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Attorney Goldman speaks out about George Floyd and Black Lives Matters

I’m a middle-aged white man. I’m also a lawyer who for 30+ years has practiced in the areas of criminal defense and civil rights in New York City. Over that time most of my clients have been Black or Hispanic. I live in an affluent White enclave in Westchester. I have lately been hearing people in my neighborhood express dismay about the violence that has been taking place around the country. Protesting is one thing, they say, but the violence is merely a distraction from the underlying problem, which is out-of-control, racist cops.

It is surely the case that bad cops operating on racist stereotypes about Black people are part of the problem. It is also true that police departments around the country have a culture that bakes these racial stereotypes into their policing strategies. The result is that even Black and Hispanic officers must tow the line when it comes to how minorities are (mis)treated, or risk being marginalized by their fellow officers, upon whom they depend for their safety in the streets. Loyalty to the Blue Tribe is real, and it too often trumps their supposedly primary obligation to protect the people of their communities. That’s the only way to explain how a White PO in Minneapolis could slowly choke the life out of a cuffed and defenseless man while his fellow police officers looked on passively while they kept local citizens who were protesting what the officer was doing at bay.

But there is a yet deeper truth at play here that puts the violence at some of these protests in perspective. If you are Black in this country, you are more likely to be poor than if you are White. Your diet, education and housing are all likely to be of inferior quality to that of your White fellow citizens. You’re more likely to live in a crumbling neighborhood riven by drugs and violence. You’re more likely to be the victim of violence, by both regular people and the police. You’re ability to get a job, and thus to be self-dependent, is more likely to be compromised. And if you do get a job, it is likely to be lower paying and less secure. All of that is going to leave an imprint on you, emotionally and sometimes physically.

While poor Blacks clearly suffer the most, their more affluent peers are hardly strangers to the insidious tentacles of racism. Driving while Black is common enough in my area of practice that it has its own classification. Black people of all economic strata are much more likely than their White peers, per capita, to be stopped, questioned, searched, beaten or arrested by the police. If you are White the police treat you one way, and if you are Black they treat you another way. That’s just how it is.

The upshot? The American Dream that my children and my neighbor’s children take for granted as part of their birthright is no closer to being realized for most Black people in this country, especially poor Black people, than flying to the moon is for the rest of us. Too many are trapped in a cycle of poverty that is all but inescapable, and all live under a cloud that, under the wrong circumstances, might just manifest as a knee on their necks.

For the people who have suffered these indignities, the stores that have been vandalized, particularly luxury stores like Chanel, Gucci, and Hermes, can be seen as brick and mortar representations of the American Dream betrayed. Should we be surprised when a fraction of the good people who go to these protests become fed-up with shouting impotently about the most recent injustice to befall a Black person and experience a surge of anger that blossoms into violence? By smashing a Hermes store window and taking some of the obscenely expensive purses that are normally the exclusive province of wealthy White ladies, they are showing their disdain for a system that exists to keep them down. Will vandalizing some stores improve their lives or the cause of justice that motivated them to protest in the first place? No. But for a moment at least it will allow them to feel like for once they got the upper hand against a system that has been stacked against them from birth.