Years ago, as a solo white lawyer who as a son of a prominent judge, in a small eastern Ohio city, I began to take aim at this social evil of American out of control policing, I was both warned, and admonished...by many inside the profession and some ministers, good friends and FBI agents, musicians, and neighbors and others, to be very careful, that this is an explosive issue and that it often meant for a promising young lawyer, a road to nowhere and worse, a trip to the State Bar Disciplinary counsel.
All of the negative things they said...came true; they were right. And I had a lot of time to ponder this issue for years away from the front lines and the battles I personally engaged in with this issue for better part of almost two decades in my law practice and in my private life.
I was among the poorest of the poor many times, walking in their shoes so very often and even living within their homes and /or staying so close in contact with them, their lives and their struggles became interwoven with my own.
"Richard, you are so involved and so close to these people," a judge once remarked to me, before a high profile criminal trial, "that we can't get the police into that street and neighborhood to investigate or search their homes".
I smiled. He smiled too. It was well into my civil rights lawyering that this had occurred and much had already happened in my life and to me both professionally and personally as a result of this chosen path
However, I remained resolute and the judge knew of what he spoke.
A Civil Rights lawyer usually, fighting police misconduct, in the past, labored, in the dark and often in extreme isolation from both his peers and the 'nice' areas of the practice of law.
Many times, you were shunned or simply looked upon as an 'outsider" as "rogue" or, worse...a lover of men...colored men or even worse...the poor.
Judges oftentimes, not all of them by any stretch, but several key ones oftentimes, looked down upon me and were quick to point out my particular failings, because I was dedicated to this area of the law; my tie wasn't "appropriate" for one federal judge, thought it cost well more than his own that day I'm positive. On another day, I was deemed "a dishonor and disrespectful of Cleveland's finest"....
On another day, I was jailed by this same judge...after winning a criminal defense verdict for a black male of trying to assault an officer w/ a deadly weapon...I won the case with the help of the fellow partner CPD officer...My reward by my judicial heavyweight peer that moment after a hard fought tense jury trial that week in Cleveland?
I was sent to jail...that moment by this judge ..."for contempt, you defamed and disrespected Cleveland's finest"
I spent that night in a maximum security lock up...behind an ALL steel Cuyahoga county jail, w/ the most violent of the violent. The guards on that floor carried fully loaded, safety off M 16s...and they cursed when they saw me and asked the intake officer "WTF is he doing here"...as they saw that I wasn't any thing resembling a true serious street threat...
But many many other comments, experiences and narratives accompanied my legal career in doing civil rights work. I would not trade the experiences for the world. But it has never been easy, never been simple, never been even rewarding in many respects and certainly has cost me everything more than once or twice...and created immeasurable tension and problems in my private life, that go beyond anything that any one human can describe or narrate
But, today...now...I see the youth and the middle and the blacks and the whites and all persons of many colors flooding into the streets of our major cities and towns and college campuses across America today, this November and this Christmas season...
and I have to say....it makes me very proud; very pleased....
I don't have to feel so alone as millions are being schooled and taught about the issue I devoted my life's work to 24 yrs ago.
Its hard to put into words, what I am feeling and sensing. the long hours spent in trying to litigate even one civil rights case before a federal court is enough to make most lawyers never want to even approach or if they had, to remain at a very safe and non toxic distance to ever attempt again.
I handled dozens of such cases and many of them very high profile. Thru the long hours, the hours spent alone, in some coffee shop trying to write yet another responsive brief or at my apartment leaving my family or my then wife or later, my young son, alone and by themselves for hours on end...while I plied away at trying to get my civil rights case to survive the incredible burdensome proofs and standards that the federal courts have erected over the citizens attempts at redress of their fundamental civil rights...is something I can never get back
I can never quite gain back the time I lost in the aftermath of these cases, good or bad. It took me several years to even begin to learn how to truly litigation one these cases.
