Amendment 13, which abolished slavery, was passed in 1865. Amendment 14, which gave all U.S. citizens equal protection under the law, was created in 1868. And in 1870, Congress passed Amendment 15, which gave blacks the right to vote.
That was many years ago, but the conversation continues.
In the news
The news these days is rife with stories of police brutality against black men.
In July 2014, a man named Eric Garner died in New York after a white police officer used a fatal chokehold on him.
In August 2014, Michael Brown, an 18-year-old, was shot and killed by a white police officer in Missouri.
In April 2015, another black man died at the hands of another white police officer. Walter Scott was fatally shot as he was running away after a traffic stop in South Carolina.
Another high-profile death of a black man caused by police officers, some of whom were black and some of whom were white, occurred in April 2015. Freddie Gray lapsed into a coma and died while riding in a police van in Baltimore. Presumed cause of death was unnecessary force by the police.
In July 2016, a black man named Philando Castile was fatally shot in Minnesota after being stopped for a broken rear light on his vehicle.
These news stories are just some of the recent incidents; by no means are they the only ones.
The conflict at Whittier
The black-white issue has reared its ugly head at Whittier Law School, where a professor wore a Black Lives Matter shirt to class, according to a recent ABA Journal article by Stephanie Francis Ward.
The professor wore the shirt to coincide with a class discussion about police brutality and black people. One student complained anonymously that the shirt was offensive because it implied that the teacher was biased against white people. The professor addressed those complaints publicly, noting that support of black people does not mean dislike of white people.
"As business owners, lawyers also should be aware that there are financial and legal reasons to treat others equally."
It seems incredible that, in 2016, Americans are still discriminating against minorities. Nevertheless, it is happening.
Obviously, it is important for the conversation to continue so that, hopefully, the issue won't be an issue at all in the future. For now, though, what we can do is to make people aware that discrimination exists.
Importance for lawyers
Lawyers are, for better or for worse, just like the rest of the population. In other words, some are inclined to discriminate against those of color. And, unfortunately, there are those who will never be convinced of the moral and ethical reasons to treat others equally.
As business owners, though, lawyers also should be aware that there are financial and legal reasons to treat others equally. If you treat others with bias, you will never gain the financial success that is possible because you will alienate clients who could potentially refer business to you. Legally, you are setting yourself up for lawsuits by employees and clients.
Let us all hope that with awareness will come a burgeoning sense of right, such that the black-white issue is a non-issue in the future.
Edward Poll is the principal of LawBiz Management. He coaches lawyers and is the creator of "Life After Law," a program that helps attorneys plan for profitable exits. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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