Community Spotlight: Shean Williams with the Cochran Firm
H.O.R. I have with me Shean Williams from The Cochran Firm. We all know Shean, especially if you are from the ATL. But Shean let me give you an opportunity to let a lot of our audience that are not familiar with you introduce yourself. So, tell me where are you from?
Shean Williams: I am actually from the east side of Atlanta; some people call it Decatur; I grew up here. I went to elementary and high school in Dekalb County, I went away for college for a little bit in Ohio, came back and went to law school at Georgia State University, I graduated in 1996, coached a little high school football, while I was in law school at Southwest Dekalb. Buck Godfrey is my godfather. I stayed around here and fortunately, in 1998, I met Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., he was coming off the O.J. Simpson trial and he wanted to start a national firm that dealt with civil lawsuits and civil cases and I was fortunate and blessed to meet him and he hired me in ’98 and I have been with the firm since then. So, I have been fortunate, not only as a young man growing up in this great city but
I have been fortunate professionally being able to practice in a city that I love, and Mr. Cochran has allowed me the opportunity to be a part of this amazing law firm to practice all across this nation. I have cases all throughout the nation as well as in other countries. So this is just a great chance as a young Black man coming up in this city to see the world and to try to make an impact.
H.O.R. That is great, especially somebody from east Atlanta. I definitely can relate to that. The fact that you actually grew up here, that resonates with a lot of us and it is important, especially when you are here, and you are fighting for us. You definitely worked your way into the great man that you are today, that services and helps our communities, so thank you for that.
Shean Williams: Thank you for having me. I feel fortunate and I feel like I represent so many aspects of my life coming from east Atlanta, coming from this city. I had hard working parents just like a lot of us, and I was fortunate to get opportunities and more importantly, I had people in my life like; coaches, teachers, neighbors, my parents and family members that just kind of assisted in giving me a push, making sure that I stayed on track. I have a lot of friends who are very successful as well from my community and it is good to know that we can do amazing things in this country despite the fact that this country may not always give us the same support, if we have each other and that is why our community is so important. That is why shows like this and conversations like this is essential for us to get to where we need to be as a community.
H.O.R. I agree. Although it is just a saying, “It takes a village,” it is true. We need our neighbors, we need our family members, we need our friends, we need everyone involved to just encourage us and especially our youth…our youth are coming up and we need to give them a great example and you are clearly doing that and that is to be commended. You mentioned that you had a lot of positive influence and “push” when you were younger leading into the path that you are on today, would you mind elaborating by telling us who some of those inspirations have been in your journey?
Shean Williams: Yes, of course. The first would be my parents. I was fortunate. I grew up in a household with both of my parents throughout my teenage life and from my mother who was a successful Black business owner, doing insurance and my father who worked at AT&T, I always had a nice structure, not only of financial support but more importantly, an understanding of what it took to be successful and how important it was to work hard, particularly being a young Black kid, growing up in this country. I was bussed to predominately white schools and so I learned at an early age how important it was that as a young Black man, I had to work extra hard and put extra work in to get the same recognition. I had some amazing teachers at those schools. My first-grade teacher, Ms. Lester, I will never forget her, because she made sure that despite my surroundings, being the only the only Black child in the class, she made me realize that I was still important and relevant but she also held me accountable. She would call my mother (he laughs).
I remember the pastors from church. I went to church at Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Southwest Atlanta. I remember my godfather, Coach Godfrey and what he instilled in me being an amazing football coach, but he stressed the importance of education and his wife, my godmother, Joyce Godfrey…you know Rashan Ali, that is my god-sister, so we come from the same stock. The bottom line is that throughout my life, I have always had support and so in being successful, there was never any excuse in doing the right thing; because unlike a lot of people I could not say that I did not have “the village” as you put it to back me. I had college professors who helped and then obviously as I got older in my profession, Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. was a mentor who was amazing. My religion and my spirituality is important, so Pastor Curney over at New Mercies Baptist church in Lilburn and then my mentor in the law practice, Hezekiah Sistrunk who has been practicing law in this town for over 40 years and is doing an amazing job and then finally, Judge Gino Brogdon. I think that he has his own TV show and he is doing amazing things, but I have been very fortunate to have people throughout my path to encourage me, to give me insight, wisdom and more importantly, to give me hope that tomorrow is going is going to be better than today because I think that when you are dealing with the next generation of youth, you have to instill in them some hope.
