Today, a coalition of leading national civil rights organizations, led by the national Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, issued a letter to San Bernardino County District Attorney Mike Ramos demanding the termination of Deputy District Attorney Michael Selyem over racist and biased statements aimed at African Americans and communities of color. The letter also calls for the immediate establishment of a Conviction Review Unit to conduct an independent review of all prior and current cases handled by Mr. Selyem to assess whether they may have been tainted by his discriminatory views, and to conduct a systemic review of all policies and practices of the office set during his tenure.
“Michael Selyem’s discriminatory and racist remarks underscore just how much more work remains to be done to eliminate the scourge of racial bias that infects our criminal justice system today,” said Kristen Clarke, President and Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “We demand swift action by the San Bernardino County District Attorney to confirm unequivocally that racism and bigotry have no place in his office, but that is only the first step. Full accountability must be focused on reviewing cases handled by Mr. Selyem and ensuring that the policies and practices of the District Attorney’s office are fair and just toward all communities. Action is needed now to restore the public’s confidence in an office that has been tainted by the violent, discriminatory and vile remarks of one of its leaders.”
“Keeping Deputy District Attorney Selyem on payroll after his disqualifying attacks on Americans of color and a respected U.S. Congresswoman shows the outrageous complacency of our law enforcement mechanisms in addressing even the most outright bigotry in our criminal justice system,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton, Founder and President of National Action Network (NAN). “This kind of hatred has no place anywhere in America, and certainly not in an office of the law. We stand in solidarity with communities of color across America in calling for Deputy DA Selyem’s immediate termination. Failure to ensure accountability for his hate-filled remarks flies in the face of the office’s duty-bound obligation to uphold the letter and spirit of the law.”
“Deputy District Attorney Selyem’s threats against U.S. Representative Maxine Waters are beyond the pale and, alarmingly, part of a larger pattern of vile rhetoric he’s directed at people of color,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF). “In a justice system already rife with racial discrimination and disparities, it is unacceptable for a district attorney’s office to allow a prosecutor with clear racial animus to continue representing the county. The San Bernardino County District Attorney must not only categorically condemn Selyem’s comments and hold him accountable, but the office must also conduct a thorough review to ensure that his personal bias did not infect the prosecution of any San Bernardino County residents and that department policies and practices themselves are not biased. Prosecutors offices around the country have an obligation to protect equal justice under the law, and that includes purging their ranks of those harboring racially discriminatory views.”
San Bernardino County’s African American residents are roughly five times more likely to be incarcerated than White residents. African American children in San Bernardino County are nearly four times more likely to be arrested for truancy than White children, and almost one and a half times more likely to be arrested for breaking curfew than White children. These disparities are also evidenced in prosecutorial patterns of the San Bernadino County District Attorney’s Office.
In addition to social media posts mocking Mexican immigrants, Selyem, who joined the D.A.’s Office 12 years ago and handles gang prosecutions in San Bernardino County, used crude and profane language targeting U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters.
The full letter can be viewed here.