We went to the ACLU of Colorado’s annual dinner on Friday. This is always a very energizing experience — to be surrounded by friends and allies who are working hard (and/or donating boatloads of money) to protect civil rights and civil liberties. It was especially inspiring this year for a number of reasons. Our friend Laura Rovner was honored with an award for her amazing work on behalf of inmates in solitary confinement and other extreme conditions. We all cheered our behinds off for a trio of recent court victories in police abuse cases. And I enjoyed hanging with the next generation of civil rights advocates.
Laura’s friend and colleague Jeanne Theoharis introduced her, and spoke about the long struggle for civil rights and civil liberties. Laura “walks in the shoes of Rosa Parks,” not because she is herself a Black woman standing up (sitting down) to racism, but because Rosa Parks was more than just a single moment in 1955. She was an experienced civil rights worker, who had been advocating throughout the 1930s and 1940s as well, laboring for decades without much success. Jeanne made me imagine a far more just future, in which Laura’s work will be remembered for the ground-breaking qualities it truly has.
As an aside, I got into an interesting discussion after about the pros and cons of comparing a white lawyer to an African-American activist. My thoughts, which probably need their own post at some point, are summed up much more eloquently by this graphic by Dan Wilkins:
As the graphic says at the bottom, “There is power in knowing my struggle is your struggle and yours mine.” If we are too quick to cordon off one set of struggles as the unique property of their protagonists, we miss the opportunity to perceive and fight the common enemies of fear, ignorance, and hatred of the unknown.
OK, where was I? Oh right – the trio of amazing police abuse cases. Our friends at Rathod Mohamedbhai achieved a $3.25 million settlement on behalf of Jamal Hunter against the Denver Sheriff Department, and our friends at Killmer, Lane & Newman, won back to back verdicts, first (with co-counsel Kate Stimson) $1.8 million against the Denver Police for a warrantless raid on the wrong house, resulting in wrongful prosecution, then $4.65 million against the Sheriff Department for the jail abuse death of homeless pastor Marvin Booker. The first article stated that Denver had paid $16.7 million in damages since 2004 before these three cases; if my math is correct, the total now stands at $26.4. And that’s just in damages — it doesn’t count the vast City resources (my tax dollars!) that go toward defending the indefensible. It’s frustrating, after all those years and dollars, that the Denver Department of Safety can’t prevent these abuses. It was satisfying to be able to congratulate breaking-news civil rights heroes Rathod Mohamedbhai and Killmer, Lane & Newman on Friday.
Now for the fun part (with apologies for incompetent phone photography). I was so glad Laura brought her amazing daughter Claire
and that we got to sit with Brittany Glidden and The Littlest Civil Rights Advocate, Ellie:
And after the main event, dancing happened: