In light of the events of this past week, we’re sharing this important conversation with Raphael Davis-Williams, a civil rights attorney, the first ever director of Equity and Inclusion at the ACLU of Ohio, and one of our favorites from the legal industry, from Clio’s Daily Matters podcast. Listen to the conversation here, or read the conversation below.

Raphael Davis-Williams (00:01): I’m afraid that if this is not the moment that we actually start making systemic lasting permanent change then there is no moment. There is no moment where we will finally stop the internal systemic governmental levers that are crushing Black men.

Jack Newton (00:29): At Clio our mission is to transform the practice of law for good and increasing access to justice is a major component of that. Clio fundamentally believes in equity and justice as critical pillars of the legal and judicial system and we are committed to using our platform to advocate for change. In light of recent events, we’re conducting a series of interviews to address the systemic racism that is pervasive in our society. We need to be talking about these topics in the legal industry so that we may create a more equitable and accessible justice system. We hope these conversations can play some part in moving things forward.

Our first guest in this series is Raphael Davis-Williams, a longtime member of the extended Clio family who is a civil rights attorney and the first ever director of Equity and Inclusion at the ACLU of Ohio. Raphael, usually, we get to chat under lighter circumstances, but we’re very grateful to have you here today.

Raphael Davis-Williams (01:22): Thank you so much, Jack, for having me, and thank you and Clio for having this conversation, having the concern, and, frankly, the fortitude to address these subjects.

Jack Newton (01:37): Well, thank you for being part of the conversation with us today, Raphael. And before we dig into some of our main topics, can you start off by giving us an idea of the work that you do with the ACLU?

Raphael Davis-Williams (01:49): Sure. As the director of Equity and Inclusion, it’s both a forward-facing and an internal component. My initial internal component was to ensure that as an organization we were being equitable, inclusive, have diversity. And one of the things that we are primarily focusing on now is belonging, that’s another part of it. It’s easy, I shouldn’t say it’s easy, but we’re accustomed to hearing about diversity and equity and maybe even inclusion, but belonging is as important because you can have all of those other issues addressed, but if the individual does not feel as though they belong as a part of the organization, if they don’t feel like their voice is heard, if they don’t feel like that they can dissent without repercussion, that doesn’t create an equitable, or inclusive workplace environment.

So my first task was to ensure that that was where we are internally, and I will say this is for everyone, for my organization, for your organization, and anyone else addressing this. These aren’t issues that you address and then it’s fixed and then you move on. These are ongoing, longterm, intentional conversations that have to go on for a considerable amount of time. So that’s one aspect. And the other aspect of my role is external, and I am doing exactly what we’re doing now, talking to other companies, talking to government entities, trying to get everyone to understand the importance of having someone specifically addressing these issues within a particular company, or corporation.

Jack Newton (03:43): Raphael, I’m curious, what drew you to this kind of work both in the diversity, inclusion and belonging side of things, as well as just your general draw to civil rights related work?

Raphael Davis-Williams (03:56): That’s probably—to give a full and complete answer is longer than we have time to go into. But I will say growing up as an African American in the United States in the ’70s and ’80s, going to predominantly white schools, having most of my interaction be with non-people of color, I learned at a very early age what it means to be othered, what it means to be different. No matter what my credentials were, no matter how educated I was, or what was going on, people saw my skin tone first, and that was the first thing that usually had an impact.

And so after I had a career in broadcast journalism where, frankly, I left that profession because I got tired of trying to convince them to not, in their daily news broadcast, other African American men, I went into the legal profession where I figured rather than having to be on the receiving end, I’m going to be the one who’s filing the lawsuit. I’m going to be the one who’s going to push the issue. I’m going to say “you are going to be equitable and diverse and inclusive.” And that’s really how I got into civil rights work.

And after about 10 years of civil rights litigation, I was also on the board of directors for the ACLU during that period of time. And as my time was drawing to an end, the executive director, who I absolutely adore, is a great man, came to me and he was like, “What do you think about a career change?” I was like, “I don’t. I’ve already had two. I would really like to stick with just one.” But after having conversations with him, I ended up here. I’ve been in this position a little over a year now. And this was a brand new position throughout the entire … We have 54 affiliates across the United States, and I am the first to hold this position. I have a lot of conversations with our national office in New York because we want to, as an organization that is a civil liberties and civil rights organization, we want to make sure that these issues are the ones that we are primarily focusing on.

