Discover more from olurinatti
The Law Won't Save Us
If you’re Black in America, you’re aware that the law doesn’t operate for us the way it does for our white counterparts. Our lived experiences have shown us that while white people like Amy Cooper can weaponize calling the police who they know will do their bidding, Black people must warn each other not to call the police even in circumstances where we’d theoretically need them, because their presence is likely to end in our own arrest or someone’s death. But if you’re a Black criminal defense attorney like I am, you know with absolute certainty just how the law quite literally transforms when it’s time to protect and uphold white supremacy.
Which is why, even though people often assume that because I’m a lawyer, I believe it’s the most meaningful role one can play in the pursuit of Black liberation, I have never kid myself into believing the law is the vehicle by which we change the racist and inequitable society the law is there to maintain. As Audre Lorde put it, the masters tools will never dismantle the master’s house.
A while ago, I was facetiming a friend as I walked home from the bodega. There was a car on the curb that forced me to walk around it and a little onto the homeowners’ driveway. The homeowner was a white man who was standing in the driveway fiddling with his car. When I saw him, I immediately threw my hands up and quickly, but profusely, apologized for walking on his property. He responded kindly and my friend on the phone, another white guy, laughed puzzlingly at the exchange before I explained to him that as a Black person, you don’t enter white people’s property if you can help it because you risk being killed.
For a fleeting moment, I wanted to embrace my white friends experience of the world; one where it’s absurd to think walking on an inch of another’s driveway could get you killed, but history had shown me otherwise too many times that what would soon happen to Ralph Yarl, is a product of white supremacy and not an absurdity at all.
Ralph Yarl, A 16-year-old Black boy, was trying to pick up his younger brothers from a friend’s home and rung on the wrong neighbor’s doorbell. For that, the white homeowner, Andrew Lester, shot him twice and left him to bleed to death. It’s not a mistake, but a function of the system, that the entire country could know with certainty a white man shot a Black child who rang his doorbell, and that white man initially be released without arrest while police pretend their hands are tied until they speak to a child who’s lucky to still be alive.
This is in the same country where Black people are arrested—and even killed—over traffic infractions every day. This is the same country where I practice criminal law and know that everyday thousands of people have warrants issued for their arrests based on nothing more than someone told the police they did something as minor as yelled at them on the phone. I once represented a new mother who’d been arrested because she cursed a woman out over text message who had been harassing her during the birth of her child. I once represented a Black man who’d been arrested for eating yogurt with a butter knife because the white woman watching him in Walgreens said he did it menacingly.
Hearsay is quite literally what a criminal complaint is initially based on and all that’s presented at your arraignment. Police don’t need any proof, investigations, or to allow would-be defendants to prove their innocence before bringing charges simply by declaring themselves innocent. It truly is as simple as saying anything happened and boom, arrested and charged. Unless we’re dealing with white people, but especially police officers and other white supremacists.
That’s the case even when they commit indisputably heinous crimes that are often fatal and often on video. Whether it be as indefensible as murdering a sleeping Breonna Taylor or snuffing out a soul as gentle as Elijah McClain’s as he begged for his life, we are forced to protest for charges that are as rare as convictions; because America’s laws and criminal system are meant to uphold white supremacy and work in furtherance of maintaining a racial hierarchy America only pretends to have parted with.
That’s why as angry as it made me to see police pretend, they needed to investigate and talk to Ralph Yarl to arrest the man they know shot him, I couldn’t be surprised. Just like I couldn’t be surprised when an Akron grand jury failed to indict the 8 officers who shot Jayland Walker 94 times because the Attorney General who presented it to them, whose job it is to get an indictment, instead acted as a self-appointed defense attorney for the officers and argued that Jayland Walker “committed suicide by cop” and admit that he presented the evidence to the grand jury “neutrally.”
Furious, but not surprised.
Whenever a police officer or other white supremacists commit crimes against Black people, people who do not understand why we say the criminal system and prisons must be abolished, presume that abolitionists cannot support or demand the criminal prosecution of those people. In actuality, the fact that anyone must demand their prosecution, is proof why the system must be abolished.
White supremacy is and has always been the problem; and any road we take to liberation requires we tear it from the fabrics of our society as we tear apart every institution that fabric has been used to create. That doesn’t happen by relying on the system that maintains it or the lawyers that work within it. It happens by turning to each other.