“If the society today allows wrongs to go unchallenged, the impression is
created that those wrongs have the approval of the majority.”
Like many of you, I have been struggling with the horrific death of George
Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers. He is certainly not the first
African-American to be killed by police, and if history proves us right, he won’t
be the last. The shock and horror of Mr. Floyd’s death has hit many of us as a
final straw in our never-ending battle against police misconduct and oppression
targeted at our communities. As I watched my thirteen-year old daughter make
posters to take to a non-violent protest march in our community, I was sickened
by the number of names that she wrote on her poster. The number of dead Black
people. Unfortunately, she would not be able to fit the real number on her
poster, the people she never heard about, the people whose deaths were not
captured on video for the world to witness.
As I help to mobilize my law firm in my role as National Chair of the Civil
Rights Practice Group to assist as many police victims as possible, and to fully
engage in the continued efforts to make systemic changes in how Black and
Brown people are policed, I am disheartened that the work of my predecessors
and mentors remains incomplete. As we move forward as a nation striving to
make this country a more perfect union, we need the white community to walk
with us in this battle against racism. Some of my white friends have been
completely silent on the murderous actions of these police officers, instead
choosing to weigh in solely on issues related to the protesters, particularly the
outliers who have resorted to looting and other property crimes. Buildings can
be rebuilt, but lives cannot be brought back from the dead. White people must
commit to being vigilant allies in eradicating racism and discrimination.
Let us all use these tragedies as a rallying call for civic and legal engagement.
Register voters, support candidates who are committed to ending racist policing,
vote in every election for every level of office from district attorneys, school
board members, mayors, senators and president, engage in your communities,
educate the public by writing articles highlighting the importance of the Constitution
in equally protecting all members of our society, write amicus briefs on
critical issues and provide expertise and mentorship to new lawyers.
We can make a difference together.
Tracey L. Brown
Protests and demonstrations have led to violence in at least 30 cities across the United States in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died at the hands of a police officer in Minneapolis.
Floyd, 46, died after he was detained for questioning regarding a possible forgery in progress. Video of his death caught by bystanders showed a Minneapolis police officer, identified as Derek Chauvin, holding his knee to Floyd’s neck for more than five minutes as Floyd pleaded for air, sparking outrage.
As of Sunday, at least 25 cities across 16 states have imposed curfews.
When Monday night’s protest ended with demonstrators and police officers hugging and walking together near the governor’s mansion, it took many people by surprise.
Protestor Malik Muhammad said afterwards, “I never in a million years thought I would embrace a cop like that. I feel like our message was heard, by some at least.”
“Extremely encouraging. I wasn’t really sure how that was going to go, to be honest.” said Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department Chief Randal Taylor.
As live cameras showed smiles and handshakes on the north side of Indianapolis, there was also skepticism about what the encounter could mean.
“I’m not sure what to believe,” said Muhammad. “If that was just him de-escalating the situation, us trying to de-escalate the situation and if so great, but we need that 100% of the time.”
Chief Taylor hopes the peaceful end to Monday’s demonstration will serve as a turning point for the community.
“Hopefully what occurred last night goes to build some better relationships there and opens the door for some of those conversations to occur.” said Taylor. “When we’re allowed to talk and have those kind of conversations, things can end well. So that’s really a victory, I think for both groups. For us and for them.”
By Judge Luther T. Simmons, Jr. (Ret.)
Shareholder, Simmons Hanly Conroy
Public service is the giving back to the less fortunate and the underserved, and that is how to advance society. By giving back, you lift yourself up. No one understands this better than me. I am the son of a Tennessee sharecropper and the great-grandson of slaves. My father was the Rev. Luther T. Simmons, and he was the first man in the history of our family in America to be paid for his labor.
What I think is important to understand is that in 2020 there are still people alive who, like my father was, are attached to history. I have dedicated my decades-long legal career to remember this, and by attempting to lift others up – through my practice, my pro bono work, my work as a judge, and most recently as a shareholder at one of the largest plaintiffs' firms in the country, Simmons Hanly Conroy.
I have been a lawyer for 46 years. As my career path reflects, a law degree is one of the most flexible advanced degrees.
I started as an associate in a 10-person law firm and then became a solo practitioner. I have represented aspiring minority businesses and served as in-house counsel and corporate officer for a minority business that, during my tenure, became the third-largest minority-owned business in the United States with sales of $100 million. For that same business, I personally negotiated a $500 million contract with the U.S. Department of Energy to build and manage its strategic petroleum reserves. This was then the largest contract awarded by the federal government to a minority company.
I have personally met and successfully worked with U.S. Attorney General Griffin Bell and Hamilton Jordan, White House Chief of Staff for the Carter Administration, on behalf of my client's business interests and in support of candidates for the federal bench. I've been an entrepreneur with ownership interests and management responsibilities in a multi-million-dollar certified MBE. I've served as a proud Assistant Public Defender, representing the interests of the indigent in nearly 1,000 felony cases, and also served as an Assistant's State's Attorney, prosecuting felony cases. I've tried criminal, including murder, and civil cases to verdict. I've been a Special Assistant Attorney General for Illinois, representing the state in civil matters.
These were my life experiences before becoming a state court judge. All of this equipped me to become a judge. There is no substitute for life experience and legal experience for anyone aspiring to the bench. Judges are tasked with the responsibility of applying the law objectively. Lawyers' jobs, on the other hand, are to represent the facts as best benefits their clients, and to attempt to persuade the court that their understanding of the law is the correct one. While serving on the bench, I presided over both jury trials and high volume court dockets.
However, I didn't just become a judge and retire. Being a judge was not the culmination of my career. I have gone on and done something equally meaningful. I'm now a shareholder at the prominent national law firm, Simmons Hanly Conroy. I am currently a manager on the firm's asbestos docket, where we help thousands of people whose lives have been knowingly and tragically terminated by companies that exposed workers and their families to asbestos. In addition, I seek out and forge new strategic alliances between Simmons Hanly Conroy and other law firms.
Over the decades, I have still made time to give back by handling over 2,000 individual cases on a pro bono basis. Those individual cases, aggregately, have added up to a significant positive impact on my community. I've also supported the Boys and Girls Club and served as a mentor for minority youth for more than 50 years in my local community of Alton, Illinois.
The motto at Simmons Hanly Conroy is "We Stand for Our Clients." It's a phrase that can apply to all of us at the National Black Lawyers Top 100. As leaders in our field, we must live up to that.
I've been inspired as a lawyer and as a judge to try to make a difference in someone's life every day. If we do that for individuals whose paths we cross in our daily lives, the aggregate effect will be to uplift our communities.
And, together, our society will advance.