So I’ve never really left. I’ve always been in the same area. It’s just been, which area am I pushing from at this particular point. As a journalist, I was pushing from “I’m going to give you the information about all of the awfulness.” As a lawyer, I was going to bring lawsuits against the awfulness. And now in this position, I’m trying to say, “well, maybe if we can just get to the awfulness before it starts and help people to figure out why this is beneficial to corporations and entities that might save us all some litigation time, and money.”

Jack Newton (06:59): And as you pointed out, Raphael, you’ve dedicated so much of your life’s work to changing society for the better. It’s really been something you’ve spent your life’s work on where, over the course of the last two weeks, we’re seeing this really dramatic turning point, or maybe boiling over in the United States, and worldwide in response to the deaths of George Floyd, and so many others before him at the hands of police, but also the manifestation of the systematic and institutional injustice and inequities we see in our society. Can you talk about what it’s been like from your perspective, as someone who’s been on the front lines of this fight against systemic racism for so long to see what’s happened in the last few weeks, and what you think it all means?

Raphael Davis-Williams (07:52): Sure. Jack, it has been a real range of emotions. I have to say at one point I’m heartened by what’s going on, but I have to tell you how painful, and it is painful. And I don’t think many people really fully appreciate it unless you are, and I don’t mean to … What I’m trying to say is there is a uniqueness about being Black in America. And so I do often because of the job that I have, I include people of color because I know all people of color are marginalized to some extent, but it is unique to Black people. And it is even more unique to Black men.

And I will tell you, I have not … I know you guys keep up with the news down here, but I have not watched another Black man get lynched, or shot, or murdered, or killed since Walter Scott, which was about four or five years ago, who was a Black man who had been stopped by a police officer, and had a warrant, and took off running, and he was shot in the back. And then the police officer tried to put a gun in his hand and do all those things. And since then, so, I have not seen Ahmaud Arbery shooting. I have not seen the George Floyd video. And I haven’t seen any because I don’t want to watch another Black man die at the hands of a white person for no reason.

And so this has been hard, but what I will say is the feelings that a lot of people are having now, it does feel different, and I’m not sure why. Frankly, even now as we’re talking about this I get a little knot in my stomach because I’m afraid that if this is not the moment that we actually start making systemic lasting permanent change, then there is no moment. There is no moment where we will finally stop the internal systemic governmental levers that are crushing Black men. And I get nervous even as we are in a moment now where we have a lot of people who are supporting us. I’ve seen protests internationally from Germany, and London, and Canada, and all over the world, and I get concerned that if this isn’t the moment that things start to actually change I don’t believe a moment exists, and that’s concerning.

Jack Newton (10:55): I fully agree. I know it’s early to be extrapolating from what you’re seeing, Raphael, but you did make a comment that it feels different. Does it feel like a turning point to you? And how do we maybe help catalyze what is so front of mind over the last two weeks into what is, hopefully, permanent change?

Raphael Davis-Williams (11:20): So I think it feels different because I have been watching this happen to Black men since Rodney King. This isn’t new.

Jack Newton (11:33): No.

Raphael Davis-Williams (11:33): What we’re seeing, it’s not like this is the first time we’re having this. We have Rodney King. We have James Byrd, Jr. who was dragged behind a pickup truck until there was nothing left of him. These are things. So I say it feels new, or different this time because I believe what is making this different is the proliferation of computers that we hold in our hands that we call cell phones. This, and the ability to videotape what has been going on and then instantly put that video into the public conversation, that’s why it’s changing, because I guarantee you even the video we saw this morning, I’m not sure if you guys saw it, but there was a video of a 75-year-old white guy being shoved to the ground knocking his head. And the first thing the police officer said was he tripped. Now, if we did not have the video of that, whose version of that would be believed? That 75-year-old man who’s lying on the ground with blood coming out of his ear, or the police officer in riot gear? We’re going to believe him, and that’s what’s changed now is that we have-

Jack Newton (12:51): Even the initial police testimony around George Floyd was he was resisting arrest.

Raphael Davis-Williams (12:56): Exactly, exactly.

