Like many of my peers, growing up I got to see the game of the law played almost daily in my neighborhood streets. There was a police precinct just around the corner so cops were lurking at every corner to bring “justice” to the hood. If only the men who spent their time holding down the fort in front of the corner store understood the game they were playing was one they couldn’t win, maybe they’d spend more time trying to play the higher education game or something much less risky. Lawyer and author, Muhammad Ibn Bashir, Esq. felt the same way, but he knew that for them to get it, the message had to be in a language they could understand. It wasn’t until a trip to a bookstore where he would often frequent that he would find his reason to be the one to write the message. While looking at a book of law he realized that the men who really would need it most, wouldn’t be able to understand the complex language and the legal jargon. They needed to be spoken in a language that they could relate to, that actually spoke to them. A short while later, the creative process for the book Raw Law was launched. We got a chance to speak with Mr. Bashir about the book, the realities of the legal system, the truth behind legal television shows and quite a few other topics. Read on for more…
Parlé Magazine: Well first of all how did you come up with the title, Raw Law?
Muhammad Ibn Bashir, Esq.: Came off the top of the head to be honest with you. My kids and I were shooting the breeze, my children and I as I was writing–I wrote the first chapter of it and I wanted to know what it would sound like so I gave it to my son, (who’s 25 now and into Hip-Hop ) to read. He said, ‘you gotta keep it raw’. I said, you know what, you just came up with the title of the book. From that it became a project, not just a title, it became a staple of what we were doing. Keep it raw, keep it real.
Parlé: How’d the concept to write this book even come about?
Muhammad Ibn Bashir: Great story, story I’ve told 100 times, but I’ll tell it to you too. I’m in a profession where you constantly are dealing with people on an individual basis. Somebody is bringing their son or their daughter in and I’m discussing life. Not only the fact that they have a case but how it is that you manage your life as well because once the case is over you still have to find a way to maneuver in this society. I’m feeling like I’m talking to a wall now because no matter how many times you help a person out in an individual case, you don’t really get the sense that you’re impacting the way you want to. The idealism of law school and the idealism of saying that you’re going to be a part of a community, you’re going to do things to impact–I started getting angry over it, over the fact that so many people were beginning to come back and that so many people were not getting the lesson, not learning a lesson. So I’m in a store one day, I like to read so I’m in a black book store in Prince George’s County, Maryland. I’m looking at this book, very good book. I won’t give you the name of it, but its on the law. To me it was academic, it was very academic. I’m reading it and a proprietor at the store comes up to me and says ‘I see you in here a lot brother. I see you reading that book, its a real good book isn’t it.’ And I say ‘yeah, its a very good book for me, but I’m college educated. The people who really need to know this information won’t understand this book.’ This brother commenced to cuss me out, cause his argument was that I was saying that Black people couldn’t understand. I was saying, no, that’s not what I’m saying. But the people who really need to know about Criminal Justice won’t pick this book up. Its just too academic. I said, you got a generation out there that speaks in rhythm and rhyme and they say, ‘you feel me,’ and this book they will not feel. My wife pulls me away from the argument because it had gotten so heated. And she says, ‘if you think you so smart, write your own damn book.’ I hadn’t gotten to the car before I started chapter one. That’s the genesis of it.
Parlé: Let’s talk about you for a second, what made you even want to get into law?
