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Lawyers with Bar Association offering pro bono help to most local protesters

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Christopher Burrell of Burrell & McCants LLC. (provided photo)
By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times

The Magic City Bar Association (MCBA) has established an ongoing Protest Protection Plan (PPP) to help provide free legal representation to many Birmingham protesters arrested during demonstrations.

“This plan has two phases and the phase we’re in right now is where our members provide pro-bono representation or free legal services for people who are arrested for protesting itself or people arrested for things related to the protest like disorderly conduct,” said attorney Christopher Burrell of Burrell & McCants LLC, president of MCBA, which has about 400 members and is made up of Black lawyers.

The first phase is proactive and partners with community groups and leaders to encourage organized and effective protests and to educate citizens on their rights when protesting and mediation with local governments, Burrell said.

“We will be doing social media community workshops to advise people of their rights and different ways they can protest,” said Burrell, who added the plan is to start that once large gatherings can assemble. “Right now but we will start by putting some stuff on social media and telling people basic information about their rights.”

The second phase is reactive which provides pro bono criminal defense representation to those arrested or charged, provide representation or referrals to those seeking civil actions and assist litigation efforts to challenge laws, ordinances and policies.

“While we seek to support individuals engaged in responsible and organized protests, we will nonetheless assist in providing representation or referrals for all individuals in protest settings, recognizing the citizens right to counsel and the history of certain people being disproportionately prosecuted or punished,” said Burrell. “The MCBA does not condone violent or destructive protests.”

Demonstrations and arrests grew following the deaths of George Floyd, a Minneapolis man killed by police in May; Rayshard Brooks, an Atlanta man killed by police in June and Breonna Taylor, a Louisville woman killed by police in her home in March.

As the arrests of protesters increased, Burrell said the MCBA saw a need.

“We wanted to make sure that people who were lawfully protesting had representation and secondly, there were a number of people that we know, African Americans in particular who are historically overcharged and underrepresented,” he said.

Approximately 20 attorneys are on retainer to help with a diverse number of protesters who face a range of charges, the most common are disorderly conduct or failure to obey an officer, said Burrell.

MCBA has worked with some local activists to identify demonstrators who need legal representation

“There may be some cases where we won’t provide pro bono representation but we will nonetheless assist in referring to an attorney,” Burrell said.

Those are often situations where the charges involve violence and “we may decline representation on those cases and refer them to an attorney who can assist them but of course it will be their responsibility to pay and retain that attorney,” he said.

Burrell said the MCBA was founded to address the needs of African American attorneys and the community at large. “We want to encourage the community to know their rights as it relates to protesting, we want them to protest responsibility and we want them to know they can come to us as a resource and we’re more than happy to help.”

For more, visit the Magic City Bar Association at www.magiccitybarassociation.org.