Jack Newton (12:57): The video disproves all of that.

Raphael Davis-Williams (13:00): We’ve seen so many different angles that this man was never—and even if he was resistant, Jack, did he deserve to die? Is that where he needed to be? So he resisted. Does that merit a death sentence?

Jack Newton (13:15): Yeah. Were the officers’ lives at risk?

Raphael Davis-Williams (13:18): Right, right. What was he doing that really required that level of escalation? And I think there are enough people who are not people of color who see that video, and then I feel like there’s people who probably see that and they say, “I understand there is racism.” I’ve heard it. I hear, well, I hear, “it’s racism, but you just got to work within the system. You just got to hang in there and do all those things.” What could George Floyd do differently so that he would still be alive? It was heartbreaking to learn, and I will tell you I’ve been weepy, so I want to apologize now.

Jack Newton (13:59): No apologies needed.

Raphael Davis-Williams (14:00): My tears, if I go there, are not about—it is just because I’m angry more than anything, but it broke my heart to learn George Floyd’s mother passed away three years ago. He was lying on that floor with that man on the ground with that man’s knee on his, and he’s calling for his mother who is already deceased. How do we classify ourselves as civil human beings when that’s what we’re doing to another human being? So, yeah, I think the only thing that’s really changed now is that we are able to document this. I think it’s Will Smith—I’m not sure—I think it’s Will Smith who said it’s not happening more frequently, it’s just being videotaped. It’s just being recorded. That’s the difference. And so I think that’s why this moment feels different because on the heels of Ahmaud Arbery, who, we see this man jogging, and then Breonna Taylor, and then George Floyd. I think the rapid fire succession, and it’s all documented, each one of them there’s a video of it that makes us say, whoa, everyone, collectively let’s pump the brakes.

Jack Newton (15:14): There’s a Twitter thread documenting I think it’s over 260 cases of police brutality over the course of these protests as well. And, again, each and every one of these is a video snippet that in fairly unequivocal terms is showing the police acting improperly. And it does feel like that the tipping point maybe is that we are not in a ‘he said’ type of circumstance.

Raphael Davis-Williams (15:47): Exactly.

Jack Newton (15:47): And maybe talking more about police misconduct, Raphael, when so much of your civil rights work is focused on various aspects of employment law, fair housing, and lastly police misconduct, which is obviously front of mind given everything that’s happening around us. There’s obviously a long history of police violence against Black men and women in America. What do you think are some of the most important things for people to understand that underlies all of this that is maybe not obvious to the average listener?

Raphael Davis-Williams (16:23): First, I think that’s a really good question, and here’s why, because even as I have, or I’m still in the process of winding down my private practice as I’m working with the ACLU I still have a few cases. And one of the cases I’m still currently litigating is a police misconduct case not where the individual there was no violence against him, but he’s an LGBTQ guy who is HIV positive, and was in jail for over 18 days, and they didn’t give him his HIV meds to the point that he went from being undetectable to having full-blown AIDS. It’s the ease with which law enforcement, and not just police officers, it’s the ease with which law enforcement discards Black men. They throw us away; it doesn’t matter.

One of the cases that I litigated fairly early on in my litigation career, he was a 70-year-old Veteran, white guy, actually, but he was paralyzed on the entire left side of his body. Without going into it all he said to the police officer at the instant he was pulled over, “I am paralyzed. I cannot move my left arm.” By the end of the encounter, and it’s all videotaped they had broken this man’s shoulder in 12 places because he wouldn’t put his paralyzed arm behind his back. What I believe has to happen, I have advocated this, and I say this. I say take every badge, every gun, every ounce of authority away from every law enforcement officer in this country, and retrain them. And you don’t get that authority again until you prove you are worthy of that authority.

And I say that because in this moment, in this instance you and I are having a conversation. We are on equal footing. If I’m having this conversation with a law enforcement officer, and he’s not in uniform there is a balance of power. Once he puts that uniform on, once he has that badge, once he has that gun the balance of power changes, and he has the ability to take my life from me, and it’s exonerated, it’s okay. I don’t have the same authority over him.

