A Tribute to Terence Crutcher and Keith Scott

This piece originally appeared on the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law‘s blog. 

The warm rays of sun welcomed us on to I-40 just as we passed downtown Oklahoma City. My father and I found mutual excitement in the road trip that awaited us. After a summer of preparing for and taking the bar exam, I was particularly enthused about the journey that would lead to the start of my career. Like the sun, the future seemed fairly bright.

Despite these positive feelings, a sense of nervousness also registered in my mind. The primary cause of me being on edge was a reflection on the deaths of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and Korryn Gaines over the summer. The killings of police officers in Louisiana and Texas certainly didn’t help.

Like many Americans, these losses of life weighed on me heavily. The killings that took place in Baton Rouge especially hit home because I went to law school in the city. Though I’d engaged in racial justice work before, each event added more burdens to my psyche than the last. As I drove east with my father, the thrill of an imminent career as a civil rights attorney constantly mixed with the dread of the continual loss of Black lives. It resulted in quite the paradox.

My father and I, two Black men, could have easily found ourselves in that position. At the young age of 40, Mr. Crutcher essentially represented the mid-way point between my age and that of my father. During our trip, Lord forbid that the rental truck we drove break down on the interstate. This sense of fear characterizes the experience of Black people in the United States, both now and historically.

All of these events make me recall the trepidation experienced by Dr. Robert Pershing Foster, one of the protagonists in Isabel Wilkerson’s masterpiece, The Warmth of Other Suns. Dr. Foster migrated from Monroe, LA to Los Angeles in the middle of the twentieth century.

During the Jim Crow era in which he found himself, Dr. Foster made his journey half-way across the country without the ability to stop at a hotel and rest when he grew tired. His trip became that much more perilous because of his dangerous level of fatigue. Though temporary accommodations are much more accessible in the twenty-first century, the fear felt by Dr. Foster, Mr. Crutcher, my father and me transcends generations. It is a fear that is as American as the national anthem.

Perhaps more unsettling than Mr. Crutcher’s death is the fact that my father and I could have been gunned down as we walked through Charlotte a few weeks ago. Reports of the killing of Keith L. Scott flashed on my phone as I rode to work. In the surreal manner that I easily placed myself in Mr. Crutcher’s shoes, I did the same thing with Mr. Scott’s story.

I went to law school and embarked on a career as a civil rights attorney in an attempt to right at least some of the societal ills that plague this country. Although I will strive to employ effective legal strategies to address issues rooted in systemic racism, I do wonder where the morality and compassion are in these situations.

Would Korryn Gaines have been slaughtered had she been viewed first as a mother? Would Terence Crutcher have bled out on that highway had he been viewed first as a brother? Would Keith Scott still be living and laughing had he been viewed first as a neighbor?

The immense amount of work that awaits our nation must be informed by these questions. If not, the blood of slain Black men and women will continue to drip from the flag that symbolizes the land of the free and the home of the brave. I will work to my dying breath to ensure that, in a few generations, the young person of color that embarks on the journey to a bright future from America’s heartland can do so without a crippling sense of dread of what is to come.

In light of the challenges ahead, I particularly urge Black lawyers to continue to lend their support to protesters and demonstrators. Effective advocacy is critical to ensuring that equal justice is administered under the law and showing the world that Black lives do matter.

 

 – Andrew Hairston

About andrewrhairston

Andrew Reginald Hairston is a civil rights attorney and writer based in Austin, TX. He is presently the School-to-Prison Pipeline Project Director of Texas Appleseed. Mr. Hairston is also the secretary of the board of Learn Together, Live Together - a school integration non-profit based in Washington, DC. He earned his law degree from Louisiana State University in May 2016, where he was a Faculty Scholar. During his time at LSU, he served as the President of the Black Law Students Association (BLSA) from 2014 to 2015, as well as the 1L Representative of the organization from 2013 to 2014. While he was the president of LSU BLSA, he served as a member of the Law Center's Diversity Task Force. Mr. Hairston refined his commitment to racial justice work as a law student. He worked as a law clerk for the LSU Parole and Reentry Clinic, and he subsequently served as a student attorney for the LSU Juvenile Defense Clinic. As a third-year student, he was appointed to the Trial Advocacy Board, and he won the Dean's Cup Senior Appellate Challenge during his final semester at the LSU Law Center. Mr. Hairston received his bachelor's degree, cum laude, from Howard University. At Howard, he was actively involved in the Alternative Spring Break program. He worked as a site coordinator to develop and execute the initiative's first trip to Baltimore in the spring of 2013. From 2017 to 2019, Mr. Hairston served as a staff attorney at Advancement Project, a multi-racial civil rights organization in Washington, D.C. He began his legal career as the George N. Lindsay Fellow and Associate Counsel at the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law from 2016 to 2017. He is licensed to practice law in Louisiana.
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