I spent years in reading and absorbing and by trial and error, experimenting inside of federal courts, depositions and cases, probing, poking and re readling, like a scientists who is onto something major but can't quite find the precise point of entry to unravel the mystery that he /she knows is locked inside of this American legal jurisprudence called civil rights..
Its a huge historical lesson and it is built on the backs of lawyers and judges and many others who came long before us today. this law is a constantly changing and constantly complex thing to enter into; police civil rights is a matrix and it involves the most fundamental question about our society, our history and our relationships to the modern society in which we both find ourselves and our national purpose.
It rocks the individuals who are involved to their core. it rocks cities and towns to their very vitals, I have witnessed this numerous times. I have had clients who have after years of litigation have told me..."Richard, I wish you had never came into our lives...we love you man, we need you...but you have changed our world...our minds will never be the same and we cannot evermore look upon this society the same"
this is the common experience of any one who has ever engaged in this burning issue of civil rights police misconduct in the modern era.. It will challenge every presumption one ever was taught or led to believe...black or white, rich or poor, national or green card holder.
its a study in America herself and its relationship to the world. Our foreign policy wont look the same after you represent the poor before our federal courts. One's view of the justice system wont be ever capable of being the tower of justice and virtue and truth it represents to the outside world, after you take upon the burden of a widow who lost her husband to a unarmed highly questionable police officer shooting...
You wont be unable to relate to those in jail quite the same anymore and you will look upon those who question nothing about society with a certain pity and sadness after you do this kind of work for several years, let alone for twenty.
"its a long lonely road, Richard", said one very experienced veteran civil rights lawyer told me over the phone, as he noticed from a distance, I began to take the path of my promising young law career towards civil rights. "you will never feel like other lawyers again"
He was right. it was true. Nothing ever was the same again, in my life...as I devoted myself to my early efforts at making the invisible visible
but today, the revolution has begun, finally and I like an aboltionist of old who had labored in the field in season and out of season for years, in isolation, in disdain and in complete rejection by many....
they saw that their life work ...wasn't after all those years..in vain... .despite the hardship their chosen adult path had resulted in for them.
Dr. King said.."i may not get there with you...but my eyes have seen the promise land"
And....its true... one has seen this vision ...long, long ago....once upon a time in America
Every civil rights plaintiffs lawyer who has ever taken one of these cases seriously and litigated them for the purpose of vindicating his clients bill of rights, ...knows and understands, that he/she is basically fulfilling what this nation's purpose was created for; protecting and vindicating human rights for all
And with this, comes the knowledge one is a idealists, in a very pragmatic, money driven profession and society; its a celebrity culture, materialistic to the core today.
its not the era of Civil right movement; these are times when people flaunt their fourth and fifth mansions and their 20,000 rings and 1600000 dollar cars and their lear jets and 100,000 weekend at the super bowls; athlete make more money than any CEO today and
the wealthy today, are far richer than nearly 9/10 of the rest of us
Its not the civil rights era
and some lawyers who actually today, still try to sacrifice themselves and their promising young legal careers to help others feel like this nation's promises mattered and their lives mattered and their rights were worth fighting either overseas or at home inside a federal court for... oftentimes, don't get compensated very well....
But we do get the labeled and we are oftentimes not only sent to the back of the bus, we were completely disbarred, disrobed of even our dignity
Such are not going to be held up before the world by anyone as a shining example to follow; few will ever want to follow in this type of "careerism"
few will chose poverty and shame and disregard over the life of the kings of Egypt after law school
But we too, as advocates are simply human, simply wanting to share in this life's better aspects and when after we have fought the good fight and done so for so long
it becomes like a music of angels in the night...like poetry in motion...and a great, great comfort
to see the youth of the Gen X and the Millenial generation come of age...and choose...out of all the issues that they could have chosen today...war, poverty, inequality of wealth, unemployment and underemployment
the one issue this generation chose...to carry forth into the next generation...for years to come, is
the one I chose on day in my first year of law practice, when a young black man I visited in his jail cell at the request of his mother, had had his face have torn, scraped and scarred because two white racist cops in my hometown, where my father was the senior trial judge and who had taught my siblings and I about the notion of fairness and the law
brutally took him...and pushing him down onto the uneven broken glass pavement of my hometown's dirty, unmaintained sidewalk....kept his face to the ground and then literally used his face and head as if it were a broom...scraping his side of his head and face, all the way down about a city block on this uneven pavement with broken glass strewn all about
In that moment, I saw the face of the Crucified, staring back at me. it wasn't any longer about a young black youth; or the polie
it was about saving jesus...from any more suffering upon His Cross...