And, listen, I’ve heard it all. And, frankly, I’m not at a point where I’m not feeling gracious because I know there’s a point and a moment for grace, but I’m not feeling gracious when I hear the statement that law enforcement is hard. Being a police officer is hard. Well, yeah, it is hard, and if it’s so hard that you can’t figure out how to not kill someone you need to find a different profession. That’s not the job you need. Yeah, I can have a bad day. Jack, you can have a bad day. If you have a bad day, Jack, what’s going to happen? Is someone going to lose their life because you were pissy that day? I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to say that.

Jack Newton (19:32): That’s fine.

Raphael Davis-Williams (19:33): I mean, you’re not dealing with someone if there’s a moment where you’re going to have that you’re not going to deal with it. Law enforcement officers, if you have a bad day, if you’re angry, and you’re upset, you can use the power of the government to take my life. That has got to change, and I will tell you as a follow-up to your question, why is it? Because it’s systemic—and when we say systemic just to get real clear of what we mean, so those cases that I litigate when I litigate those cases of police misconduct what happens is I am often going up—In fact, I don’t believe, I’m trying to think in my probably 10, 12 years of actual litigation, I think I can count maybe two attorneys of color who were my opposing counsel. I can count on my hand maybe one, two, maybe, no, actually, one, two federal judges who were there. 

So what happens, and when we get to the point where you go through that entire process so you have the incident that precipitates the lawsuit. And then you’re in the lawsuit. And then you’re dealing with the same people who have the same privilege who are making the decisions. And even if you get to trial in the Southern District of Ohio, we are predominantly white, and predominantly old. And I had a case where it was a race relation, it was a case where an African American family had a cross burned in their yard. And we went to trial on that. And we ended up settling it that morning, but the jury pool for a case that was drawn from the Southern District of Ohio for a race-based case where a cross was burned in an African American family’s yard was all white. That’s systemic.

So I can’t convince you, Jack, to not have sympathy for people who look like you when you are sitting in a jury box, and you’re looking at the person whose sitting on the stand and they look like your mother, or they look like your sister, or your neighbor, or your co-worker, and they all look the same. I can’t overcome that. I can’t overcome what you’ve learned about me as a 6’4″ Black man. I can’t do anything to take, to unwire, to disconnect those connections that say he’s likely not telling the truth, or he probably did, or even if he didn’t he did something. When we talk about systemic racism that’s what we’re talking about. We’re talking about what’s baked into the system. And I say this to the staff at the ACLU frequently. I say it to them often. We didn’t get here last night. We’re not going to leave tomorrow morning.

Jack Newton (22:24): Right.

Raphael Davis-Williams (22:26): The things that we’re dealing with we’ve literally been dealing with for hundreds of years. So there’s space to do this, but I do believe there has to be the willingness to change. There’s got to be a willingness to change.

Jack Newton (22:41): And I want to unpack that conversation a little bit. I think there’s systemic racism that we’ll talk about in a moment, and maybe how we start moving toward that better tomorrow as a society. There’s systemic racism, and maybe the way police forces are acting in response to this systemic racism that is resulting in people losing their lives. This is the stakes are so high, and with Greg Doucette’s Twitter thread highlighting, again, several hundred now just in the space of a few days these documented video recordings of police misconduct amidst these protests the conversation seems to be shifting from, again, a tipping point seems to be are we talking about a few bad apples in the police force, or are we talking about a bad orchard?

Raphael Davis-Williams (23:38): Right, right.

Jack Newton (23:40): And it does seem like it’s indexing towards the latter, and you’re starting to see what might have seemed like radical ideas even just a few months ago around defunding the police, demilitarizing the police. We look at how policing is done in countries like the UK, or even Canada closer to home, police are not equipped in the same kind of militarized way. Things do not escalate as quickly. Things are more peaceful, and it feels like the United States maybe does need to do some soul-searching around how its policing is done. You talked about what, again, might seem like a radical idea three months ago, but seems imminently practical today. Let’s take away the badges and the guns until there’s retraining done. Can you tell us more about what you think needs to happen on the policing front to really change the daily tragedy that is happening for Black people?

Raphael Davis-Williams (24:39): Sure. So I will start and say and I’ll push back slightly on whether or not we’re at the point where we have a bad orchard. We’re getting real close to it, though. My undergraduate college days were spent—at my undergraduate university one of the things they did was, there were three things. It was journalism, teaching, and law enforcement. And I know a fair number of good honest fair police officers.