Muhammad Ibn Bashir: I didn’t really want to get into law, its a dream that my mother had for me. Sometimes when I lecture I tell people when you have a child, try to put in their minds what you see in them. Put it in their minds early. My mother told me when I was 5 years old I was going to be a lawyer. I wanted to be a baseball player, wanted to be a basketball player, I wanted to be everything else but a lawyer, but once she set that in my mind–the lawyer–everything began to matter to me that had something to do with law. When Perry Mason was on she made me sit down and watch the whole Perry Mason show and then she would debate with me. Always with a mind towards legal concepts and things like that. I never knew that she was training me but at 5 years old thats the story of how she set the stage in my mind. Elementary School, 5th grade, I used to have a teacher who called me Perry Mason. He used to say I have an argument for everything. And I wondered, Perry Mason, boom, the lawyer again. I got into high school and I was kind’ve off the deep end, but this teacher, she pulls me off to the side, she wants me to play a role in the school play as a way of keeping me out of trouble, and the role happened to be what? ‘You get to play the lawyer, you get to make the argument.’ I had to play Mark Anthony. “Friends, Roman countrymen lend me your ears, I come to bury Caesar not to praise him.” I had to deliver that speech and I had to kill it because that’s the major part of the play. What she’s telling me is that’s a lawyers argument. Now again this concept of me being a lawyer was constantly there. I went to school at Howard, I majored in Journalism. I was well on my way to forgetting about that. Out of no where one of my professors says to me, Professor Sam Yette, author of the book called The Choice, he says, ‘I just knew you were going to law school.’ I’m like, ‘why would you think I’m going to law school?’ And he says, ‘you just need to go to law school’. And you know how it goes in college, professor says it, I applied. I got accepted to two law schools Georgetown and Howard. I applied to Michigan and Columbia and all those, I get accepted to Georgetown and Howard, that’s right there. It was like a calling, this dream that was planted when I was 5 years old and everything began to maneuver me into that direction. Here I am. Now I’m fighting like hell to get back into being a journalist, but you know.
Parlé: What’s one of the most interesting parts about being a lawyer?
Muhammad Ibn Bashir: The people. If you’re doing criminal work, you get to meet people. When I first got out, I used to do house calls, like old doctors used to do house calls, now you have to go into a medical office, well I always felt that was the best way to get to know people. I know a lot of people so I would literally do house calls. Some body would get charged with something I wouldn’t even have them come to the office, I’d go to their home. It just gives you an opportunity to meet people and engage people. People respect the title, once they meet you, they then learn to respect you and you can get all the stories, the intricacies of the stories, the intricacies of their life, the ups and the downs and people respect your opinion. So again, meeting the people and being able to engage the people is the most aspect of it especially if you’re doing criminal law.
Parlé: How’d you hook up with Cash Money Content to re-release this project?
Muhammad Ibn Bashir: You can give all the kudos to Don Diva on that. They offered me a column. I had self published and they had gotten a copy of the book and liked it. That column began to pick up steam and began to get around the country. They then thought it would be a project worth shopping and they shopped it to a couple of people and Cash Money Content apparently liked the book as well. From my understanding somebody there got a hold of the book and loved it. They negotiated a deal with Don Diva and the rest is history.
Parlé: You self published the book first, how long ago was that?
Muhammad Ibn Bashir: About three, four years ago. I tried to publish it myself, but you know I’m a lawyer, I’m a trial attorney so I’m in court nine times out of ten, trying to push a book out the trunk like you would a Hip-Hop record is not cutting it. But it was there and again because of the magazine people began to say, ‘where is this book?’ So, again Don Diva is the one that spearheaded this. I was trying to figure out another way to get this book out and that’s how it came about.
Parlé: And you still practicing full time now?
Muhammad Ibn Bashir: (Nods head) still practicing full time now.
Parlé: The book was originally brought up to be because of my background in law, I studied legal studies in undergrad. What’s some advice you might give someone who is interested in being a lawyer?
Muhammad Ibn Bashir: Don’t be afraid to read, don’t be afraid to read and again don’t be afraid to read. 85 percent of this is reading. The lawyer part, that is going to law school and getting that degree, 85 percent is reading. When you become an attorney and you want to practice, all that reading becomes secondary, now its like a grind. If you don’t land on a major firm or something like that-and I never wanted to land on a major firm, I wanted something in the community where I could deal with people. That aspect of it is a grind. You gotta be ready for that. Its not the glitz and glamor that people try to make you think it is. Naw. But its power, power like you wouldn’t believe. There’s nothing they can do when they say: Cross Examination. Nothing they can do. You know the rules, your stuff is tight, everybody is engaged and you have everyone’s attention. That’s Power. When everybody has to listen. And if you good at it, everyone wants to listen.
Parlé: On the flip side, for people who want to be an author, what advice do you have for people who want to do that?
