Black Lives Matter in Our Courtrooms Too

BLM-PinBy Mike Brickner

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.

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.

Mike Brickner is with ACLU of Ohio

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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31 Comments

  1. Tia Will

    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.”

    I am not a member of the Black community, but I also disagree with Judge Milich. Wearing the American flag, or a church pin can both be seen as statements of bias if one attributes that to a Black Lives Matter pin.  In the case of the American flag pin, politicians have been criticized for not wearing one claiming that this is a demonstration of their lack of loyalty of commitment to the country. Wearing a church pin in a governmental setting could be viewed as a breech of the separation of church and state. I certainly would not be convinced of the neutrality of a person wearing a symbol of any faith given that I belong to no formally organized religion.

    1. Tia Will

      quielo

      To deny that a BLM pin has political implications is just dumb.”

      I think that there is a fine line between “political” and “social” implications. Where I see social justice, you clearly see something political that I do not see ( dumb or not). Can you be more specific about what you believe the “political” message is ?

    2. Miwok

      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.

      So wearing a Pin that says “BEEF, it’s what’s for Dinner” is out too? My NASCAR hat? My NRA hat? C’mon, maybe we need a list?

      It is not a political slogan, IN YOUR OPINION. It is offensive to me, but then, only Mr Greenwald’s opinion counts..

      It only encourages Criminal-Americans to act out. Educated people who encourage lawbreakers to hide behind that sign are being played.

  2. Sam

    “Judge Robert Milich to sentence her to five days in the Mahoning County Jail because she refused to remove the pin.”

    When did orders from judges and police officers become optional? If BLM really cared about black lives they should spend more time convincing people to comply with the orders given to them (then less of them will get shot) and less time with articles trying to glorify people who don’t comply.

  3. Tia Will

    Sam

    When did orders from judges and police officers become optional?”

    When did the orders from judges become so arbitrary and  biased as to not realize that flag pins and religious statement pins are either “political statements” as are Black Lives Matter pins, or neither are.

    comply with the orders given to them (then less of them will get shot)”

    Wow ! What a one sided view. Was Tamir Rice given time to even understand any order, let alone comply ? How about Akai Gurley, dead with no warning at all. How about Philando Castile, killed while likely doing his best to comply having already informed the officer that he had a weapon ?

     

    1. Barack Palin

      Still, you remove the pin and fight it out later whether it’s allowed or not.  This lawyer decided to make a statement so she should also be willing to take the penalty.

    2. Davis Progressive

      i think there is a misunderstand here believing that lack of following orders is what’s leading to death – in some cases that’s true, in some cases the officer is irresponsibly giving orders (sandra bland comes to mind) and as tia points out, in many cases the orders are not coming at all, shots are fired.  we have the rule of law and safeguards for reasons and those are being violated by the police.

      1. Sam

        In some cases its true? Do you consider 90-95% some of the time?

        Yes, we have the rule of law and the law states you are required to follow a police officers instructions no matter how just you think they are at the time. Failing to do so increases your chance of getting shot exponentially.

        If for some reason you feel the need to be civilly disobedient during your next traffic stop, just keep in mind that the officer is going to be thinking more about all of their fellow officers that were recently killed and less about Rosa Parks. Proceed at your own risk.

  4. Sam

    “When did the orders from judges become so arbitrary “.

    This is the attitude that I am talking about. Compliance to orders from a judge or police officers are not dependent on how you feel about what they are asking you to do. They are mandatory. This idea that they are optional is getting people killed!

    Oscar Grant, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray…..

  5. hpierce

    Sensing a slight drift off-topic…

    Hopefully correcting course, I opine that ‘jewelry’/clothing that “makes a statement”, whether political or social, has no place in a court of law… or in a polling place…

    A “Remember Treyvon” t-shirt (plain view) should not be allowed inside, a “gotta love Joe McCarthy’s social views”, same.  A big “Mickey Mouse” t-shirt (or watch), same.

    Most awkward time I remember in a polling place was when a cute/”endowed” young lady came to the polling place wearing (apparently only, as a ‘top’) a “vote ******” message.  Couldn’t very well ask her to remove it  [was tempted, but that thought lasted 3.4 milliseconds].  But also could not permit her to enter with it.  She did go home and change, and voted ~ 30 minutes later.

    Perhaps I was not alone in reporting that type of situation… now YC provides sort of a ‘covering gown’ to “cover” that situation, to the polling places…

    1. Tia Will

      Black Lives Matter is now synonymous with killing cops.”
      Perhaps in your mind Frankly. But for me that is no more true than saying that wearing a blue uniform is synonymous with killing blacks. Both are ridiculous mischaracterizations of what is actually occuring.

  6. tribeUSA

    Would a “white lives matter” pin be acceptable?

    How about a ‘white lives matter to someone, I guess’ or ‘black lives matter to someone, I guess ‘ pin in the courtroom? (where are the boundaries?)

    1. hpierce

      IMO, no buttons/pins should be acceptable in the courts, nor in polling places…  period.

      Not “free speech”, but provocative/coercive ‘speech’.  Yell “fire” in a crowded theater?

      1. Tia Will

        hpierce

        no buttons/pins should be acceptable in the courts, nor in polling places…  period.”

        I would agree with this. And then, I have another, and completely honest question for you. How do you feel about other visible symbols of strongly held belief in such places ?  Is a cross in such a place a political statement ?  How about a Star of David ? A symbol implying an adherence to Sharia law worn by any participant ?

         

    2. Justice4All

      Would a “white lives matter” pin be acceptable?

      This is a classic example of a false equivalency fallacy. There isnt a long history of oppression of white people in this country simply based on their skin color. There also is not an epidemic of state violence disproportionately affecting white people, or casual racism against them. Therefore the message of a “White lives matter” pin would be significantly different than a “Black  lives matter” pin.

      1. quielo

        “state violence disproportionately affecting white people, or casual racism against them” Of course not. It would be more accurate to say there is an epidemic of violence against white people and an organized campaign of racism (White Privilege) and of course ongoing rampant cultural appropriation. The BA/BS/MS/PhD is an invention of European civilization so anyone who obtains one who is not of European descent is guilty of cultural appropriation.

      2. tribeUSA

        OK, accepting for the time being that this is not a 100% equivalency; the larger point I was trying to make was where would the boundaries be drawn in a courtroom on statements on pins and buttons?

  7. Miwok

    Since you are all talking about your  “feelings” I would put mine out there: It is offensive to me to see BLM people protest against White people and Cops, when the world is made up of Asians, Natives, Hispanics, etc. They could care less about the other races, including Africans, except to rob them, or attack them, and have morphed their “movement” into a plea for “reparations” for being slaves “all their lives”. Really?

    If this movement had targeted, and stuck with, the message of racist Police, and also not defended Black Criminal-Americans, I would have embraced it too. It was wrong and still is. But the message your spoiled brat kids need to go free to steal from more people before they finally get arrested to answer for crime, is wrong, and the street thugs who had children killed by cops are already changing the message to something else.

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