In Eugene, roughly 50 public defenders and attorneys marched downtown in support of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. The protest was part of a national effort for attorneys to support the BLM protests.
Starting on Oak St., supporters walked from the Lane County Courthouse to the Federal Courthouse. At both locations, they kneeled for 8 minutes and 46 seconds—the amount of time a white police officer had his knee on the neck of George Floyd.
From there, attorneys walked to the Lane County Jail where detainees inside the facility could be seen waving down at the protesters.
Some of the local attorneys work for the Lane County Public Defender’s office, the Federal Public Defender's office, the Civil Liberties Defense Center, as well as private lawyers in the community.
Executive Director of the Lane County Public Defender’s office, Brook Reinhard, has been an attorney for 10 and a half years. He said it was important to protest today because he wanted to call attention to the inequities in the police department and the judicial system.
“Many of our clients don't receive justice,” said Reinhard. “And what's happened nationally has just led to an increased focus on all the ways in which police officers can and should do better, and why some of our funding priorities are misplaced. We're spending so much on police, but we're not spending that much on mental health care or public parks or things that would actually benefit us more.”
And for that reason, Reinhard said he wanted to make sure the public knows where they stand.
“We fight for our clients every day in court, but we want to make sure that our clients know that we're also willing to be out there on the streets, organizing for them and with them when we can,” said Reinhard.
Since Eugene residents are roughly 83% white, some people may be unaware of the racism and police brutality that takes place locally. Although racial inequities may not be publicized as often as other cities, Reinhard said injustice is still present in Eugene and Oregon.
“It's hard to see some of the same perspective here locally as nationally, because we're such a homogenous community because of Oregon's racist past in excluding African-Americans from the community,” said Reinhard. “[But] there's still injustice that goes on every day here, and we just wanted to highlight that.”
Reinhard also referenced the April 20 United States Supreme Court decision, Ramos vs Louisiana, which made it unconstitutional to have non-unanimous juries for felony cases. The only states that were impacted by this decision were Oregon and Louisiana because all other 48 states had already stopped using non-unanimous juries.
“Oregon was the only state in the Union where you could have someone convicted with less than all 12 jurors,” said Reinhard. “And it makes a huge difference when they're so few people of color in our community.”
Reinhard said supporting people of color and having diversity in the community is critical now more than ever.
“If a single juror of color is removed, you might have an all-white jury,” said Reinhard. “And before, that was lawful if the prosecutor could come up with a race-neutral reason. But now with unanimous juries, having that perspective from someone who is not white—who has a different perspective—actually may affect a verdict and stop someone from being convicted when not everybody in the jury agrees.”
After leaving the Lane County Jail, attorneys finished their march by going back downtown to their offices.