Q: Tell us a little about yourself: profession, hobbies, likes, dislikes
A: My name is Jerome Dees, criminal defense and civil rights attorney in Bham AL. As far as likes and dislikes, work and community activism doesn’t allow much time for a social life but when I do have time to myself I enjoy cooking, running, and of course sitting on the couch and watching Netflix. Interestingly enough, I just finished a PBS documentary last night on Kalief Browder and the whole criminal process that he went through, the civil suit against the city of New York and obviously of course leading to his suicide as a result of the mental trauma that he experienced during his time unjustly incarcerated. Real lighthearted stuff!
Q: What is the importance of the Alabama Legislature in this political climate?
A: While everybody has set their sights on what’s happening in Washington DC, it’s critically important to understand what’s happening in local and state government and the effect that it has on our everyday lives. Yes, what’s happening in DC is very important to stay abreast of, but local and state government is what truly affects you on a regular basis. So it’s important to remain aware of what’s going on in Birmingham City Hall, or in Montgomery particularly in this upcoming session. I believe it is a critical point at this time.
Q: What is one pivotal thing that you see coming up right now that might affect us locally?
A: I believe there is going to be an ongoing fight on minimum wage and there are also several criminal justice reform pieces coming through. One that I am actually in charge of drafting and has some real bipartisan support and we are hopeful that it’ll make it through in this short session.
Q. How do your experiences affect the way that you would hold this position?
A: I’ve been exposed to a vast array of different issues and interests that affect people from all different walks: age, race, socioeconomic status. Having formerly been a prosecutor and now a criminal defense attorney I’ve seen both sides of the criminal justice system. Growing up with family in the country, but spending most of my recent life in the cities, I’ve become well-acquainted with issues that affect both urban and rural communities.
Q: When and how did you make the decision to run?
A: I’ve always been actively involved in my community from an incredibly young age. Public service has always been instilled in me… One of the things my parents have always told me is “If you have a problem with something don’t sit back and complain about it, if you truly care about it come forward and do something about it.” In essence my whole campaign is about not just identifying the problems that we have... but working to build those diverse coalitions that understand that there are issues within the LGBTQ community, there are issues within the immigrant community, there are issues within the black community, there are issues within the white community here in Birmingham and forging a way forward, together.
Q: You mentioned earlier your age, that you’re very young, but we also just elected a young mayor. Do you see that that’s a common thread that’s going to be popping up in Alabama?
A: I certainly believe so. I think you’ll see over the coming months more young, energetic, and qualified candidates throwing their names in the ring. I think one of the benefits of being young, to a degree, is that you’re not beholden to the same types of ideas and political traditions that have dictated the way that public policy has to be generated over the past ten, twenty years. You’re willing to approach things with a more critical eye than others may have just because that’s the way things have always been done.
Q: That’ll definitely resonate with a lot of young voters to get them out to the polls.
A: Absolutely and there have been countless studies that have been put out recently that show that millenials as of either the 2018 or 2020 election cycle will be the largest voting block… I think one of the things that often gets overlooked about millenials is a desire to be authentic and connect themselves to something that is greater than themselves--greater than just that age block--working towards solutions that work for everybody, working towards a more inclusive egalitarian society.
Q: Onto less serious matters--what do you do to get yourself pumped before a speaking event?
A: Oh, goodness, one of the things I’ve always done, even dating back to my trial attorney days as a prosecutor is that I would play some rap or hip-hop music--the same kind of music that I would listen to getting ready to run out and play high school basketball, sort of that intro music. Usually some Rick Ross will get me in the mood and pretty hyped, so I would listen to that before going in for a trial and I kind of do the same thing now to just get myself in that zen place (laughs).
Q: You talked about your high school basketball-playing days, what would you say to any high school student reading this?
A: You’re never too young to get involved. Don’t let anybody tell you to sit down and wait, that it’s not your turn. You know what your worth is. Don’t let others discourage you from stepping forward and offering your talents because we need everybody. We need old people, we need young people. We need rich, we need poor… I think that Alabama has a wealth of potential to be an absolutely incredible state. It’s just a matter of making sure that we have the right people working towards and laying the foundation for helping Alabama realizing that potential.
Q: Where ideally would you see Alabama in 10 years, or even twenty?
A: Honestly, I would like to see us move out of the cellar of countless rankings, whether it be education, healthcare, infrastructure. I think with the diversity of natural resources and personal capital that the state has to offer, if Alabama were to move from the low 40s just into the 30s in all of those different rankings I think that we would see a marked increase in quality of life in places like Baldwin County, Barber County, and even in Birmingham.