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‘How Is That Legal?’: Community Legal Services launches podcast that breaks down systemic racism, one law at a time

The first episode, which dropped June 22, is one of three episodes that take on racial inequities in the child welfare system in Philadelphia and beyond.

Kee Tobar, a lawyer  who is the Chief Equity & Inclusion Officer at Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, is the host of a new podcast, "How is That Legal?"  The podcast launched Wednesday, June 22, and examines how everyday racial inequities are built into systems like housing, child welfare, healthcare and more.
Kee Tobar, a lawyer who is the Chief Equity & Inclusion Officer at Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, is the host of a new podcast, "How is That Legal?" The podcast launched Wednesday, June 22, and examines how everyday racial inequities are built into systems like housing, child welfare, healthcare and more.Read moreCourtesy: Community Legal Services of Philadelphia

Kee Tobar, an attorney with Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, said most people are all too familiar with racial biases found in the criminal justice system.

They have read books such as Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, and news articles about Black men wrongly imprisoned for crimes they had not committed.

“But as a civil legal aid advocacy organization, we see blatant examples of racist laws that result in poverty and other disparate outcomes every day,” said Tobar, who is chief equity and inclusion officer at the legal aid agency.

To address those everyday racial inequities that it said are built into housing, child welfare, health care, and other systems, Community Legal Services launched a new podcast Wednesday.

It’s called How Is That Legal? Breaking Down Systemic Racism One Law at a Time.

Tobar, who over the last six years has worked as both a youth justice and Supplemental Security Income legal services lawyer at CLS, is the host.

“We break down systemic racial inequity in the law and policy,” she said.

“More than one in ten Black children in America will be forcibly separated from their parents and placed in foster care by the time they reach age eighteen,” an announcement on the CLS website said.

Tobar spelled it out further in an interview Wednesday: “An eviction filing, not even a determination, can block Black women and children out of housing for years,” she said.

“The system can snatch away a family’s opportunity for generational wealth due to decades-past unpaid water bills.”

She will interview experts in a range of fields to talk about those inequities.

One podcast will examine how laws related to medical care and housing can harm Black people, poor people, and other people of color.

The Medicaid Estate Recovery program, which few people know about, she said, allows the government to seize the homes of poor, elderly people who spent their final years in nursing homes.

And it is just one way Black and other people can lose out on opportunities to achieve intergenerational wealth.

“After their loved ones die in a nursing home, their [family] home will be recovered by the state.”

Mass incarceration takes away the freedom of Black and other poor people, Tobar said.

“What is also a massive horror is taking intergenerational wealth away from someone. We’re taking liberty in another way. We’re taking family autonomy from some of those families in extreme ways that are racialized in our systems.”

The How Is That Legal? podcast is available on Spotify, Apple, and everywhere podcasts are found.

So far, eight podcasts have been recorded, and a new podcast will be released weekly, every Wednesday at 8 a.m.

Initial podcasts examine how the child welfare system punishes Black communities

The first podcast released Wednesday is titled “Child Welfare or Family Policing?” and featured Dorothy E. Roberts, the George A. Weiss University Professor of Law and Sociology, and the Raymond Pace and Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander Professor of Civil Rights, at the University of Pennsylvania.

She teaches both undergraduates and law students.

In the podcast, Roberts said the child welfare system “was designed to oppress Black communities and other marginalized communities.”

“All of these topics intersect and are about punitive systems that regulate and punish Black communities, with a special focus on the surveillance and devaluation of Black women’s mothering.”

Roberts is the author of several books, including Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare; Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-first Century; and this year’s Torn Apart: How the Child Welfare System Destroys Black Families.

In the podcast, Roberts discussed her years teaching at Northwestern University School of Law, in Chicago, when she took a class to a family court hearing.

The judge delayed reuniting a Black woman with her children for another six months because her apartment was infested with roaches and rodents.

Later, Roberts’ students had a chance to question the judge about the case; one student asked: “Why would you keep this mother’s children in foster care because of the condition of her apartment, when that’s not her fault. The landlord has an obligation to make the apartment habitable.”

Roberts said the judge said he had no jurisdiction over the landlord, but he did have jurisdiction over the mother.

“I knew this was a terrible system that punishes people for being poor, especially for being poor and Black,” Roberts told Tobar. “I was still shocked that this judge would brazenly admit the system was keeping this family separated for something that was the fault of the landlord.”

“The response of my students and myself was ‘How could that be legal?’ ”

Podcasts interrogate racialized systems, empower listeners with information

The first three podcasts will focus on the child welfare system and the next three will address housing policies.

One podcast will feature Philadelphia City Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson and CLS attorney Rachel Gallegos discussing racial disparities in home ownership, tangled titles, and the need for preserving intergenerational wealth for Black and brown communities.

Another podcast will feature Bishop Dwayne Royster, executive director of POWER Interfaith, and CLS attorney Kintéshia Scott discussing utility policies, the relationship between gun violence and rising temperatures, and how climate change will more negatively affect Black and brown communities.

“We believe information is power,” Tobar said. “But to empower our clients the most, we need to share that information.”

The goal is to create conversations that “won’t leave you stuck with knowledge without solutions. We want to create a world free of injustice.”

“Whether you agree with our perspectives, or the laws or policies, we want to emphasize that [it’s important] for us to be in conversation,” Tobar said.

“We’re not asking you to agree with us, but to interrogate the system in an honest way.”

The work produced by the Communities & Engagement desk at the Inquirer is supported by The Lenfest Institute for Journalism. Editorial content is created independently of the project's donors.