It’s not as if lawyers lack opportunity to use their skills, their license, to do whatever it is they believe to serve the public good. Heck, if any profession is well positioned to stand up for whatever their flavor of justice, it’s law. Which is why this accusation is so confounding.
Two lawyers were charged with taking part in a Molotov cocktail attack on a police patrol car over the weekend — a human rights lawyer and a Princeton-educated associate at a Manhattan law firm.
The attack during the Brooklyn protests left the dashboard of a blue-and-white police car charred after a night of violent clashes between protesters and police, a symbol of the chaos wrought over a weekend of sometimes peaceful and sometimes violent demonstrations.
The two lawyers involved in the attack were identified by federal authorities as Urooj Rahman, 31, the human rights lawyer, and Colinford King Mattis, 32, an associate at the midsize law firm of Pryor Cashman LLP, who graduated from Princeton.
To be clear, I have no idea if they did it, if there’s any basis for the accusation or if they have a brilliant defense. They are innocent, no asterisk needed, and will remain so unless and until they are convicted, whether by plea or verdict.
There is no allegation that anyone was physically harmed by their conduct, and they were released on bond, set in EDNY at $250,000 PRB, with their parents and friends as FRPs. The government is appealing to the Second Circuit.
“The defendants’ criminal conduct was extraordinarily serious. Amid the largely peaceful demonstrations taking place on Friday night, Mattis and Rahman committed an act of potentially deadly violence,” prosecutors wrote.
“The actions endangered NYPD officers, as well as other individuals on the street in close proximity to the attack,” they added.
The argument, of course, puts the cart ahead of the horse, presuming guilt to argue for their detention. It’s the usual backward logic, but one that’s long been favored by prosecutors and courts, who would prefer to take no chances of harm or embarrassment because they care no more for the presumption of innocence than most people.
That said, the abstract notion that two young lawyers might have believed that they could better serve their cause, their ideology, their people by throwing Molotov cocktails at squad cars is a horribly sad and inexplicably bad idea. If two lawyers believe strongly in a cause, whatever that cause might be, they are fortunate to be possessed of a degree, a license and the ability to further it through the law. Sue the assholes. Fight the good fight, but fight it in the trenches. Call the judge mean names if you must, and take your hit on contempt if that’s what you feel you must do.
But you’re lawyers. Lawyers. Not killers. Not destroyers. Lawyers.
On the one hand, to squander the opportunity given you to take up arms against whatever you believe is evil by getting arrested for throwing bombs is to forsake the huge opportunity your license gives you. No one said it was easy or quick, but laws can be changed, rulings fought, good guys saved and bad guys held responsible, through the courts. Who else will fight that good fight but lawyers?
You cannot, however, do it from a cell.
On the other hand, if you’ve so lost faith in the law that you consider it futile to use your knowledge, experience and license to fight for what you believe in, why are you still practicing law? Are you collecting a paycheck during the day and putting on a black mask at night to do violence, harm and destruction? If so, you aren’t the good guy you pretend to be, but just another utilitarian hypocrite sucking on the teet of law when it feeds you and trying to destroy law when it’s cool.
This is not a critique of your ideology, even though I do not agree with it and am vehemently against it. You are entitled to believe in whatever you want, and that I disagree is irrelevant. You do what you must. But do it as a lawyer. It might not bring you the visceral thrill of tossing a Molotov cocktail when you thought you could get away with it, but if you want to build a better world, destruction isn’t the way to do it when you can use the law to promote whatever you believe is good, just, moral and decent.