Jack Newton (25:13): No question. And we’ve seen that in the protests.

Raphael Davis-Williams (25:16): Sure, sure.

Jack Newton (25:17): We’re seeing cops lay down their badges, and lay down their guns.

Raphael Davis-Williams (25:21): Sure. Right.

Jack Newton (25:22): And join the protest. I forget which exact police chief it was, but he said, “Let’s turn this into a parade rather than a protest, and celebrate George Floyd’s life.”

Raphael Davis-Williams (25:32): Right. I saw that, yeah. Yes, I know exactly. So that’s it, and so I don’t want to give necessarily a short shrift to that because I think it is important to say that probably the vast majority are good, but as we were saying you mentioned bad apple. And the reason, I just saw a meme on Facebook with Chris Rock giving a beautiful analogy to bad apples saying, “if American Airlines has a bad apple as a pilot who says ‘I didn’t feel like landing on the landing strip today. I thought I’d crash into a mountain.’” There’s some professions where you can’t have a bad apple.

Jack Newton (26:13): Right. One bad apple is too many.

Raphael Davis-Williams (26:14): Exactly, exactly. So I heard probably one of the most encouraging things I think it was yesterday I don’t know if it’s a town or city in Minnesota where all of this started that said they were disbanding their entire police force, and they were going to revamp it, and relaunch it as a public safety office. And part of it is I’m going to give you some American history here. The police forces as they are known today began as slave-catching organizations. And I don’t know if everyone knows that.

Jack Newton (27:03): I didn’t know that.

Raphael Davis-Williams (27:04): The actual star that is the badge that we’re all so familiar with with whatever it is, it started with slave-catching. That’s what they were tasked to do from the beginning, and it hasn’t changed. They were chasing Black men down then and they are chasing Black men down today. And that’s a fundamental problem. We are not in the mindset of keeping the peace. It’s an us against them. I love the sibling relationship that we have with Canada. I love when Americans make fun of you guys for being so nice. I think there’s a little bit of jealousy there because I wish people here were as kind as all of the people at Clio who I know and love, and who I’ve met, and it just never even came—some idea of race, or something like that never came up. I do believe, though, that the violence that we see is intrinsic and unique to the United States because of the origins of how law enforcement began, policing began.

And that’s why I suggest that we start over. I am not saying that we don’t need law enforcement. I am not saying that there aren’t idiots out there who are always going to shoot up places, and hurt people, and rob places, and do all of those things. So, yeah, we do need someone who’s doing that. But most of the places … I live here in Columbus, Ohio. I live in the Lindon neighborhood, and everyone knows Lindon is one of the most over-policed areas in the state of Ohio because it’s an all Black, economically disadvantaged poor neighborhood. My street actually is a very odd intersection. I won’t go into our municipal—I frankly don’t even understand it. But where we are we’re the last street in a township that separates us from the actual larger city of Columbus.

So on my street on any given day we are sitting here and I can tell you I watch the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department go by. I watch the Columbus Police Department go by. I watch the Mifflin Township Police go by. I watch the Clinton Township Police go by. It is one street, and I can tell you since we’ve lived here most often I sit outside at night, and we listen to crickets. And I’m not exaggerating. We listen to crickets. We get up in the morning, and we sit and listen to birds chirp. No one in my neighborhood, in my street we’re not violent, and we certainly, even if we were, don’t deserve to have seven law enforcement agencies policing us.

Jack Newton (30:13): Right.

Raphael Davis-Williams (30:14): It’s a fundamental shift in what the purpose of law enforcement is. It is about safety. It is to protect and serve. George Floyd was not being protected. He was not being served. And I won’t go into it. I can go through the entire list, but none of the people who have died at the hands of law enforcement were being protected or served. The difference between me and you is we have the same instinct. If someone is accosting us, or grabbing us, or there’s some tension you tend to tense up, and you’ll do these things, but you do that and they say, “oh, that’s okay.” I do that and I’m shot dead because I was resisting. How is that? Why is that? That’s where the training—that’s where it has to be a fundamental shift in the mentality.

