Minnesota Law students Tony Sanchez, Emanual Williams, and Mica Standing Soldier were already planning to join classmates and others expected at protests during the murder and manslaughter trials of Minneapolis police officers in the killing of George Floyd. But the students’ recent hiring to positions at the Minneapolis-based Legal Rights Center (LRC) has vastly expanded the nature of their involvement.
The paid clerkships, which run through the end of the summer, were created and funded through a unique social justice collaboration between the LRC and the U of M Law School. The students are recruiting their classmates and local attorneys to volunteer with the LRC’s “Know Your Rights” program, which, among other things, offers training in the exercising of First Amendment rights.
On the public education front, the students are working to help community members understand legal issues related to the trials by contributing—not just in writing but via videos and infographics as well—to online and social media forums. They also are helping to create restorative practice resources to support community members in processing the trial.
"Opportunities like these are central to the Law School's mission of public service and ensuring justice," says Garry Jenkins, Law School dean. "The students benefit from an incredible learning experience while also promoting civic engagement.”
Mica Standing Soldier says the clerkship is an “incredible honor.” Before applying to Minnesota Law, she worked for four years as a litigation assistant at a law firm after graduating with an English literature degree from the University of Minnesota.
“The world is looking at this trial and the world is looking at Minneapolis’s response to it,” Standing Soldier says. “To be a part of something that is so timely and so paramount to how we view police and community interactions and relationships is really huge.”
An enrolled citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation, Standing Soldier has been a community organizer since moving to Minneapolis several years ago from South Dakota.
Meanwhile, Emanual Williams, from the small Texas town of Lovelady, is co-leader of the LRC’s Know Your Rights program. Meeting “Know Your Rights” volunteers at last summer’s protests inspired him to apply for the clerkship.
“Me being an African American man, my big push into even going to law school and pursuing a career in law was criminal justice reform and social justice awareness, especially in the criminal justice system,” says Williams.
Helping protesters understand how to amplify their voices aligns with Williams’ goal of making “movement lawyering” part of his legal career.
“To be an attorney you don’t necessarily have to separate yourself from social justice and social movements,” Williams says. “You can do both. That’s what moved me from being someone who saw this [LRC] program from the outside to wanting to be inside of it as much as I possibly can.”
For his part, Tony Sanchez is focusing on getting information out to the community through social media posts and infographics that explain legal terms related to the trial.
Sanchez joined in student-led protests when he moved to Minneapolis from Jensen Beach, Florida, just days after Floyd’s death.
“I’m biracial,” he says. “I’ve seen firsthand the difference between how police treat my Black parent and my White parent. I’ve seen them both get pulled over… This is something that people of color deal with every day.”
Sanchez says his primary goal in choosing Minnesota Law was to increase the enrollment of Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) students. He works toward that end as an admissions ambassador and expresses BIPOC students’ concerns as the Law Council’s assistant communications director.
Minnesota Law’s public interest focus and emphasis on inclusivity influenced his decision to attend the Law School, Sanchez says. A member of the LGBT community, Sanchez cited the Transgender Name Change Clinic as an example of the inclusive approach/atmosphere that he finds appealing.
Having started their positions last month during the opening stages of Derek Chauvin’s trial, Standing Soldier, Williams, and Sanchez will continue working at the LRC through the trials of the other three former officers charged in Floyd’s death, which are currently slated for August.
This is an abridged story. See the original story at Minnesota Law.
- Law and Policy