Muhammad Ibn Bashir: Just the opposite, write, write and write. I can’t tell you how many drafts there are just to get it right. But I majored in journalism so knowing the importance of a metaphor, knowing the importance of foreshadowing, knowing the audience that you’re speaking to and knowing the importance of putting it in words so that they can understand. That’s empowering as well. You don’t talk to a chinese man in spanish, they’ll never understand you, you have to know who you’re speaking to, why you’re speaking to them and you have to talk to them in a language they’ll understand. That gives you a sense of realism. When they know that you’re coming from the heart with it, they’ll listen. If they believe you talking over their head, talking beneath them they will turn you off immediately. That’s the art of writing. You write, you write til you get it right.
Parlé: I talk to a lot of people who truly believe that the Law & Orders, the CSI’s and all those other law related shows are giving fact. What do you have to say for those types of people?
Muhammad Ibn Bashir: Turn off the T.V. And turn on the light in their mind. There’s nothing on any of those shows that’s actual, nothing. Not one minute of it is what the actual process is like. I tell people all the time the reality is so much more dramatic then the fiction that you’ll never be able to comprehend its like to stand across the table and look at twelve jurors and have to sell them on somebody who you sitting next to and you know he’s guilty but you know that the state can’t prove it beyond a reasonable doubt and your job is to say to them that they have an obligation to prove to you beyond a reasonable doubt. There’s nothing like sitting there knowing the kid didn’t do it and you have twelve people judging him on perception more than they are on the facts and you have to find a way to navigate them. There’s nothing like that. You can’t dramatize that no matter what. There’s nothing like walking in there and realizing that the victim’s sister is somebody you grew up with and you’re defending the person who is accused of committing a crime against them. There’s nothing like having to defend your nephew who’s charged with a homocide and every body in the family is depending on you to bring nephew home. There’s nothing like it. So the drama they give you there is insane. Also the law that they give you is no where near, the search and seizures that they do, the stops and pat downs, nothing like the reality of what goes on. The judges that they have up there, nothing like what the judges do up there on a regular basis, the kind of impact they have on a courtroom. The jurors that sit there real quiet and you think they’re going to be fair, nothing like what a real jury is like. As a defense attorney you know, let me get one or two cause you know these people already decided that he’s guilty but let me see if I can just get one or two. Nothing like the mind play that has to go on in a case that you have to take on. You can’t even imagine it by watching CSI or anything like that. I had a case where a guy came in, he was a CSI guy and he says to me-I’m questioning him about a bullet hole he found in the car-and he says to me, ‘you watch too much tv counselor. I put the most vicious cross examination that you’ll ever see on this cat on his expertise. Nothing like matching wits with an expert who thinks they’re smarter than you because you’re ready and you’re prepared. And you know that the science can’t back what it is that he’s saying. You know it because you’ve studied it, you’ve worked it. So now I’ve become a lawyer and a scientist and he’s just a scientist so now I can do his profession for 15 or 20 minutes worth of cross examination but he can’t do my profession, he can’t match me on mine. Nothing like it in the world. So whenever the David E. Kelly’s and the Jerry Bruckheimer’s begin to write, they writing tidbits of what really goes on in the court.
Parlé: With this book under your belt and on your resume, what do you hope for people to get from your work?
Muhammad Ibn Bashir: I’m going to use this as a way of image building, image changing. I don’t just have the book coming out, I have a novel that I’m working on, I have the book series for Raw Law--I’m trying to do three, this one that’s out now is like a primer to wet your whistle and its hot. In case you haven’t read it, its hot. But the second one is going to be even hotter. We’re going to up the ante because I don’t believe that our community doesn’t read or that we should be treated as second class citizens and one of the ways that you change being a second class citizen is to have the information that empowers you to be a first class citizen. So that’s where the writing comes in. I got a stage play, again image building, I’m gonna cast in about three weeks. We have a tendency to fall victim to the images that the media gives us because we believe in the power of the media. We believe in the Jerry Bruckheimers, we believe in the Hip-Hop rappers, that they are really thugs because they hold up a gun in the video and they got lots of jewelry. We don’t know that their jewelry is rented by their company or that a lot of these cats is starving and grinding hard every day too. We see the bling and we thing its real. We have to reshape the images that come into our community and that’s what I intend to do with my writing.
Nothing more to really be said. Read the book.