I’m trying to remember in the times I’ve been to Vancouver I’m trying to remember seeing law enforcement vehicles, or police presence. I’m not even really remembering, but here we have, the police presence is so prevalent and it doesn’t feel like they’re there to help you. It always feels like you’re just a sneeze away from being pounced upon. And that has got to change. I hear people say all of the time “I did not grow thinking of the police as some … The police show up you go the other way.” That’s a reality. That’s not a suggestion.

Jack Newton (31:55): Right. You don’t have a feeling of comfort that the police are here I’m safer, it’s that this is a threat.

Raphael Davis-Williams (32:03): Exactly. “Yay, the police are here.” No, I am going in the opposite direction. I don’t want to be anywhere near what’s going on here. And that’s where I think the change has got to happen. We have to change the mentality, and it’s got to be abrupt. This idea that we’re going to take as long as it took us 500 years of going through this stuff again, no, that’s not going to be the case. I say in the next 60 days every law enforcement agency you start with a portion, a third, a quarter, whatever you want to do with your law enforcement officers. Yeah, it’s going to cause all of this angst, and all of these things. Yeah, well, that should be your incentive to do it faster. And you retrain those people so that they understand they are there to help, not to be there as an antagonist.

I’m a part of an organization. I met with our city mayor just a couple of days ago. We have a followup meeting with him. We have video that’s just pouring in, and this is not affiliated with the ACLU. I want to make sure I say that. That’s separate, but we have video pouring in where you see officers antagonizing protestors and to the point that they respond, and the moment they respond they pounce on them. Where is that helpful? How is that advancing us in a space where I am supposed to trust the law enforcement?

I don’t call the police because I often believe that if ever I call the police I should expect, one, when they see it’s me they’re going to think I’m the suspect, and so before I can explain that I’m not that I was calling about something else I’ll have to deal with that encounter, or when they do show up if it happens to be a person of color I may be as that woman was in Central Park putting that person’s life in danger by simply calling the police. We know that’s not the way it’s supposed to work, but that’s the way it happens more often than not.

Jack Newton (34:05): So let’s zoom out a little bit next, Raphael, if we think about the police as the intake system for the rest of the justice system. There’s obviously a lot of inequity there, and if you’re a Black person you’re maybe lucky if that interaction doesn’t actually end in the end of your life, but if you are lucky enough, or depending on your perspective unlucky enough to enter that justice system, you’re still experiencing systemic racism. Tell us about what that looks like on the inside of other aspects of the justice system.

Raphael Davis-Williams (34:39): Sure. We touched on this earlier and that is just it. It is expected. And I wish I had the numbers, but I don’t, but I’m happy to get them to you, but we have all the specific numbers that say how African Americans are more likely to be arrested for say marijuana use. And once they’re arrested they’re likely to be sentenced to longer sentences. And if they’re sentenced to longer sentences they’re unlikely to be able to get parole. When we talk about a system that is designed to oppress that’s what we mean. Right now one of the key initiatives of the ACLU of Ohio is to reform, or eliminate Ohio’s cash bail system. We have people in this country who are sitting behind bars who have not been found guilty of anything. I’m going to say that again. We have people sitting behind bars, and I’m not talking for a weekend. We’re talking months, sometimes years at a time because they could not come up with $300 for bail.

Jack Newton (35:49): Right.

Raphael Davis-Williams (35:50): How is that fair? As Americans we love to tout our constitution, and that you are innocent until proven guilty, and yet we are okay with caging people for months, or years at a time not because we know they did something wrong, but because they could not afford bail. And if you want to go into, like you say want to broaden it out, not even necessarily with the justice system, but why can’t they afford a $400 bail? Because they don’t have the education. And why don’t they have the education? Because the education system is discriminatory. And they don’t have a good job. Why don’t they have a good job? Because they can’t get a good job because the people who are doing the hiring look like you not like me. And so they hire people who look like you not like me. And it’s this amazing unbelievable web of simple—

Jack Newton (36:50): The structural racism it’s just every aspect of the system.

Raphael Davis-Williams (36:58): Exactly, exactly. So, yeah, you have these people who are unable to pay $300 because they’ve never been able. They have simply been cut out of society, and then when you ask-

Jack Newton (37:11): They’re guilty of the crime of being poor.

