A huge gap exists between the Black Lives Matter movement and the rest of society, including lawyers. Many attorneys went into the legal profession specifically to advance the cause of social justice. George Floyd's murder was the latest in a string of brutal encounters with police that hopefully will lead to true change in America.
Many citizens of all races are becoming actively involved, on the streets and in their communities. As lawyers, we must go far beyond merely making donations or publishing carefully worded statements of support. It is easy to attend a march or issue a statement, then go back to our protected segregated worlds.
I cannot claim I hold any real understanding of what African-American citizens of our country experience. Here's my reality: I am white, brought up middle class in Connecticut, then in conservative Orange County, CA. There was not one African-American in my high school class and few other individuals of color. Although I was intellectually sympathetic, I had no real understanding or empathy regarding the realities of Blacks experienced.
However, in college, in my last semester at San Diego State University an African-American man and myself were arbitrarily assigned together for a class project. We spent hours together on our combined project and discussed philosophy and racial inequities. I credit his open-mindedness rather than my own that facilitated our exchange. He introduced me to his Buddhist philosophy and the SGI-USA. While initially uninterested, I began to attend activities together with him. We met daily for at least a year long after we both graduated. The group participants and my immediate leaders were Black and racial issues were discussed front and center. Many meetings were held in African-American neighborhoods. I hold these individuals in high esteem and we have worked and learned together ever since.. Despite being racially, socially and in many ways culturally different from myself, they were open and welcoming to me. They allowed me to learn and respect African-American culture as well as philosophy. To Fundi, Anasa, Ajabu, Fahamivu, Ken Newton, Henri Brown, Geoff Wilson, Dorothy Stokes and many others, I say thank you, as you opened my eyes and provided me with a way forward. You taught me that while systemic change is necessary, we all must do “Human Revolution” and change our hearts and root out deep seated racism and negativity.
Later I became an attorney and found myself immersed in civil and criminal defense litigation. Shocking to me in criminal defense was and still is the calloused way individual citizens, particularly African-Americans, are marginalized. Individuals are sent to prison for years for momentary lapses. Cases I've handled where law enforcement officers have either lied, misrepresented or exaggerated are too many to count. Many in the system have a stance of “us against them”. Many inequities and fears have developed over years. For example, it is legal for law enforcement officers to lie to defendants, but not the opposite. I have counseled countless defendants who were terrified and shaken. Beaten by officers, handcuffed until their wrists were purple, verbally and physically abused…the list goes on.
I can never claim to really understand, since you cannot live another's experience. But we can unite with our fellow human beings and create a better world through efforts at peace, culture and education. It can't happen only in a book, class or seminar....through personal exchange you can obtain a greater understanding.
So to George Floyd, African Americans: thank you. It is my sincere hope that change will come to our system. Further, change in the hearts of all individuals is necessary for us to attain true happiness.