Karen P. Bennett-Haron – Judge optimistic about the future of African-Americans in Las Vegas
“Yes, I am the only African-American in the Nevada justice system and the first African-American female justice of the peace in Nevada,” she said. “I really hesitate saying this, because it is a really bad indictment of our Nevada justice system — and if you look at other states around the country, that is not the case. Especially (with) the way that our state is growing, we are lagging behind when it comes to diversity on the bench.”
Bennett-Haron acknowledges that she had different aspirations when she returned to Las Vegas in 1986 after graduating from Thurgood Marshall Law School in Houston.
“I originally wanted to do labor relations and employment law in the gaming industry,” she said. “There is a huge difference between law school and the reality of being a lawyer. Then it hits you once you get into the real world that you really need to have more experience under your belt, besides a really good education. You really need practical experience. from a firsthand view of the judiciary and what is expected, I realized that the judiciary system is very important to what can be accomplished for poor people, people of color and the disenfranchised. It has enormous impact upon the lives of people, and I decided that this would be a great career path.”
Bennett-Haron began her legal career as a criminal defense lawyer in the federal public defender’s office, work that deepened her core passion to interact with the community and make a positive difference in people’s lives.
“The important thing to me is to remain grounded in what it is I am supposed to be doing, and that is serving the people,” she said. “Whether that is a part of my mantra as a lawyer — it is what I bring with me as a judge. I am not here to ‘people please,’ but I am here to serve the people. So, I think being a public servant is what a judge is all about.”
The economic climate of the day has also had an effect on Bennett-Haron’s work: as crime rates seem to be on the rise, she has noticed some changes in her courtroom.
“I am seeing an increase of African-Americans coming before the court in large numbers, and also at a younger age,” she said. “That is the reality. The other reality is that other cultures are also coming before the court in larger numbers and also at a younger age. If you want to do an analysis from the time of our fathers, African-Americans have gotten progressively worse. What really concerns me more is that we have become oblivious to the fact that we represent a larger number on the negative side of the justice system. When I go out and talk to junior high school and high school students, most of them are almost immune to the threat of incarceration. A lot of teens already have probation officers, and it is almost glorified. Whereas, at the time of our parents — and even when I was younger — going to jail was something to be ashamed of.
Bennett-Haron added: “So, it is completely reversed. Unfortunately, these are the children who are getting the most attention from the media and the school district. The children who are getting the good grades and going to college — we don’t hear about him or her very often.”
Still, Bennett-Haron is optimistic about the future and hopes to play a role in the further economic development of the historic West Side community.
“I would like to assist in the revitalization of Jackson Avenue and bring back a thriving business community to our African-American hub,” she said. “When I travel to other cities around the country, they all have their African-American business communities. For example, New York has Harlem. There are tremendous opportunities to do so many things in Las Vegas because much is needed.”