MEDFORD, Ore. — As part of a nation-wide protest, lawyers from southern Oregon gathered near the steps of the Jackson County Justice Building.
After a few moments of chanting and a quick speech from longtime criminal defense attorney Emily Simon, the group fell silent for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. The only time anyone spoke was in the final moments.
Simon would shout, "I can't breathe," much like George Floyd did when he died in police custody in Minneapolis two weeks ago to the date.
Around 50 lawyers gathered on the steps to protest what they called the systematic racism within the United States' justice system.
"Everybody who was here today, which includes prosecutors, know of this systemic racism and everybody who was here today knows that they need to address this and that as a country, we cannot heal until justice is delivered," Simon, an attorney since 1979, said.
Simon wore a dark blue blazer with a shirt underneath that read the final words of George Floyd: "I can't breathe." But, Simon said, her shirt was not a recent purchase. She said she bought it four years ago following the death of Eric Garner who died in police custody in New York City in a similar manner to Floyd.
"I had hoped I would never need to wear the shirt again, but here I am four years later needing to wear this shirt again and I will continue to need to wear this shirt at some other point at some other time until the police learn that that conduct is not tolerated by the justice system," Simon said.
Among the attorneys in attendance was Justin Rosas. The Memphis-native now practices law in Medford as a criminal defense attorney and a public defender in federal court. He said he is ready to fight against racial inequalities within the justice system, starting at the local level in Jackson County.
"I can't be quiet. I can't be silent," Rosas said. "I've seen it. I've seen it in Memphis. I've seen it here [in Medford]. I've seen it in this building. I've seen it in our jail and we've got to fix that. And I think the great news that you do see is you see a wide variety of community partners coming together and saying the same thing."
Rosas said there needs to be a public forum that would allow attorneys, city officials and justices, and citizens to work towards a solution to end racial prejudice in local justice systems.