You have to show them that tomorrow is going to be better than today if you keep fighting and do not give up. The Bible says faith is being sure of what you hope for and being certain of what you do not see, I think that our kids today get off track because they do not see that tomorrow is going to be better than today. So our job I think, my job as a lawyer, and as a person who has come from this community is to show hope, not only for my clients but for this community. Despite everything that is going on with the Jacob Blake shooting and George Floyd’s shooting, my job is to still show that we can get through this if we stay on the same page and have a vision, which I think that we are doing together…I love being on a show like this, so thank you.
H.O.R. Thank you for that. You have had a lot of mentors and it started with the foundation that you had at home. You have the unity of your parents, coaching you and that is amazing. Many of us take for granted the people that we have in our lives. Those are the people that are guiding us down the right path and a lot of times it is our elders. We cannot overlook what our elders are telling us because they are guiding us, they see the opportunity that you were speaking of. When we are young, we see and want things now but if we just pay attention and understand that our hard work now can give us different results in the future then we can continue to fight and look forward to the change. I think that is the beauty of our elders coming to us, to mentor, to coach and to mold us into the great adults that we can be for our future, so that we can give the generations that are coming behind us that opportunity and that vision.
Shean Williams: You are exactly right, and you can get that type of leadership and mentorship and guidance from…obviously I got it from my parents and different people but not everybody is fortunate to have that. There are opportunities and people in your community, there are individuals…I am amazed with what some of these athletes are doing, speaking out and being true leaders, to be fortunate enough to be alive to witness the first Black president, Barack and Michelle Obama, just our leaders and in John Lewis, we lost a legend; my office is right in his office, so I got to see him. There are so many ways that we can pull from inspiration, my biggest is my son. Being a father of a 12-year-old, he inspires me, and he actually gives me hope as I try to give him hope about the future, because when I see all the amazing things in him, it makes me work even harder.
H.O.R. Yes and it pushes us to encourage our children. As a parent of 3 young boys, you always strive to do better, to give them better and you have to set the example, you have to set that bar high.
Shean Williams: You do and not only for your children but for the children who are around your children. Children are very impressionable and so they see and take from everything that you do. So, it is important for us to always be on point because we do not know who is watching.
H.O.R. Exactly. Always be the example and always be ready to help others, not just your own. So how has your journey been, you have become a successful attorney in the community here in Atlanta and not just here but nationwide, how has your journey been?
Shean Williams: It has been very humbling. As I stated, I was hired by Mr. Cochran in 1998 and his fame and opportunities allowed me to be involved in some big cases, some of the very first cases that I worked on was with Mr. Cochran, civil rights cases, which most people do not realize that he started what we understand to be the modern day civil rights attorney back in the 60’s, he had one of the very first cases involving police shootings. He kept that going representing multiple clients over the years and we had a case together here in the 90’s, Corey Ward, he was a young man who was shot in Buckhead by an officer, Officer Bunn of the city of Atlanta police department, that was one of my very first cases. I handle other types of cases like, medical malpractice, trucking cases and I have been successful with those but the ones that are just so important to me are civil rights cases because it is a chance to try to change something that goes beyond just my clients. I am trying to change an environment and a system for the future and the next big case that you probably know about is the Kathryn Johnson case, where a 92 year old woman was shot and killed by several officers who thought her house was a drug house when in fact she was just living there by herself. We prosecuted that case against the city of Atlanta police department
and got the largest settlement at that time for a police case in the city of Atlanta, 4.9 million.
More importantly, besides the compensation for the family, we put in place and demanded some changes in the police department. One of them being the Atlanta Citizen Review Board, which we see in place today. Time has passed and we need even more changes. So, my career has progressed because I have had amazing clients, amazing opportunities but I still realize how much more work is needed because I did Corey Ward cases in the early 90’s and I am still doing cases like Caine Rogers now and I frankly do not want to be a civil rights lawyer, I do not want to keep talking about this issue and I do not want to keep seeing people, young men being killed, shot in the back like Jacob Blake or being killed like George Floyd at the hands of police officers because they are not being held accountable.
H.O.R. I can understand how it can be humbling you are great at what you do, and you have the opportunity to help the families and over time you are left wondering when is it enough? You shoot people in the back, who does that? You get tired and I can see that you still do a great job, but it gets to a point where you want to know when do we as a people as a community stand up and say enough. You fight for us but at what point do we get tired and say enough!
