Much of my legal practice over the years has been dedicated to defending the civil and constitutional rights of individuals facing discrimination and disparate treatment because of their religious exercise, the color of their skin or their gender. In virtually every case, my clients were targeted by people in positions of power who were motivated out of hatred, ignorance or prejudice. Some examples include a black high school student who was taunted and assaulted by KKK sympathizers; a young, autistic black child who was brutally kicked and physically abused by his teacher; homeschoolers who earned, but were denied the freedom to compete with their peers in a national chess championship because of their religious practices; a nurse who was fired for refusing to take part in a later term abortion; and scores of individuals in cities across the country who were arrested for merely peacefully offering assistance and alternatives to unwed mothers entering abortion clinics.
Recently, I was retained by more than a dozen highly decorated police officers in Philadelphia, all of whom were summarily disciplined or fired after years of service for merely expressing their personal views against violence and injustice on their social media. The lawsuit was drafted and ready to be filed in federal court when the national drama unfolded over the tragic death of George Floyd. Given the current national swell of negative public opinion against those serving in law enforcement, I have had to carefully consider the wisdom of proceeding at this time with such a lawsuit.
Local policymakers in Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., San Francisco New York, Nashville and several other cities have supported some form of defunding of their police departments. In June, during the Floyd protests, a group of 48 candidates for city office in New York asked the city council to reduce the NYPD budget by $1 billion over four years. In Nashville on June 2, 2020, the City Council extended a meeting ten hours to accommodate the large numbers of residents waiting to take their turn to demand the city to defund the police.
In the midst of nationwide calls for defunding the police, several cities across our country report a corresponding increase in violent crime and attacks on statues and monuments. Indiscriminate toppling and defacing of historical monuments is not without historical precedent. Among the first acts of the Visigoths after sacking Rome in 410 A.D. was to destroy and decapitate statues of Roman leaders and statesmen. The wave of attacks on monumental statues across our country during the past few weeks is eerily reminiscent of the smashing of aristocratic art during the French Revolution, and the toppling of Communist-era monuments after 1989.
Many wonder whether, in the wake of these national protests, the fabric of our republic will withstand these violent outbursts. Over its history, our nation has endured seismic periods of civil unrest, but from these upheavals have sprung shining moments of enlightenment that have forever shaped our legal landscape for the good. Despite fallen humanity’s depravity and our seeming endless capacity for hate and prejudice, we as a people still hold fast to the ideal that blind justice is and should be our ultimate aim. Whatever the outcome of the current racial tension and outrage that appears to be ripping apart longstanding wounds in our country, if reason prevails in the midst of this storm, then we shall emerge from this scarred, but stronger as a people.