Law & Policy

Black Lawyers Wage War Against Police Brutality at the 90th Annual NBA Convention

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NBALOS ANGELES — Over a thousand members of the National Bar Association, the largest African-American Bar Association in the United States, convened on the city of Los Angeles, for the organization’s 90th Annual Convention, with a specific goal: wage war against police brutality and misconduct in the black community.

The convention, held at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel from July 19th-23rd, was purposeful, candid and many of its key panels included some of the nation’s leading civil rights attorneys and activists proffering practical solutions to keep more black people, especially black men, alive in their encounters with police officers.

One key panel that seemed to resonate with many attendees was a panel titled ‘21st Century Policing: Is Police Brutality a Way of Life in Minority Communities?’

Moderated by Joey Jackson, a CNN Commentator & Senior Litigator at Koehler & Isaacs LLP, the panelists consisted of civil rights activist and lawyer Connie L. Rice of the Advancement Project, civil rights lawyers John Burris and Milton Grimes, former New Jersey Police Officer Jiles H. Ship and Collette Flanagan, founder of Mothers Against Police Brutality.

Answering the question posed by Jackson on how black lawyers could obtain more accountability from the police, where its community members engaged with the police and ended up dead, Grimes said there needed to be, “more police involvement in the community, more community policing and black lawyers (had to insist) that there be prosecutions.”

Some panelists felt that there should be a price for all officers who stood around and did nothing in the face of police brutality. They also explained that the philosophy of policing had to change and part of that has to be led by the federal dollar.

“This whole system is fed on money and the more money, the more aggressive officers get,” said Burris. “To affect real change in culture, you have to take the incentive(s) out for police officers.”

Burris explained that by incentives he meant cops want overtime and want to be promoted. Therefore, addressing and removing incentives that encourage bad behavior by the police was essential.

“It begins with recruiting. There has to be consistency along those lines. Sergeants perpetuate the culture. New people come in and continue to perpetuate the culture. There is total resistance (to change) because Lieutenants, Sergeants resist,” said Burris. “You can sue one or two cops but the culture stays the same.”

For Collette Flanagan whose unarmed twenty-five year old son was shot close range by a Dallas policeman, she believed there was a need for more lawyers willing to handle police brutality cases. “We need more attorneys. We need attorneys to stop taking “no” for an answer,” said Flanagan. She also explained that lawmakers had a critical role to play in the continued rise of police brutality in the black community. “I believe in community policing but until we hold political leaders accountable, this will continue. The DA is taking money from police unions. Why do we have that occurring?”

‘Prosecutors and police have an incestuous relationship,” said Ship. “It is kind of an irrational thought to expect prosecutors to prosecute police.” Ship explained the need for black lawyers and law enforcement officers to be involved in the solution.

“Any organization that’s concerned with making sure justice is carried out properly needs to get involved with policy makers and police departments,” said Ship. “They need to be at the table when policy and practices are developed to make sure that our police departments are policing from a community partnership perspective.”

The panelists suggested identifying and holding accountable key leaders responsible for appointing police chiefs across the nation, holding political leaders accountable, and voting for more black political leaders whose message align with ending police brutality in the black community.

Not losing its central message of war against police brutality, the NBA convention concluded with a gala event where President Pamela Meanes explained why she deemed it important to focus on this specific theme under her reign. She also informed members of the efforts the NBA had undertaken prior to the convention to fight police brutality. For example, the NBA sent open records requests to each of the largest 25 cities in the United States, seeking information regarding the number of unarmed individuals who have been killed or injured while pursued by police or in police custody.

The ultimate goal is to obtain this information, vet it and then ask the United States Department of Justice to step in, investigate and put an end to these wrongful police conducts. The NBA, prior to the convention, also launched an education day initiative titled ‘Know Your Rights Because It Could Save Your Life,’ where it educated and continues to educate the public on their legal rights, including the right to refuse to consent to any search of a person’s body or personal effects, any impoundment of property (including cell phones); and a right to film police officers pursuant to the recent Supreme Court of the United States ruling.

President Meanes reign officially ended at the gala, and the new President, Benjamin Crump, was sworn into office. Crump is known for his representation as attorney for the family of Trayvon Martin, a teenager killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman, in Florida, while walking home with a bag of Skittles and a can of Iced Tea.

-Uduak Oduok
Photocredit: John Burris
Photo description: John Burris & Benjamin Crump discuss police brutality at pre-NBA Convention forum

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