No one but Connie Rice has ever simultaneously (and successfully) sued the Los Angeles Police Department and forged a pioneering partnership with them. But Connie Rice is no ordinary person. She's one of the country's most maverick civil rights attorneys and the great-granddaughter of former slaves and slave owners, who also happens to be the second cousin of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. (By way of comparison, Connie Rice told on an anchorman during a KTLA interview: "I'm working to close the gap between the underclass and the working class and she's trying to close the gap between the millionaires and the billionaires.")
After joining the NAACP Legal Defense Fund's West Coast office in the wake of the brutal Rodney King affair in Los Angeles, Rice left the courtroom 20 years ago and took her crusade to the streets of the most violent "kill zones" to protect the city's impoverished youth and reduce gang violence. This turf, which covers a wide swatch of east Los Angeles, is so treacherous that law enforcement officials have compared it to insurgency zones in Iraq and Afghanistan. Rice, however, has worked fearlessly with the conviction that if gang violence isn't contained, it will metastasize and spread throughout the city and beyond, creeping even into gated communities and protected pockets of urban privilege.
In the course of her career Rice, who's known by gang members as the "Lady Lawyer," has taken on Death Row, the public school and transit systems, and the states of California and Missouri, as well as the LAPD. Her incredible personal and professional odyssey is the subject of a recently published book, "Power Concedes Nothing."
The launch of this sweeping chronicle, told in Rice's riveting voice, was feted by the LAPD last week in an unprecedented event at their headquarters. To a crowd of city officials, LAPD Police Chief Charlie Beck said of Rice: "I think of her as the conscience of the city of Los Angeles. She's the north on our moral compass." Then he turned to Rice and said: "Thanks for taking on the city of Los Angeles as your home improvement project."
In fact, we can all thank Rice, whose life mission she succinctly describes in the prologue of "Power Concedes Nothing." It is no less than to "make sure our poorest kids reached the mountaintop that Martin Luther King glimpsed right before he died -- and to sound the alarm that the final cost of their chronic destitution would be our own destruction. It was a mission for which I'd trained my entire life, one that would take everything I'd ever accomplished in order to fulfill the dreams of my ancestors."
We recently caught up with Connie and asked her the Huff/Post50 Ten Big Life Questions:
1. What's the one thing you know now that you wish you knew when you were growing up?
You can't have everything all at once, so pick what's most important and do it. Life's too short for guilt and too precious for stupidity.
2. Now that you're over fifty, what's the one rule you feel you can break with impunity?
Obey the rules.
3. What is the riskiest thing you've done in your life since you've turned fifty?
Gone outside without make-up.
4. What ignites your creativity?
Other folks' creativity and physical exertion.
5. What social or political cause are you most passionate about?
Fighting to reverse our war on the poor.
6. What is the best advice anyone ever gave you?
From Katherine Hepburn: Protect your gift.
7. What is your biggest regret?
Not making any money.
8. What is your biggest accomplishment?
Doing enough good stuff to inspire El Mac, the street mural artist. Second biggest is my black belt in Tae Kwon Do.
9. If you could say one thing to the next generation, what would it be?
Sorry that my obscenely greedy colleagues in the elite hijacked the democracy and then crashed the economy and your futures into a tax-slashing derivatives ditch.
10. If you could reincarnate as anyone or anything, what or who would it be?
Follow Debra Ollivier on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@debraso