Shean Williams: Yeah because we are taught in law school that you have facts and you have the law you make an argument and if your argument is better and it is supported by law that things can change. You come into law school saying I want to change the world but you come to realize unfortunately that just because you have law and just because you have facts it does not mean that you are going to get justice. They do not always line up, particularly in a system that was set up with back to current racism. You cannot have justice until you first deal with the injustice of the past. That is what we are dealing with. The reasoning behind some of the issues that you are seeing is that officers are not being held accountable and the reason is because the law is not in place to hold them accountable. It specifically gives them immunity or exceptions to not be held responsible for their actions. It is just like any other experiment if you let someone continue to take actions and there are no consequences for the actions that they take they are going to continue to do it.
Even with the outrage over George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, you still see on Sunday officers shoot a man (Jacob Blake) in his back, who was no threat, no harm to anyone at the time that they shot him. We have Rayshard Brooks, who was clearly no threat to anybody being killed in front of us. So, the law does not allow for that so we as the community, we need to become the law, we need to insert ourselves into the process and how do you do that, you get out and vote! You put people in position who can affect positive, progressive changes in what the structure of the law is. That is what we need more than anything. Because right now, I do not have a legal book to go against officers with the current qualified immunity that is on the books right now. They are immune from most of the actions that they take.
H.O.R. Yes that is correct. I was looking into how in July of 2016, they passed a law where the officers are allowed to sit throughout the whole indictment and see and hear all the charges and all the evidence that is presented against them and then they get a segment at the end of all of that to speak on their behalf and not be questioned. I think that is absurd!
Shean Williams: It is absurd because first, it elevates the rights of an officer over the rights of everyone else. The law and the constitution says that we have equal rights or at least we should. It is also absurd when the individuals who have higher rights than we do have taken an oath to protect and serve US! If anything, they should be held to a lower standard or a higher standard and not have the opportunity to avoid responsibility because their whole job is to protect and serve. But that is not the mentality of most police departments and police officers that I have unfortunately had to deal with in my cases. I will tell you that there is a lot of good officers out there, there are a lot of people trying to make changes that are positive and to do the right thing in these departments. The unfortunate thing is there is enough and a significant number of officers and police departments who are NOT making those positive changes and who are NOT holding their officers accountable that it makes the whole system look bad.
You cannot have several bad apples and then say that the whole batch is good. That is still a bad pie. A pie with rotten apples in it is still a bad pie. We need to fix this and the people that need to fix it are the community leaders and the politicians, we need to demand action and that is why I am so encouraged with what the NBA did (they postponed the start of the playoffs in protest to the recent police shooting involving Jacob Blake), along with the NHL players and Major League Baseball because we are just tired. We are tired of giving so much and expecting so much from this country that we love and as Doc Rivers said the other day, the coach for the L.A. Clippers, that never seems to show us in return that same love. But we are the first ones in history to fight for this country and to stand up from Vietnam, WWII, The Korean War…our people have given up their lives, Desert Storm, and other things but when it comes back it is not the same love, so it is very disheartening.
H.O.R. In order for something to work, it has to be a two-way street. It is very clear that it is just a one-way street. We are good enough to fight for this country, we are good enough to put our lives at risk for everyone else in this country, but we are not able to get that same love in return and it is not even just veterans it also our children. Our children go to these schools in our neighborhoods and they cannot even get the protection they need and like you mentioned, law enforcement is here to uphold the law, they are not the law. They are here to protect and serve us and if you follow the way that the money works, we pay them to go ahead and protect us and for you to go out here and just disrespect us in our communities and think that you are higher than us when we pay you to protect us and you kill us, that is something that should not be happening but it is the life that we are living in and what we can do about it is what you mentioned, to go out and vote.
With different people in place that actually care about us, they can cause change. Now if we continue to fight and fight a system that was initially set up to break us down as a people, we are going to be banging our head against the wall. But until we put the appropriate people in place that care about us, that will fight for us and will change the laws to actually make law enforcement accountable for their actions, then that is when we will start to see real change, when we hold each cop accountable for their actions.
