We can now add “being a lawyer” to our long list of ordinary things black people are stopped by law enforcement for.

Rashad James is an attorney with Maryland Legal Aid, despite what one Hartford County Sheriff’s deputy thought.

James was appearing in court representing a client who could not be present for an engagement hearing. A deputy confronted James in the courtroom, addressing him by his client’s name.

The deputy believed James was not an attorney, but in fact a criminal suspect pretending to be an attorney. The deputy was not satisfied with James’ driver\s license nor even the judge identifying James as an attorney. Instead, the officer demanded James’ bar card or business card — which law does not require he carry to court. The officer then called his supervisor. Twice.

James said he never felt in danger, but that the situation was “surreal” and clearly racially-motivated. He also now carries business cards with him.

“The facts of the situation speak for themselves,” said James. “I’ve never heard of anyone being mistaken and assumed that they’re not an attorney until proven otherwise.”

That joins withdrawing money from their own bank account, not waving at white people and gardening — among nearly limitless activities that amount to conducting their daily lives — that police get involved in.

“This is another instance of a suspicion and second guessing that attaches to black men,” James’ attorney Chelsea Crawford told reporters at a news conference. “This is a place where lawyers are supposed to be confident advocates for their clients. And how can you do that if there is a fear that you are going to be accused of being the client impersonating the lawyer or perpetrating a fraud on the court?”

Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey R. Gahler said in a statement that the matter has been referred to the department’s Office of Professional Standards for investigation.

“I think this demonstrates that this officer just didn’t want to believe that Mr. James was the attorney,” said Crawford. “It reflects a refusal to accept a plain fact, and that is the kind of officer who should give us some pause if they’re out in the field and refuse to accept the plain information as presented to them.”


Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor and senior legal reporter for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.



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