Black Lives Matter in Our Courtrooms Too

This piece originally appeared at the ACLU of Ohio

Attorney Andrea Burton didn’t walk into a local Youngstown courtroom with a large banner or poster — she simply had a small metal button with the words “Black Lives Matter” on her lapel. That was enough for Judge Robert Milich to sentence her to five days in the Mahoning County Jail because she refused to remove the pin. While judges may have a great deal of discretion about what happens in their courtroom, this raises some significant questions and continues to highlight the need for a sustained movement for Black lives.

Ms. Burton wore the button in the courtroom when representing her client two days earlier on July 20, without any incident. After that hearing, news reports indicate that the local prosecutor approached the judge and complained about the button. At the next hearing on Friday, July 22, Judge Milich requested Ms. Burton remove the pin. She refused to do so.

Black Lives and Political Symbols

Judge Milich says he ordered Ms. Burton to remove the pin because it is “political speech” akin to wearing a button supporting someone for elected office. He said that as an officer of the court, Ms. Burton needs to remain neutral and not appear to be biased in any way. He also said, “There’s a difference between a flag, a pin from your church or the Eagles and having a pin that’s on a political issue.”

This illustrates a deep disconnect with the message of Black Lives Matter. It is not a political slogan nor is it an endorsement of particular candidates for elected office. It is a statement that Black Lives Matter in our daily lives, and a recognition that Black people are systemically and historically denied the rights and privileges that every American should be entitled to.

While Judge Milich may draw a distinction between a Black Lives Matter pin and an American flag or church pin, many people within the Black community would disagree. An American flag may be one person’s symbol of freedom and liberty, and Black Lives Matter may be a symbol of the same concepts for someone else.

Making Black Lives Matter in Court

It is especially critical that the message of Black Lives Matter be heard in our courtrooms. With the practically routine acquittal of countless police officers for violence against people of color and racial disparities in nearly every aspect of the justice system — including who gets bail, who is convicted of drug offenses, and who gets access to drug treatment — Black lives need to matter more in our justice system right now.

An American flag may be one person’s symbol of freedom and liberty, and Black Lives Matter may be a symbol of the same concepts for someone else.

The button itself did not distract from the court proceedings until the prosecutor complained about its presence. It raises the question that if Ms. Burton were wearing a Fraternal Order of Police button supporting her local police union or a Fraternal Order of the Eagles pin, would the prosecutor have spoken out and would Judge Milich have had the same reaction?

Finally, the sentence itself seems excessive in this instance. Here in northeast Ohio, we have had police officers who killed a 12-year-old boy playing with a toy gun in Cleveland and served no time in prison or jail. And now we have one attorney who dared to wear a Black Lives Matter pin who will spend five days locked up. If that isn’t a stark visual as to the problems with our justice system and valuing Black lives and Black existence, I don’t know what is.

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Anonymous

This article is pure garbage. Childish, anti police, and anti American stupidity.

bparting

Are you talking about the judge?

Anonymous

The officer in Cleveland got out of his car only a few feet from the boy telling him to drop the gun. When the boy ignored the order, he was shot. Once again, an order from a police officer was ignored and a life was lost. To avoid future loss of life, all people have to do is LISTEN to the police officer's commands and do what you are told and you will not die. It's a very simple concept! Just LISTEN, that is all you have to do!

bparting

That's a complete mismatch between action and reaction. Was the officer under threat? Was anyone under threat? Did the child even have any inkling there was an issue? To him its a toy and he thinks the officer thinks that too.
Even if it had been a real gun that wouldn't have been an appropriate response

Anonymous

In under 2.5 seconds the child did not have time to hear understand and follow through with putting the gun down. This cop murdered a 12 year old child because he was scared of black people. You are part of the problem.

Anonymous

Actually, no he didn't. He got out of his car, said nothing, and within two seconds shot a 12 year old holding a toy. And got off without so much as a slap on the wrist.

Anonymous

Gimme a break. If someone pulled a loaded gun on you, you would think you're under threat; for the love of god use a few brain cells.

J. Biesche

Are you suggesting that a child - a CHILD! - who was playing with a toy gun should be shot and killed by police because he didn't possess the faculties of an adult and realize that he was in danger because an adult cop would be too stupid or too afraid of a TOY gun to exercise good judgment? You're some piece of work if you believe that, Anonymous.

Tony Tonez Hall

To white people who defend the police killings of unarmed people- you make me sick. Wake up. Pull your head out of wherever it is. I'm white, I can see police bias, so my theory is that you don't want to see it. Try to see it as discriminatory, just once for a second, please.

Anonymous

Simply wrong

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