Photo Courtesy of Equal Standard Family
I have been practicing as a licensed attorney for the past five (5) years, through the State of Ohio, and have had the privilege in working with and representing clients from many different backgrounds and cultures. While not every client engagement was rainbows and sunshine, it certainly left a memorable impression on me.
Back in March of this year, Montgomery County, Ohio was given the title of “the overdose capital of the United States” with respect to opioids. Specifically, the prevalent abuse of prescription painkillers, including oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, and fentanyl has taken an increasingly damaging toll throughout the State of Ohio. During my five years of practice, the majority of cases I took on involved some form of opioid abuse, where I represented women, men, and unfortunately, youth who were victimized and struggling through addiction.
And too often, many of the uphill battles I faced with the prosecution and/or state agencies while representing my clients, shockingly, had nothing to do with “an individual battling addiction”, and everything to do with the color of their skin. Now, you wouldn’t find this type of systemic bias and injustice written in legal documents, no. Rather, it could only be heard (and sometimes seen from the facial expressions of those I stood up against).
Yes, it is safe to assume that I represented clients who were Black, White, Hispanic, Indian, the list goes on. But as a young millennial, white male attorney, what could I do as part of my strategy in my legal representation of my client?
With some judgments by the court working in our favor, and others going against what we as the defense were seeking, learning to rise above systemic character attacks, simply because of “skin color” became a part of my legal strategy when advising my clients; and believe me, it wasn’t easy, especially since it was coming from me, a white male.
There is so much hate and toxicity in our criminal justice system, that while it may not be readily apparent that it is targeting, it certainly is, which falls under my definition of “bullying in disguise.”
It was and still is, in my opinion, the most difficult part about being a young attorney in today’s legal landscape, representing a client of color, attempting to explain that, unfortunately, our criminal justice system just isn’t what it should be, and that’s why I’m here, to try and make a difference with their lives in my hands.
Which brings me to a film I recently came across, which I believe every parent should take the time to sit down and watch with their children.
“Equal Standard” is a film that tells the story about a New York Police Department (NYPD) Detective who is shot by one of his own, benevolent brothers in uniform. Communities are ignited, to march for justice. Gangs put their differences aside, for a united fight, an equal opportunity, by which “people are not judged by the color of their skin, but for the content of their character,” according to the film’s writer, Taheim Bryan. This was Bryan’s first feature film that he self-wrote and co-directed.
The movement and unity impacts NYC life, leading to a Blue Wall intervention within law enforcement. White cops seek change and act on that desire, by flushing out racism. Certainly not an easy fight, but in the end, it’s about turning the impossible into possible.
As a long-time fan of Law & Order: SVU, I was ecstatic to also learn that actor Ice-T was also part of the film. The film recently won the IFD award from Independent Filmmaker Day, a large festival which hosts four events a year, traditionally taking place in France (the day before Cannes), in Utah (the day before Sundance), Toronto (the day before TIFF), and Miami (during Art Basel).
“The feature, which focuses on the race relations between African Americans and the police, comes at a pivotal time in American history,” IFD producer Eric Vollweiler said. Soon thereafter, Mutiny Pictures recently secured North American distribution rights to Equal Standard, according to Deadline, which will get a limited theatrical release beginning May 7.
I reached out to Bryan to ask what our generation of parents and children can do better in educating one another to “do better.”
“Teaching should always start from the homefront,” Bryan explained to me. “A lot has deviated from the original way of our upbringing, leaving everything in the hands of a curriculum. That’s not really good. As a productive future for today’s society, we’re completely behind; we’re not taught. We’re not taught about economic growth. We’re not taught religion or about different ethnicities. Our curriculum needs to change.”
Bryan also confessed that this is very damaging to youth today, because “you feel that you’ve been lied to, and when you’ve been lied to, from a child all the way to now, you think that the only reason why you would want to reveal the truth is because it’s finally been exposed. So, the best thing I would say is teach. Teach yourself. Then teach others.”
Bryan ended our conversation with a pretty deep takeaway for me:
“I remember one time being at the park, watching children of two different cultural backgrounds playing. And then, I saw the parent come up and pick their child up, taking the child away from the other child. Now, subconsciously, you as a parent are teaching your child that by separating them, that this is not the child you should be playing with, which is a very bad thing.”
And he was right. Through our actions, conscious or not, can we teach a child inherent bias or racism? In a soft tone, we need to change that, and teach those around us to be proud of who they are, and not to bully others for looking different. Let children just be children, and teach them about love. Stop enforcing hate.
The film comes out May 7th. I recommend we all watch it, because who knows, we might all just be better for it.