to be disturbed.”
In a difficult anecdote from his book, Coates recalls the victim of a car theft who reported the crime to his office. She learned he was an undocumented immigrant and had to report it to the authorities, and he was deported. With his choice, Coates argued, he was put in an impossible position to remain silent about the theft or speak out and risk deportation.
“My moral compass sometimes pointed one direction, but the guidelines pointed another,” she said. “And that’s why I often say – which is very counter-intuitive to those unfamiliar with the system – sometimes the pursuit of justice can create injustice.”
Ever the optimist, Coates said she hopes prejudice and racism can be rooted in American systems.
“Nothing in our country was done because we turned a blind eye to an issue or because it was overwhelming,” she said. “We really need to make sure that optimism is not just a pie in the sky, but actually boots on the pitch.”
Watch: Laura Coates on her time as a federal prosecutor