Monday, February 06, 2017
"The year was 1997 and I was a young 25-year-old prosecutor in the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office, one of the largest in the country. I was fresh out of law school and the plan was to get as much trial experience as possible before starting my own firm.
Determined to see the other side, I was “the spook who sat by the door.” The revelations I made confirmed everything that I had ever thought about America and white supremacy. However, I underestimated the insidious nature of white supremacy and America’s commitment to Black, social, political, and economic alienation.
The reality of it all hit me immediately one day while I was in court with a friend, peer and fellow attorney, Michael Choi. We had to approach the judge’s bench one day along with defense counsel to discuss the case as we often did. Presiding was Judge Seymour Rotker, a judge who today would be considered a liberal in New York City. When we got to the bench, the judge glanced up, looked over his glasses, looked down at me and in a calm unbothered voice said, “No defendants at the bench.” When Choi and I informed Judge Rotker that I wasn’t a defendant but a prosecutor, he said nothing and just moved on with business as usual. There was no apology, no acknowledgment and no embarrassment. This was typical and symbolic of white supremacy and this incident was just one of many such personal experiences I would have in the legal profession. I can’t imagine what those before me had to endure.
The incident reminded me of another similar experience I had during my first year of law school when I applied for a summer associate position at Seward and Kissel. I interviewed with an East Indian partner who asked me what I’m sure he thought were tough questions. However, I knew I was knocking them out the park with thoughtful and informed responses. So, while I’m speaking, he suddenly looks to the door of his office and waves in an older Black man. This older Black man looked like he could be my grandfather and he had the presence of a man who had worked extremely hard his entire life. As he walked in, I noticed he was carrying a shoe-shine box. He then proceeded to get down on his knees and start shining the partner’s shoes. The partner continued to ask me questions as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening. To this day, no one can convince me that this wasn’t calculated, although my white law students tell me that this shoe-shine culture at the top law firms still exists in 2017. I gave the partner a blank stare as If I was trying to burn a hole in him. I don’t remember what, if anything, was said at that time, I only remember going back to my law school and removing my résumé from the pool for summer associate positions. It was at that moment that I vowed never to work for a firm unless it was my own."
The Painful Reality I Was Forced to Face As a Young Black Attorney in Brooklyn - Atlanta Black Star