Black Lawyers Matter: One Lawyer’s Story of Prejudice and Racism

Don Lewis is a double Harvard graduate lawyer who has featured heavily in a number of recent posts on his involvement with the Pierce Bainbridge law firm saga. But his personal story of fighting prejudice is perhaps even more compelling in the era of #BlackLivesMatter.

This post is from Don Lewis’ Facebook page, with permission.

Black Lawyers Matter: One Lawyer's Story of Prejudice and Racism 3

My name is Don Lewis. I am a black man. This is my story about the police. #BlackLivesMatter*************

I am the product of a white Jewish father from Bensonhurst, Brooklyn and a mother from St. Elizabeth, Jamaica. I have always considered myself black, that is how I am treated. We grew up in a predominantly white community. In elementary school, my classmates would say I was not really black because I was lighter, I would think what are they saying of my mother. I played ice hockey as a kid and was called a “nigger” in games in Suffolk County, Long Island and upstate New York more than I care to remember.

One of the times I struck back, I broke a kid’s collarbone, he had called me a “nigger” at least three times, I had enough, and he got what he deserved. After the game, they had to call in the police to escort me out of the rink because a mob of parents were waiting outside of our locker room to get at me.

I was 13 years old. My brother and I used to go for jogs in our neighborhood. He was captain of the basketball team, and all world athlete and one of the kindest human beings you will ever meet, he is a social worker, everyone used to think he was a fashion model. We lived in our community since we were little boys.

While jogging, late at night in the summer, with nothing on but shorts, socks, and sneakers, we would invariably get stopped by the local police. Some did it respectfully, others were major assholes. I’m thinking – “how F’ing stupid are you? We are out here jogging, no pockets, no bags, no nothing, I’m huffing and puffing trying to keep up, WTF do you think? We are going to rob some house and carry everything in our hands as we make a getaway on suburban streets with no car?”

Poor Training

This is where poor training come into play – coupled with racism, ignorance, and stupidity.I went to Harvard University for undergraduate.

There is not a single black male Harvard undergraduate during those years, who liked to hang out late and have the fun college kids are supposed to, that will not have stories about being harassed by campus police. There was one particular cop who is pure human garbage and targeted black students regularly. I wish I had been more active then and spearheaded action against him. Awful human being, I remember his face.

. . an unmarked police car peel outs, three large men in plainclothes bolt out the doors, set upon us, rip us apart, throw me up against the wall, restrain her physically and start giving me the heavy physical business.

I dated an Egyptian woman for three years in school, we continued for a while after, we are still dear friends. After college, she lived in NYC’s Upper East Side. One night we left Central Park and I was walking her home. We were strolling hand in hand, laughing, joking, kids in love without a care in the world and. . . out of nowhere, boom!, an unmarked police car peel outs, three large men in plainclothes bolt out the doors, set upon us, rip us apart, throw me up against the wall, restrain her physically and start giving me the heavy physical business.

She is in complete hysterics, yelling, shrieking, tears streaming down her face, shrieking some more, fighting to break their restraint, doing anything in her power to make them stop. After about 90 seconds of being physically abused, and between yelling, and impossibly trying to stay calm so as to not get killed, a more senior guy showed up. As soon as the senior guy got out of his car, they relented a bit.

He walked over to us and asked my story in a professional manner, as if I were a human being. I told him we had known each other for years, dated in college, I was simply walking her home and he asked to see my college ID; which I fortunately had, even though I’d graduated.

Emotional Whirlwind

He looked it over, apologized sort of, and the other fools let go of me and they all just went on their way. I have never felt a more disorienting whirlwind of emotions in my life, it is impossible to convey in words, fear for my safety, fear for her safety, dead red anger, emotional to tears for being treated like an animal, the struggle and raw emotion of trying to calm someone down who you love that was so distraught, bawling her eyes out, in sheer shock and terror, while I too was in a place I had never been, and these guys just say: My bad (barely) and move on to the next.It left emotional scars that will never go away, and for them its apparently just business as usual; terrorizing people for no good reason, scarring them for life, just another Tuesday night on the job.

I later learned I very generally fit the description of a guy who had been doing attacks on the Upper East Side, and I wondered: Why couldn’t they just have gotten out of the car, asked her if she was ok, asked her how she knew me and me how I knew her?

They were three of them, each bigger than me, they all had guns, was the bum rush, chaos, refusing to pay heed to her 90 seconds of shrieking and crying, refusing to listen to anything I said, roughhousing me the entire time with no apparent plan, was that necessary?

I get incredibly emotional just typing this and its over 20 years later. So, for any of you who don’t get it, or don’t want to get, and truly think, or say, that it’s just a simple issue of doing what you are told, obeying the police and that there is no race element; to be frank, and to put it nicely, it’s disingenuous, it’s wrong and it’s complete BS.The mistreatment of blacks by police is a serious problem, it is a deadly problem, and it is not ok.

We need, all of us, to do better. We must stay strong, we must continue to fight, we must see that there is justice and equality for all. #BlackLivesMatter

Author Bio

Don Lewis lives in New York and is a self employed attorney who has previously worked at WeWork, Skadden Arps and Pierce Bainbridge. His Facebook page is here and he can be contacted at LinkedIn here.

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