and this is what propelled me and my young promising family name and career,,,nto the work for the poor
I never forgot this young man and his experience. he was only 19. He wasn't violent. After his jail time after he was sent to prison, he became a problem...traumatized of course....post trauma is only reserved for those returning from the war..in this nation today
but we dont' do analysis of those who are severely wounded and bruised and battered and assaulted without any cause...by our own police
....these are the issues that inspired me...and propelled me forward into the life and work of a civil rights advocate for life
and today...I see my sons and brothers and daughters...carrying on...this same effort and this same movement....
that once inspired our former greatest leaders of this nation, from the Founders, to those leading up to the civil war, to Lincoln ...and onward...to the progressives and then into the modern civil rights era and the Kennedys and Kings
today,,,we have a chance now to see how this nation reacts to yet another 'unfinished business' of the promise of democracy....
we have another opportunity on the backs and feet of those who were killed or maimed and or abused by police everywhere...in this nation and the millions who are tuned in and turned on suddenly to this issue
thank God for Ferguson's blackest most ardent serious even anger protesters...
thank God for all those who have gone into the streets of our cities and towns; we just may save this nation from herself, just yet
and all of it....makes me not only hear and see the coming of the Lord
but, also...it makes me...feel...
....less....as I once was told by a fellow civil rights lawyer many trials and many tribulations ago
in my first years of this kind of work
isolated, less overlooked, disdained, rejected and dishonored in my hometown, in my chosen profession and
in my life
I believe..today...we are witnessing the impulses of a democratic sentiment and spirit that will challenge the greatest power on earth...to make good on its promise...
to bring justice to its people...again once and for all
we will make it possible to make even the most cynical and hard hearted of judges and prosecutors...
come to heed what true liberty what true law is for and what the meaning of law in America was decided purposed for and upon
the individual and the inexorable march of one's civil liberties ...to be protected by and for the people....in the courtrooms of this nation...not because we are black or white or red or yellow
but because we are human
because we are Americans
Because...we are a nation...dedicated to the highest of mankinds aspirations...not the medicore and common darkest aspects of human history with its travails and cries in the night
this is not about any one case, any one legal argument
its about the soul and character of a nation and its about
the redemption of even one solo lawyer and his vindication.....as we witness the start of something new....
something never quite seen before..in our generation and times
and what we are seeing....is long, long overdue...but was certain to come...as some of us, who have labored long in the field of civil rights law
have sense for sometime now....that this nation has a date with destiny....and if this nation's courts and its officials and its leadership...doesn't wish to manage and deal w/ this problem of entrenched police brutality
inside its courts in a fair and appropriate and just manner
than this issue...will cause the people of this nation to rise up...to want to see change
and to bring about a fundamental re ordering of our national priorities
we are witnessing the beginning I believe...the evolution and change and the revolution of
a new generation breathing life again..into the old forms...of that status quo powers who want to keep a lid on things, who way...we will guide you, let us carry on for you because we know best how to do this
and with this moment...I for one...can rest in peace...much much easier knowing my son...and his generation...will carry on in a nation where hundreds of thousands if not millions
are not willingly to live in blindness and naivte about our nation's legal system...living in a hollow democracy where the people are reduced to subjects..not citizenship
and where...our notions of fairness are not decided by law, but by men...
