Truth About Social Change and Political Justice

By Daphne Pattison Silverman

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter plane with half a million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower, The Chance for Peace, speech given to American Society of Newspaper Edition April 16, 1953.

I believe that a law license levies upon lawyers a responsibility to seek to ensure that the Law changes social conditions which result in the suffering of people and animals. A lawyer can satisfy this responsibility by advising clients of their rights and empowering them to act on their own behalf, assisting in drafting legislation that creates positive change, lobbying legislators, litigating social change issues in criminal cases, and ultimately filing civil suits to preserve Constitutional rights. Frequently, pursuing social change means standing up to the full unlimited resources and power of the government whether local, state or federal. It may also mean speaking on behalf of a despised person or giving voice to an unpopular cause. The truth is that taking on the challenge of effecting social change and political justice will not bring fame and glory. It will not bring wealth. Instead, taking on these challenges may cause the lawyer to be despised by the public or to be personally attacked by the government through disbarment proceedings or criminal prosecution. The cases will sap the lawyer’s resources, strength and reputation in some circles. As a result, many attorneys are unwilling to take on civil rights cases. But, by taking great risks, the lawyer will reap the reward of true success.

Strategies for lawyers to accomplish social change include: impact litigation, supporting public participation in democracy and supporting community organizations. The term impact litigation describes the strategy of selecting and pursuing lawsuits as a tool to achieve broad and lasting effects, beyond the particular case involved on both public policy and legislation. At the same time, it supports the rule of law, provides a foundation for future litigation, serves as a means for documenting human rights and other violations, promotes government accountability, and fosters public awareness and education by attracting domestic and international media attention to important issues involved.” [1]

Mrs. Silverman works towards social change in both her volunteer work and her professional practice. Mrs. Silverman is the Regional Vice President of the National Lawyers Guild. The Guild “aims to bring together all those who recognize the importance of safeguarding and extending the rights of workers, women, LGBTQ people, farmers, people with disabilities and people of color, upon whom the welfare of the entire nation depends; who seek actively to eliminate racism; who work to maintain and protect our civil rights and liberties in the face of persistent attacks upon them; and who look upon the law as an instrument for the protection of the people, rather than for their repression.”

In her professional practice, Mrs. Silverman takes cases, both criminal defense and civil rights, in which the clients have suffered injustice and by righting the wrong causing the injustice Mrs. Silverman hopes to change the client’s life and the lives of others similarly situated. Throughout her career, regardless of state or federal court location, Mrs. Silverman often represents women who have found themselves previously underrepresented as a result of patriarchal systems in society and the judicial system. Since 9/11, many of Mrs. Silverman’s clients have been Muslims wrongfully pursued as terrorists because of their religion. When necessary and appropriate, Mrs. Silverman has filed lawsuits for violations of civil rights.

Coretta Scott King once said, “Struggle is a never ending process. Freedom is never really won, you earn it and win it in every generation”. An erosion of Constitutional rights pervades throughout our society. Police brutality, racial profiling and discrimination are challenges we must address.  Our government continues to wage a losing war on illegal substances and even though the ground is shifting as more and more states legalize marijuana, the law enforcement agencies are continuing this battle. A war has been declared on activists whom are being targeted for exercising their first amendment rights. The right to peacefully protest has been weakened by corporate interests influencing government officials. Individuals and organizations are working to bring about social and political change in these areas. Lawyers have a role in support of the individuals and groups pursuing social and political change.

Right now, Mrs. Silverman is involved in several significant battles over Constitutional rights – the battle to preserve the right to record police officers engaged in their duties and the battle to stop the shooting of dogs by police officers. In regards to the first battle, on December 31, 2013, Mrs. Silverman filed suit against the City of Austin for violating the civil rights of Antonio Buehler, founder of Peaceful Streets. Austin police arrested Buehler repeatedly for filming police. Mr. Buehler is a graduate of West Point and an Iraqi war Veteran, with post graduate degrees from Stanford and Harvard. Buehler formed the Peaceful Streets Project after witnessing police abuse of a young woman. The City filed a Motion to Dismiss based upon qualified immunity including a claim that the right to record police is not clearly established in the Fifth Circuit. The Judge denied the Motion and ruled that the right to record police is clearly established in the Fifth Circuit.

