Tamir Rice. Eric Garner. Michael Brown. These three names should be haunting the legal profession because to all too many in America, the names represent a violent rending of the fragile trust that the public has in law and justice in our country.
The recent non-indictment of the police officer involved in the death of Tamir Rice is the latest in a series of what can only be seen as legal roadblocks against those seeking justice for police killing of black Americans.
From my own lay legal understanding, an indictment is not the same as a conviction but an acknowledgement that there is enough evidence to proceed with a serious trial. To the average person looking at the simple facts of the case, there was enough evidence in each of these cases to proceed with a trial. And yet, here we are, shaking our heads, wondering how the pursuit of justice was thwarted yet again.
The specific roadblock to justice in the Tamir Rice case was Cuyahoga County prosecutor Timothy McGinty who appeared to be more interested in protecting the police officer than serving justice. As The Huffington Post's legal affairs reporter Christian Farias explained: "His only role before the grand jury, in this case and all other cases, was to present enough evidence to justify a prosecution by the state -- to get the wheels of justice rolling, so to speak. That's a very low bar."
The fact that a trial was not granted to the family of Tamir Rice in order to seek justice for the death of their son -- as well as the chance for the officer to exonerate himself -- seems like a complete abrogation of justice.
In Tony Kushner's play Angels in America, the character Roy Cohn offers this assessment of the law and of those in the legal profession: "Lawyers are... the High Priests of America. We alone know the words that made America. Out of thin air. We alone know how to use The Words."
To a legal layperson like myself, the sense of the legal profession as mysterious Freemason-like society rings true even though I come from a family that includes a Supreme Court Justice, a law professor and several high-powered lawyers. My sense has always been that, although I didn't understand it all, the law and lawyers mostly tried to do their work for good and that the legal system was progressive and under constant inspection and revision to become more just and equal for all.
However, the manner in which the legal system has functioned in response to America's growing awareness of the brutality against black lives has served to weaken my trust in the law and how it is practiced. And if it has done that for me, imagine the impact on people who did not start with a reservoir of trust, but whose family background and experience has taught them to be fearful and suspicious of the law and those police officers who represent it.
I have read many on social media express hopelessness that anything can be done in the face of what appears to be a rampant disregard for black lives in America, from schools, to policing, to prisons.
However, I pray in this crucial time of fragmentation and hopelessness that those who care for the legal profession might take this moment to seriously consider how these non-indictments continue to happen, what can be done, and ultimately what and whom the courts, lawyers and the law are meant to serve.