and where no one no matter how many police there are..on our streets
can feel safe...nor secure..in our homes and papers and belongings..
because...we know something is wrong..something is seriously wrong when the police
can commit murder and assaults and home invasions outside of the law, outside of the
standards of community peace and reason
and get full away with it, with impunity, over and over again for year after year
this will eat us alive in this nation
and other nations..will begin to see this and note, that what ever we profess around the world
as our reason to be...we are failing that promise and proclamation horrifically here at home
where it matters
our greatest threat will never be from the outside or external
but rather...from within, the apathy in the face of such huge human rights issues
and our courts and prosecutors and legal systems deliberate indifference to the same
I can however, take great comfort and hope...and see in this present moment...a hope for change
a moment we can now get thru and make our nation a better place to live
and one...which is more true and genuine for all people of color and class
and one more just...in our times
cynical men and some wise men will cast a long shadow on today's youth as they have
lawyers like myself....
they will deride you, they will tell you you're being naïve, you don't understand, you don't get what this world is about and they will tell you
...stop being dreamers and stop trying to change the world
there is crime out there...there is the good life waiting for you
just go into your career and stop causing trouble
....this is all the same things I and many others have heard for a generation or more now...they said the same thing during MLK days...and Robert Kennedy used to talk about the same kinds of things
but today...we have a moment, an opportunity to change this nation...from within, from the ground up and from within ourselves
and we can ....not not be down or cynical nor without our better selves...right now
too much has been fought for...too much sacrifice has occurred...long, long into the night it is...for some of us
but the cry of these oppressed and these idealistic youth..who seek and want to see change
these are the future of this nation...this is what...always...and forever will propel America forward...
it was in their youth, The Founders for large part...fought the revolution
it was a young abolitionist name Lundy and then Garrison and then Douglass and many women...in their youth...
like Harriet Beecher Stowe, the Grimcke sisters and many others....who helped a younger now older Lincoln into office
and it was a younger Roosevelt who pumped energy into a dying nation and economy by granting the idea that people mattered, that a collective society was the better society
and that is wasn't wrong to seek justice and equality and economic justice for young and old and those poor among us...as a government as a government for the people, by the people and of the people
....Today...this moment...is almost revolutionary....we need to see it continue and I urge these present day young....to not only keep it moving...
but..to reach for the stars...don't stop at one issue or some small compromise 'set of demands'...of any kind
seek to change your government your nation...remake it...its your duty to do so
Jefferson said so...in the Declaration ...he was in his thirties when he wrote that document which changed the world
Don't stop at piece meal changes to the system. Tear it down and rebuild it....and do it better and make it better.. Don't allow the lawyer and talking heads tell you what is best or better
remake it along the best the world and reason and humanity and Christianity and every major religion that is sincere and true has to say about treating one's neighbor as oneself would want to be treated this is the basis of all law
"this is the law; love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself"
this is it folks...its humanity.....Its nothing that can be changed that hasn't been focused upon before
tear things down if you have to; Jefferson Franklin and Washington did but put something better in its place
Many others have also inside of this nation, as it made its youthful way forward; unions were someone's dream in the early part of the 20th century; they became in a generation the means of growing the greatest middle class on earth
child labor laws and women rights to vote to divorce were not always present or a reality in this nation
but someone dreamed them and fought and sacrificed for them and they came....
Slavery was terminated....it took 65 years...after the nation turned but 16 yrs old...to begin that effort...and it took hundred of thousands of lives....to do so
Jim Crow took a century to end after the 14th amendment was passed. but a lawyer named John Doar ..w white man...from Maine....a republican....helped to lead the legal desegregation of the south...along with many many prior brilliant black lawyers...who opened the path for a Marshall and others to bring segregation to an end.
and I have waited for this moment...all my life....
its only befitting to...see it come about...
and with this...His servant can depart...in peace
but not...before ...I see it come to full