On the second battle, Mrs. Silverman represents Shiner Bock. Shiner Bock and his person were in their storage unit collecting art for an art show. Shiner Bock’s person is an artist. Shiner Bock knows it is his responsibility to protect his person and to love him. They are everything for each other. Shiner Bock heard someone sneaking around the property. This person was carrying a gun and wearing all black. This person never announced who he was or tried to speak to Shiner Bock’s person. This person never spoke to Shiner Bock. Shiner Bock knew what a gun could do to his person. Shiner barked three times telling the person with the gun to stay away from his person and alerting his person to the bad guy. The bad guy did not hesitate; he fired his gun. Shiner Bock ran away crying and died in front of his person. The person sneaking around the storage unit was a police officer with no authority to be on the premises and he never once announced “Police.” Police need to be held liable for these cruel violations of the owners’ Constitutional rights.

Animals are sentient beings. They have intelligence and wisdom beyond providing companionship for their owners. Some animals have responsibilities and work for humans. For some humans, dogs become like family members. Shiner Bock’s person and his only family member is Julian Reyes. Julian Reyes is an Austin artist and activist who speaks out about the injustice of puppycide. Julian is a former graduate of Baylor University and was a technician for Microsoft. He also worked to clean the environment. Though Julian had permission to be on the grounds, the police detained him and shot and killed his dog on the spot.

In recent years, there has been an epidemic of puppycide. Puppycide is a term which refers to the epidemic of dogs being shot by law enforcement officers. An upcoming documentary entitled Puppycide estimates that, “Every 98 minutes a dog is killed by a law enforcement officer”[2]. Sadly, these cases are no longer the exception, but the rule. Very few police departments have a policy regarding the use of force on dogs. Nor do the departments have training programs to train officers to understand dog behavior and methods of controlling dog confrontations without shooting them. A combined approach of litigation for the violation of the dog owners Constitutional rights as well as lobbying for legislation to require policies and training is being used to address this social change issue.

In the past, Mrs. Silverman’s work involving social change has included advice before, during and after Occupy Houston.

On October 6, 2011, the phone rang. I was sitting in my office working very hard to follow my own advice that a lawyer must choose the role of activist or the role of lawyer. Several of my friends had chosen the role of activist and were marching with the crowd in support of NYC’s Occupy Wall Street. The voice on the other end of the line said, “If we want to stay outside at city hall overnight, what should we do to get permission?” I had no idea. But I heard my voice say with a level of confidence that I did not feel at all, “Go inside city hall. Go to the Mayor’s office. Ask to see the Mayor and ask her for permission.” “Ok,” he said. The next call came about 30 minutes later. “I asked for the Mayor and told them what I wanted but they haven’t come back yet. What should I do?” My voice again with confidence said, “Don’t leave until they give you permission.” “Ok,” he said. After a while he called to tell me that the business manager had told him that the Mayor said they could stay as long as they wanted to stay.

Words the Mayor came to regret. The occupation had much more tenacity than she expected.

While practicing in Mississippi, many of Mrs. Silverman’s clients were young African Americans who were pursued because of racial prejudice engrained in the Southern world. Mrs. Silverman also filed suit against the City of Ocean Springs on behalf of the first female fire fighter hired by Ocean Springs. The fire fighter suffered significant and dangerous acts of sexual harassment. The case was resolved by settlement.

The Truth is that it is important to stand for something. Otherwise, individual free will is replaced with government automotones; beauty is replaced with concrete; and happiness is replaced with monotony.

 

[1] WCL’s Impact Litigation Project, wcl.american.edu.

[2] Riggs, Mike. “Is a Pet Dog Really Killed Every 98 Minutes by Law Enforcement?”. The Atlantic. http://www.theatlanticcities.com/politics/2013/10/dog-really-killed-police-officer-every-98-minutes/7356/. October 2013.