Communities of color are facing dire disparities within the American criminal justice system, dealing with profiling, mass incarceration and police brutality in alarming and violent ways.
Not only are the marginalized dealing with law enforcement that disproportionately targets people of color, but they’re also facing a legal system that’s dominated by white people, often unfairly disadvantaging the most vulnerable.
This crisis inspired attorney Yolanda Young to coin the slogan #BlackLawyersMatter, which has since turned into a powerful social media movement for aspiring Black lawyers. Born from a report from Lawyers of Color, Young found that Black criminal and civil clients have better outcomes when working with Black attorneys.
Working in alignment with the values of #BlackLivesMatter, Black Lawyers Matter is encouraging Black law students and lawyers to engage in the legal profession to fight for racial equity in the U.S. legal system. Alarmingly only about 4 percent of lawyers in the United States are Black, according to the American Bar Association.
These statistics couldn’t be more alarming for recent graduates like Candace Spencer from the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law.
Spencer is troubled by the lack of Black lawyers in the U.S. today. She said Black people are more likely to be arrested than White people for the same crime, and that they are also more likely to receive harsher sentences. She also found it sobering to realize that her predominantly white cohort was a reflection of the legal profession itself.
As the president of her school’s Black Law Student Association, Spencer said she felt responsible for promoting and supporting the success of Black students. Spencer’s position underscored her responsibility to her community and the importance of using her legal skills to assist her community, which ultimately inspired her to engage with #BlackLawyersMatter.
“#BlackLawyersMatter takes #BlackLivesMatter a step further for me as a woman of color and soon-to-be lawyer,” said Spencer. “Our lives matter and they matter in whatever context we choose to place ourselves.”
Black lawyers aren’t alone in their fight for racial equity in the legal system. Latinx law students like Southwest Florida-native Jasmine Brito are fighting to change the justice system as a #Lawtina.
For Brito, #Lawtina is a reminder of the importance of Latinx representation in the U.S. justice system. The immigration stories of her parents, who were once undocumented, her extended family and community are what ultimately inspired her to become a lawyer.
As Brito puts it, #Lawtina very much encompasses her identity today. Being a #Lawtina is more than just a clever hashtag for her—it also means using her profession to advocate for the Latinx community and issues that have affected her loved ones.
Latinos in the legal field are severely underrepresented, making up only 4 percent of the profession as well. There are even fewer Latinas in the field, making up an alarming 1.2 to 1.3 percent of the profession. While the origin of the Lawtina hashtag is unclear, #Lawtinas across the nation are adopting the name into their social media posts to let people know that they exist and aren’t going anywhere.
#Diversity in the legal profession has been at the forefront of my conversations over the last few days. With each #mentor meeting, the definition of diversity remains fluid. One thing that is certain, however, is that diversity is me. #Me as a label I did not choose, but was given because of my status as a first-generation #immigrant Latina from a low-income background. Me with the distinction of matching less than 0.5% of the entire #legal profession with those four qualities. Incredibly honored to be surrounded by #Lawtina partners tonight and not only discuss this issue, but also create business plans for the future. #FireWithinMe #BreakGlassCeilings #Goals
Representation matters, especially in the criminal justice system. Thanks to the digital age, lawyers of color and law students are as ubiquitous as ever. They’re strategically using social media to empower their communities and inspire young people of color to pursue a career in law.
People of color are showing us that they’re formidable through any sphere of society, even the criminal justice system. These aspiring lawyers of color are giving hope to communities of color that this system will one day be equitable and just as it promises to be.