INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Hundreds have taken to the streets demanding an end to systemic racism and police brutality in Indianapolis and around the country. Some of that brought damage, curfew violations and arrests.
A conversation started within the legal world and law firms all over started asking themselves how can we help bring about change. One of those firms is located right here in Indianapolis and now their attorneys have stepped up to provide pro bono aid.
SAEED: It’s really about representing protesters in making sure that they are able to demonstrate their first amendment rights. So this was a no-brainer. But if we talk about this specific protest, I think I would say two reasons. Number one, we can’t sit on the sidelines. This is a monumental event in our lifetimes and history. And we didn’t want to be on the sidelines for this. And so we wanted to make or put in our efforts with this causes well. And second, a more nuanced reason is many of these individuals they may not be able to afford representation. And we wanted to make sure that they were being represented by private counsel they can take their cases to trial, and they weren’t being convicted because they signed up for a plea agreement, or weren’t getting adequate representation. So we wanted to make sure the representation was adequate for these protesters.
WINFREY: Someone can’t afford representation, the legal or attorneys that are given to you in jail may not have the time to look at your case The proper way and you end up with a Khalif Browder situation. Talk about just how very real it is, the dangers or the troubles when you can’t afford an attorney on your own.
SAEED: The reality is that many of times justice in the U.S. is meted out on the sliding scale of economic wherewithal. If you are higher up on the social economic pecking order, you get justice. But if you’re not, it may evade you. And that’s the reality here. This is not a dig on the public defender’s office. This is a dig the allocated, on the allocated resources. So yes this is a reality. Many of these individuals, if it wasn’t for Saeed & Little and other law firms that are doing similar work, they would be pushed into signing plea agreements and would have something on their records, so a teenage kid who got rounded up for really no reason other than being a protester would have a dent on his record.
WINFREY: Do you find, in situations like this where people have been arrested for protesting, if they have proper written legal representation that the case is ultimately dismissed? Is that a common thing or do they often even ever go to trial?
SAEED: You have to take a larger sample to really answer that question. But I can tell you in the context of these protests, more than 95% of the cases we’ve represented, or put in our representation, those cases, the charges have been dismissed. But, you know, if you take a sort of a more broader look at what’s happening, the judicial system at large cannot afford to have all of these things go to trial or all of these cases. They just can’t, the prosecutor,s office can’t, the public defender,s office can’t, the judicial system can’t. The only people that can really force these cases to go to trial is the private bar. Because they have the resources to do a deposition, to hire experts and pursue these cases in an aggressive, in adverse serial fashion, like our judicial system envisioned this process to go. The only way that can happen is to go through the private bar. So yes, it does make an impact.
WINFREY: As an attorney, you were seeking to get justice for your clients or whatever the case may be. Some people may have a hard time wrapping their minds around it. Like he has nothing to do with these protesters, they are out there protesting. But in terms of someone seeking justice, or needing justice talk about how, ‘No this is part of my work, this is part of what I do.’
SAEED: Absolutely, I mean it’s your First Amendment right to express yourself. Go out and protest something. These protests are close to our heart. We are a firm that does consumer rights, civil rights work. Racial justice is close to what we do, it’s close to our heart. We see this on a daily basis. This caused. We are invested in this cause. So when they go out and protest, number one we share their mission we share their values. And number two, I don’t want the kid who is 18 years old to be wrapped up and go to jail because he didn’t have adequate representation or have a dent on his record. At the end of the day, we want them to believe and have the peace of mind that they can have adequate representation. And they could go out and exhibit and demonstrate their rights without being unfairly put into a situation that would jeopardize your future.
WINFREY: You mentioned this is part of the work you do, just from a personal standpoint though, when you look around and see all this happening that has to have some type of an effect on you. Does it push you to say, ‘I need to work harder?’ Does it push you to say, ‘I need to use my voice?’ What does it do personally for you watching everything unfold?
SAEED: You know this does push us. This brings optimism to the cause. We see protesters talking about it in such a broad coalition of people are talking about things that we’ve been talking about for so long. And that’s encouraging. That change is maybe not around the corner but it’s getting closer. I think was really a cause for optimism is that this entire scenario has created a space for legislative advocacy. We may have the opportunity, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to move legislation in the next General Assembly session. Which we may never have again. So that’s a major cause of optimism for me.
Saeed says in addition to the work his firm is doing, 160 other attorneys stepped up to volunteer with the firm.