Raphael Davis-Williams (37:14): Being Black, yeah. They were born in the wrong zip code. There was years ago, Oprah Winfrey did one of her shows, and they showed us. We saw this, it’s been well over 10 years ago. Chicago, the city of Chicago where we were having our initial gathering. She showed the difference—same school district, it was Chicago, north side, south side, same school district—and they showed a school. They went to the south side: holes in the roof, four students to one laptop, no facility, the gym was awful. It was horrible, dimly lit. It was a wretched place that you were sending all of these people of color, these children of color to get an education. And you drive 45 minutes north to the north side: Big beautiful palatial. Again, big beautiful palatial buildings. They have Olympic-size swimming pools. Every student has their own personal laptop. There are all these things, and you go, well, wait a minute? They’re the same school district. They’re in the exact same school district. How can that disparity be so great?

And it is because of the way we’re funding education, and I don’t want to get too far off-topic, but it is all interrelated. When you ask about the justice system, and some of the intrinsic unfairness in it it starts from birth. It starts at a young age. And here we were talking earlier, one of the things that’s sometimes uncomfortable for me. I’m going to say I love my parents to death. Neither of my parents have four-year degrees, but by the grace of God my brother and sister and I were able to get educated, and it’s an odd feeling when you start having these conversations and you realize it’s just the slightest difference. It was just one click of the notch where my life would have taken a completely different path. And it’s random. There’s no rhyme or reason to it.

My mother grew up in the really, really rural parts of central Texas. My dad grew up in Houston. Fortunately, they had a strong sense of education so they made sure that we had an education because they did not want us to suffer through life, and I didn’t suffer, but they worked really, really hard for not a lot of money for a whole lot of years. And that is the thing that really motivates me to remember when I’m having conversations that everyone it’s literally a click of the notch of a random happening where all things would have gone in a completely different direction.

That’s why I speak more broadly because you can’t just look at it as the justice system because the justice system is a reflection of every other system in society. It just happens to be the one that we’re using now. The 13th amendment of the United States Constitution it ended slavery except if you were in prison. It allows slave labor if you’re in prison, and that remains true today. It’s not coincidence to me that most of the people, that the majority of people who are behind bars, are Black men. When this COVID thing started the first thing our government did was put the prisoners to work making masks, and all these other things, and then when we asked, well, do they get to wear a mask? I’m not sure about that. Wait a minute. They’ll make masks for everyone else, and they don’t even get a chance. And I won’t even get on, Jack, and I’m serious how awful this virus has been decimating the people who are in prison. So people who did not have death sentences who are dying and just ravished with this COVID.

Jack Newton (41:33): It is tragic, no question. Raphael, to conclude our conversation it’s been such a powerful conversation, and I appreciate the perspectives you’ve been able to offer. We talked earlier about whether we’re at a tipping point or not, and if we’re not at a tipping point of change, we seem to be at least at a tipping point of awareness where the United States, and the world at large is more aware of these issues than ever. If we want to translate that into change, what would you like to see happen next? Maybe speaking to our audience both as legal professionals, and as human beings what do you think we need to see to see what is enduring change? Again, as you pointed out this isn’t going to change in the space of a day, but if we can imagine that different tomorrow what are the mindset changes? Maybe what is some recommended reading? What are some causes and courses of action that people can look at embracing?

Raphael Davis-Williams (42:39): I love that you say recommended readings because you will appreciate this. The first thing I’m going to say is Just Mercy.

Jack Newton (42:48): Bryan Stevenson.

Raphael Davis-Williams (42:49): Bryan Stevenson, who I am so very grateful to you for having come to one of our conferences. That still remains. I’ve never in my entire legal career seen an auditorium of 1,500 lawyers in tears.

Jack Newton (43:03): No, in fact, I just talked about that speech at a company all-hands, and described Bryan’s speech as the most powerful speech I’ve ever seen anybody give anywhere, full stop.

Raphael Davis-Williams (43:14): Yeah, absolutely. I still agree. I have not seen anything comparable. There are a couple of things I would say when we think about this. So we’ve talked a lot about systems and governments and things, but I say often to my clients, and even now to my staffers, when we say the court, the court are people. It’s a judge. It’s their law court. It’s their paralegals, their people. When we say law enforcement those are people. The way I think we really start this, and I will challenge you. Fortunately, a handful of my white friends know what I do, everyone knows what I do, but they’ve reached out, and checked me and say how are you doing in all of this? And I’ve had a few of them say to me, well, what can we do?

