I cannot bring myself to post a picture of George Floyd. The picture of him on the ground makes me too angry and the picture of him alive and well makes me too sad. I, like many of you, are tired of seeing these images. And it’s not just because I love black men. Or because my father is a black man, I married a black man, and I have a black brother. It also is not because I have a host of nephews, cousins, uncles, and friends…all black men.
The reason George Floyd’s photo-and the many stories like him-infuriates me is because of the hundreds of black men I have represented in criminal defense cases over the past decade or more. Somehow we have managed to remove all the humanity from black men just by portraying them as criminals. Well, I have had countless conversations with black men accused-and frankly some of whom were guilty-of all kinds of crimes from shoplifting to aggravated assault. And I gotta tell you, guilty or not, they were not much different than the men I’ve encountered in the other arenas of my life and they certainly did not deserve to die.
Truth is the majority of them have have been funny, smart, respectful, even polite. They are charming and caring. They are fathers who love their children and sons who love their mothers. They are business owners, hard workers, and college students. And, yes, some of them were knuckleheads. But the truth is they often look, act, and sound like many of the black men I’ve encountered in college, law school, and as an associate at the top law firms in NYC. Even the knuckleheads.
But you want to know who else they’re like? They’re like the white men I’ve encountered in college, law school and as an associate at the top law firms in NYC. Even the knuckleheads.
There seems to be this idea in society that black men are somehow different than white ones. The idea that they aren’t as smart or as savvy or as capable or competent as their white counterparts. That given the chance they don’t contribute the same level of excellence, ingenuity, and success that people think white men do. But I’ve spoken to hundreds of black men and I’ve spoken to hundreds of white ones and I gotta tell you, if you close your eyes, more often than not, you couldn’t tell them apart.
There is a line in a movie (I think it’s a time to kill) where a black father is on trial for killing white men who raped his daughter. Now everyone knows he did it because he did it on the courthouse steps. So his lawyer isn’t trying to say “you’ve got the wrong guy.” His lawyer is trying to convince the jury that his actions were justified. That the brutalization of this little girl should not have gone unpunished. That the jury-which was all white bytheway-should be just as outraged as he was.
So as his white lawyer does his closing argument before the jury he has them close their eyes and then tells them the story of the little girl and how she was brutalized by the men who raped her. He describes the event in great detail and then concludes by saying “Now…imagine that she is white.” The jurors eyes pop open in surprise and you see the change in their faces. The difference in their reactions. Ultimately, the father is not convicted.
So, if you are unable to feel outrage for the treatment of men like George Floyd and my description above does not convince you that they are just as valuable as every other father, husband, son, nephew, cousin, and friend…let me help you by employing a play from A Time to Kill’s playbook… close your eyes…imagine George Floyd face down on the concrete street with his hands cuffed behind him while a cop kneels with his knee on his neck. A cop that is calm, talking to others around him, hands in his pockets. All the while kneeling on George’s neck for so long and with so much pressure that his body can no longer sustain life. That he is unable to do the must rudimentary of bodily functions: breathe. He has cried, begged, and pleaded with this cop, but not only does the cop not move, but he does not even pay attention as he takes this man’s life. As he becomes judge, jury, and executioner of a man who is innocent. Now…imagine that George is white. #justiceforgeorgefloyd