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LawBiz® TIPS – Week of August 9, 2016

Equal Treatment: A Continuing Conversation

The amendments date back to 1865—the ones that recognize black rights, that is.

Amendment 13, which abolished slavery, dates back to 1965. Amendment 14, which gave all U.S. citizens equal protection under the law, dates back to 1868. Amendment 15, which gave blacks the right to vote, dates back to 1870.

That was many years ago, but the conversation continues.

In the News
The conversation continues because it has to—the news these days is rife with stories of police brutality against black men.

In July 2014, a black man named Eric Garner died in New York after a white police officer used a fatal chokehold on him.

In August 2014, an 18-year-old black man named Michael Brown 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 died from a gunshot wound he received 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, and the presumed cause of death was unnecessary force by the police officers.

And quite recently, 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 Black-White Issue at Whittier
The black-white issue has reared its ugly head at Whittier Law School, where a conversation about the black-white issue was initiated after a professor wore a Black Lives Matter shirt to class, according to a July 12, 2016, ABA Journal article by Stephanie Francis Ward entitled “Law Prof Finds a Teaching Moment in Student Criticism of Her Black Lives Matter T-Shirt.”

The professor wore the shirt to coincide with a class discussion about police violence and blacks. 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.

The Conversation
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 hope for is to make people aware.

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 a business owner, though, lawyers should also be aware that there are financial and legal reasons to treat others equally. Financially, you will never gain the success that is possible for you if you chose to treat others with bias because you will alienate clients who are sources of business and colleagues who could refer business to you. Legally, you are setting yourself up for lawsuits by employees and clients if you treat others as less than equals due to the color of their skin.

Let us all hope that with awareness will come a burgeoning sense of right such that the black-white issue is a nonissue in the future.



Equal Treatment: A Continuing Conversation

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