I do not want to be writing this post. I do not want to be writing about the senseless and avoidable shootings of Terence Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott. I do not want to be writing about the protestors in Charlotte, whose protests began peacefully and only erupted into violence after police tear gassed them. After police beat them with batons.
But I am.
As I write this, countless news reporters and social media users are debating whether or not they think either shooting was “justified.” As videos of both shootings go viral, viewers debate what the situation might have looked like from law enforcement’s perspective.
After watching the video released by Keith Lamont Scott’s family, (which, it goes without saying, contains horrific content and people should use extreme caution in viewing it) one thing in particular stood out to me and it had nothing to do with the legality of the officers’ actions: In the minutes leading up to the shooting, Scott’s wife can be heard begging police, over and over and over again, not to shoot who her husband. We all know they didn’t listen.
And this is what those who are defending the officers’ actions are missing. Even if the shooting is eventually determined to be “legally justified,” (which, it is this author’s opinion that it plainly wasn’t) the problem is not solved. Police aren’t exonerated. Not even close.
The shootings of Terence Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott represent an even bigger problem than police violence: They’re a symptom of the vast undercurrent of systems that continually oppress persons of color such that the fear of every day encounters turning deadly in the blink of an eye is ever present.   
For public defenders and other members of the public defense world, we see these systems every day. We see them in who gets bail and who doesn’t. Who gets prison and who gets probation. Who gets the death penalty and who gets life. Who gets charged and who doesn’t. Who gets killed by police officers and who lives.
Public defenders, and those who work closely with them, can help change these systems. Public defenders can voir dire on implicit racial bias. They can hold the line between protestors and police officers, like Toussaint Romaine and his colleagues in Charlotte. They can challenge common legal assumptions about the way people respond to police aggression. They can fight for greater police accountability. They can demand more than an all white jury for their minority clients.
We can do all these things, and more. But not only can we do these things, we must. The systems that oppress people of color will not go quietly. They will not be destroyed through niceties and pleasantries. They will not be disarmed through pleading or begging. The only way these systems will weaken, let alone crumble, is if we refuse to let people look away. By showing this country what’s behind the curtain. And by fighting, every single chance we get, no matter how small, against them. Lives depend on it.