Lawyers Step Forward to Join and Support the Fight Against Police Murder

December 19, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper |


On December 18, public defenders and other lawyers in a number of cities across the U.S. took action to say "Black Lives Matter" and to protest police murder and brutality. The following are reports from readers from three cities.

NYC: No Business as Usual at Brooklyn Criminal Court

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It definitely wasn't business as usual at the Criminal Court in downtown Brooklyn on December 17. The streets around here are always full of people going in for court appearances and lawyers going to do their best to try to get a little bit of justice for them – which doesn't happen often. But December 17 marked the five-month anniversary of Eric Garner's murder by cops, and while there were a lot of lawyers on the streets, they were heading to Brooklyn Criminal Court with a different mission.

“I came out today to take a stand against what happened to Eric Garner and Mike Brown and to show our clients that we understand that they get arrested for no reason every day and have to face this unequal system,” one woman in a court-appropriate black suit and heels said. A Legal Aid attorney in Brooklyn, she was one of some 200-250 attorneys who poured onto the sidewalks around the Brooklyn Criminal Court and then into the surrounding streets.

The action was initiated only the day before by Legal Aid attorneys who called for attorneys “from all organizations” to participate. They announced that there would be a die-in at Brooklyn Criminal Court lasting 7 minutes “to represent the 7 minutes in which Mr. Garner lay on the ground before anyone tried to assist him.” The crowd filled the sidewalk and marched around the Courthouse chanting “Eric Garner, Michael Brown – shut the whole system down!”; “We can't breathe”; “No justice, no peace, no racist police” and other chants. Outside the Brooklyn Detention Complex about 150-200 did a die-in, lying down and filling the sidewalk in their court attire—suits and ties, dresses and heels. After 7 minutes, a minute of silence was called for, and  then everyone got up and moved into the street, taking over two lanes of the main road leading to the Brooklyn Bridge for several blocks, snarling traffic heading into Manhattan.

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The march was led by a banner from the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys UAW 2325, which had organized the event. One sign read, “We are the Public Defenders of NYC. Black Lives Matter.” When the march circled back to the Brooklyn Criminal Court, a long line of people waited outside to go in for their court appearances. The attorneys massed on the street, chanting “Indict, convict, send the killer cops to jail! The whole damn system is guilty as hell!” The people waiting to get into court at first didn't know what was going on. When they realized it was their lawyers making the noise and blocking the street, some raised their fists in solidarity. One man said that “it's great” what the lawyers were doing. Another pointed to the building and said angrily, “It's two different systems in there—if they use video against us, why can't we use video against them!” (referring to the video of the cops choking Eric Garner).

Bina Ahmad, Staff Attorney with Legal Aid in Staten Island and also the National Co-Vice President of the National Lawyers Guild, pointed out that Eric Garner had been one of their clients. She said the action was organized because, although lawyers had participated in some of the previous mass protests over the past weeks, there hadn't yet been an action specifically organized for lawyers. She said, “Our clients deserve to know that their attorneys are standing in this fight with them!”


San Francisco: "If the System Won't Indict the Cops, Then We Indict the System!"

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Today at noon over 100 lawyers and staff from the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office stood together outside the city’s main courthouse, police headquarters, and jail, for a rally to support the fight against police brutality and police murder.  The protesting lawyers stretched across the entire front steps and held up large signs: “If the System Won’t Indict the Cops, Then We Indict the System!” “Lawyers 4 Black Lives” and “No One Is Above the Law.” They opened and closed their rally chanting “Black Lives Matter” and “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot.” Most wore black-and-white T-shirts emblazoned with those slogans, with “SF Public Defender” across their backs.

Chief Public Defender Jeff Adachi led the speak-out, which included the executive director of the Bar Association of San Francisco and Cephus “Uncle Bobby” Johnson, whose nephew Oscar Grant was murdered by a BART (rapid transit) police officer in Oakland on New Year’s Day, 2009. Ringing denunciations of the injustice, racism and abuse of the criminal justice system came from different speakers, as did a variety of proposals for its reform.

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This demonstration was coordinated with similar events today called by public defender’s offices and other attorneys in other Bay Area counties including Alameda, Contra Costa, Solano, and Santa Clara. 

Between speeches, the lawyers turned toward the windows where, they hoped, people in the jail and the courtrooms could hear them, and chanted as loudly as they could: “Black Lives Matter! Black Lives Matter!” At the end, they stood for 4 ½ minutes of silence, in tribute to Michael Brown (whose body was left lying in the street for 4 and a half hours). For half of this silence, the protesters stood facing the doors to what many here matter-of-factly call the Hall of Injustice.  And then they turned about face toward the street, the news cameras, and their supporters, saying “Now we’re facing outward, to the work we have to do.”


Los Angeles: "We have a responsibility to condemn the racist criminal justice system"

Amid calls for justice and chants of “black lives matter,” more than 100 lawyers, law students and others staged a “die-in” outside a downtown Los Angeles courthouse Tuesday. “As legal actors, we are sworn to uphold and enforce the law, so we have a responsibility to condemn the racist criminal justice system of which we are a part. Today we must challenge this structure and take a stand against it,” said one of the lawyers who helped to organize the "die-in." The group blocked a lane of traffic and clogged the walkway leading to the Hill Street entrance of the Stanley Mosk Courthouse, making it virtually impossible for passing motorists and court visitors to ignore their message.

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