And, especially, to my white male friends, my cisgendered straight white male friends, what you can do is use your privilege. Use the privilege that this country has said you have. Whether you think you have it or not, even if you are in the most awful poor situation I can guarantee you put a Black man in that same situation, and his situation is worse. So when I say use your privilege that means when you’re sitting in your company staff meeting, and you hear that off-color comment, and you think to yourself, ow, that was cringe-worthy. We’ve all been there, right? I mean, you hear that and you go, hmm. Don’t just do that. Say something in that moment. That’s really not cool. In fact, that’s the reason George Floyd was brutalized and murdered the way he was because people don’t have value. They don’t value Black lives. They don’t value Black men.

And I say this specifically to white men because in this country in America you don’t get higher on the demographic ladder than a cisgendered straight white male unless you’re wealthy, too. There isn’t anyone who has more influence, more sway than you. And I would implore all those people to start using their voice and their privilege to say “this is not going.” And we’ve seen it. We’ve seen some of this. We’ve seen Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. I don’t know how much football you guys are into football.

Jack Newton (45:52): I know enough to recognize those names.

Raphael Davis-Williams (45:57): Okay, and so when you are wealthy in this country—voting rights started with land-owning white men. Right now use your voice on our behalf. And I will say this while having the opportunity. This is not the time to have your friends who are people of color initiate, and carry, and do all of these things. We can’t because, one, we’re traumatized, and even if we weren’t if we had the power to change things don’t you think we would have?

Jack Newton (46:31): Right.

Raphael Davis-Williams (46:31): Do you think we really are just sitting around like, yeah, we could do better, but, yeah, we’re just going to sit this. The people who have the ability to make a difference use that. Be aware when you do that, that, yeah, somebody who’s sitting nearest to you and they’ll say, “why are you defending them?” or, “why are you saying that?” And that’s where you have to come in as a human being and say, “because it’s the right thing to do. Because what you said is wrong, and if you continue saying that you only exacerbate and you continue on with the mindset and the mentality of where things are.” I would implore right now—There’s a whole lot of things I would say. I would say right now in the US Senate there’s an anti, believe it or not, there’s an anti-lynching bill that is being held up by Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. How is it that we are 20 years into the 21st century, and we can’t pass an anti-lynching bill? I mean, how difficult is that?

The rhetoric that we hear from the White House, and that we hear from all of these different areas, rest assured it’s not accidental, it is intentional. There are dog-whistles that have been blown in this country for years, and that’s everyone understands. It’s when you say to the white nationalists at the Charlottesville protest back in 2017 that they are very fine people, and in the same breath today you call these protestors animals and thugs. Those words, they carry meaning and weight, and they float all over this country, and it weighs us down to where we are now.

So I’d like to see people step out of their comfort zone for a change specifically about race relations, specifically about Black people. A little more broadly about people of color in general, and I will tell you, Black women. We can go down the list of all those people, but I think if we want to change things for the people who are most affected, step out of your comfort zone, and actively insist that things change. You have more, and I’m not saying you in particular, but those people who are cisgendered white men have more power to change on their everyday average walk in life than an entire generation of African American men because that’s the way this country was set up. This is still a good country. There are still good people here. This is the original stand and we are still dealing with it. It just feels like this is the time to change.

Jack Newton (49:26): That’s a really powerful note and call to action to end on, Raphael. I really appreciate you joining us for our conversation today, and keep up the amazing work you’re doing at the ACLU.

Raphael Davis-Williams (49:40): Thank you so much, Jack, and you continue to be a force of nature in the legal community and for social justice change. Thank you for what you are doing. It is important.

Jack Newton (49:50): Thanks for joining us on Daily Matters today, a podcast from Clio. Rate and review wherever you get your podcasts, and subscribe so that you never miss an episode. Daily Matters is produced by Andrew Booth, Sam Rosenthal, and Derek Bolen, and hosted by yours truly, Jack Newton. Thanks also to Clio, the world’s leading cloud-based legal technology provider for supporting this podcast. If you’d like to learn more about Clio, please visit