Backstory: Why I fight for your rights
Imagine a typical teenager on the Southside of Chicago in the 1970s. Street smart and cocky, of course; but still trying to figure himself out, too. That was me.
It was a tough neighborhood. It’s no secret to Chicagoans who know the city’s history: cop corruption was taken for granted in that era.
Even though my friends and I gave learned to give the city’s police a wide berth, we always had sense that when push came to shove, justice would prevail.
As a teenager, I understood the rules, but wasn’t always smart. Drag racing was an example of my friends and I having fun without too much concern for the rules. And when, during a race in which I was driving the car, one of my passengers pointed a plastic toy gun at the guy we were racing, I learned how quickly fun and games could end. It turned out the other driver was an undercover cop. Game over.
The officer took note of my license plate number, and I was the one to get hauled into the precinct for questioning. It’s the very same precinct where many of my clients find themselves today.
I spent 72 hours in that place, accused of aggravated assault—a felony . That’s what aiming a toy gun at someone could get you then, and can get you today. I didn’t know exactly who had wielded the plastic pistol, and I even offered to talk to my friends to find the culprit. No dice.
The charges didn’t stick, but the ordeal left me feeling disillusioned and let down by the police. Despite their reputation at the time, I believed in Chicago’s finest in terms of their ability to find the real bad guys and leave the innocent in peace.
It was a formative experience. I was about to go to college and had been thinking about a career to pursue. By the time I graduated from the University of Illinois at Champaign, I had decided to go to law school.
My goal: to defend the rights of people accused of crimes. In my 18 years as an attorney, I’ve worked hard to hone my skills in case law, investigation, cross-examination and other elements, which are crucial to prevailing on behalf of my clients.
Most of the witnesses I cross-examine in court are police officers. I am glad to say my old suspicion and disillusionment are gone. I’ve learned to put myself in their shoes, understand their language and culture, and respect their roles in the criminal justice system.
Still, my clients and the presumption of innocence will always come first.