It’s tough to make sense of everything that has gone on over the last few days. On Monday, May 25th, George Floyd died while in police custody. During the encounter with police, Floyd repeatedly stated that he could not breathe, yet officer Derek Chauvin continued to press his knee into Floyd’s neck despite the fact that Floyd was clearly no longer posing a threat. This continued for an excruciating 8 minutes and 46 seconds until Floyd became unresponsive and ultimately lost his life.
What came next still doesn’t feel real. Protesters flocked to the streets, and the tensions that had been developing due to a growing racial divide, judicial system inequality and frustrations over the COVID-19 pandemic boiled over. Some peaceful protests turned to all out riots. Lake Street, a road we often commute on to and from the office, became center stage for violent action, and many businesses in the area went up in flames or saw their windows and doors smashed. The county courthouse, a place we’ve stood and fought so hard for the rights of people just like George Floyd, continues to be a hotbed for protests. No longer are people standing by quietly. Taking a knee is no longer enough.
Fighting For What’s Right
We can’t sit here and say that we know how the black community feels, but our experience in the courtroom has given us a tiny glimpse into the challenges faced by African Americans on a daily basis. We’ve seen black individuals arrested for crimes where a white person may have got off with a warning. We’ve seen the racial divide in arrest numbers for petty crimes like marijuana possession, where blacks are many times more likely to be cited for marijuana use than whites despite similar usage rates. We’ve personally handled cases where we know that the verdict would have been different had it not been for the color of our client’s skin.
Justice – true, raw and unadulterated justice – is one of the main reasons we sought a career in criminal defense many years ago. There exists a standard that every man and woman must be held to, and as we’ve progressed through our career defending those charged with crimes from misdemeanor to murder, far too often we’ve noticed that the standard is different based on the color of your skin. We work hard to achieve justice for every client who walks into our office, but there’s something sweeter about getting a charge thrown out for an individual who had the deck unfairly stacked against them.
I don’t know where we’ll go from here. The officer at the center of the case has been arrested and charged with third degree murder, but even that only partly addresses the issue at the center of one of the more popular protest chants of “No justice, no peace.” It’s not just about getting justice for George Floyd, it’s about changing a society and a judicial system that allows these atrocities to take place.
Before George Floyd it was Breonna Taylor.
Before Taylor it was Atatiana Jefferson.
Before Jefferson it was Michael Brown.
Before Brown it was Eric Garner.
And those are just the victims who have died at the hands of police. We haven’t even touched on the racism and hate that led to the death of Ahmaud Arbery. We’re living in a world where the consequences of your actions are dependent on the color of your skin and the skin color of those you allege to have wronged. That needs to change, and the sooner that happens, the sooner those in the minority can start to heal.