Shean Williams: You know what it really comes down to, it is a value system. I am a finance major and I equate a lot of what I do professionally into a system that I learned from a finance major and everything in life in this economic system has some value. What officers who shoot people in the back (like the Jacob Blake) situation or who kneel on George Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds or who shoot Caine Rogers as he is driving away clearly not in the pathway of anybody or causing any harm, you still shoot him the back of the head. What you are really saying is that I do not value your life. I do not value that you have worth and that is why we are frustrated as people of color in this country, of all races is to say look, this country is not valuing us as citizens like they should. Like you said, it is okay for us to fight for this country, they will let us do that, they will recruit us coming out of high school for that. They will recruit us to play basketball and football and to entertain them, they will let us sing songs and do that in movies but when it says and when these same people say enough us enough like these basketball players did, they tell us to go and sit down, “shut up and dribble” but at the same time, when protestors are going to the governor’s mansion in Michigan for example, to protest her ban to save lives on masks and bring guns to her office, this president says, oh those are good people. You can speak out about that but when we try to talk about injustice, we are the bad people, we are wrong. When violent, racist protestors go to Virginia, he says, “that were very fine people on both sides.” But we are supposed to be quiet and that just shows you that it is the same mentality that is at the top of this country at the white house, it bleeds down into local government, senators, house of representatives, local officers and then the police officers so it is no surprise that even after George Floyd after Breonna Taylor and after all of these protests somebody in Wisconsin, a police officer still thought that it was okay to shoot a man in the back who was no threat.
That just shows you that there is no value system when it comes to people of color and Black men in particular.
H.O.R. It is very clear. We are the ones that have to live with and struggle with the decision that everyone in office dictates to us. We get…as you mentioned the trickled down effect of what they say and what they do. When we see the clear opposite of injustice, for instance if we go out and march, its wrong but if they go out and march and they are carrying weapons, they are rioting and they are being violent, it is accepted, it is not the same thing. You have to treat everybody the same and you have to understand when someone is coming at you peacefully and when someone is not but at the same time, again, at what point are we as a people going to continue to protest peacefully until we have had enough, until we understand that we are not being treated the same?
You have to understand that we have children, whether we adopt children, a niece, or a nephew, or a neighbor, or we have our own, we have children. It is frightening to understand that the society that we live in does not see our children as children, they are seen as grown men and grown women and the wrong action can cause their lives to be taken. Without them even asking for that to happen and it is very unsettling…it is frightening for a parent nowadays. It has to change.
Shean Williams: It does, and I think conversations like this and us getting these topics out and talking about them can bring that about. The more that we communicate and say that the value system, the way that this country sees it, is money and numbers. I will give you an example. Covid-19 came into this country and has literally shut down industry, businesses, travel…it has affected everything that we do because numbers connected to money makes people make changes. This country is based on a capitalist system. We have another pandemic and it is called racism. The people that are being affected are us! Well if we take our numbers and equate that to money in determining how we spend our dollars, how we support each other, where we put that money at, in the numbers, voting…we will also cause people to make changes that they normally would not want to do.
There is no governor that wants to shut down a city, but they had no choice. Well guess what would happen if we do what Rosa Parks did, those types of concepts, and shut down our marketing, our dollars as well as we all come out to vote…a change, I promise you that all of the political parties will have no choice but to take notice and to do something about it. Because the only way that we can change the issues of accountability regarding police officers is the law. We can also change it by electing officials that will change the law but officials that will put progressive district attorneys for criminal justice reform, progressive police chiefs, progressive supervisors in these police departments, progressive people who are making health care decisions, progressive people who are inclusive of everybody in our educational systems, because that is what it is going to take to make sure that every child has an equal opportunity to be successful.
H.O.R. I agree. We are the majority even though we are classified as the minority. But we really are the majority and in numbers we can cause change, we are strong…together we are stronger and as long as we understand that unity is what will cause us to come together with the mindset to cause this change is what we all need to spread right now, we all need to understand that unity is where it is at. Like you mentioned, putting our money where our mouth is, supporting our own, going out there and voting, and voting for the right people that actually have good intentions but also who know where we come from. They know what we go through. That is the important part, you cannot just say that you want to help us out here…have you been to our neighborhoods? Are you from our neighborhoods? Because if you are not then you cannot relate. So you do not know what we go through. So it is important that we understand who we are electing and who we are voting for. Getting back to the cases that we are seeing nationally, there was a case, Caine Rogers, that was brought to my attention and I realized that justice was definitely was not served. I looked into it and this young man’s life was taken, he was innocent and his life was just taken and he held no threat to our society, to our neighborhood, to people…he was a young man with his whole life ahead of him, what can we do now? Many of us have seen the evidence which has been circulating, it is public evidence that has been released to us. He was not a threat to anyone.
Anyone that sees a cop on the road, you automatically just do not want any problems, like we mentioned, it is the society that we live in today. You see a cop; you do not want any problems and you just keep it movin’. In the video you can tell that there are two bystanders on the right side of Caine and then you see the officer on the opposite side of the road by those two bystanders. So, if I were Caine, I would have seen the cop obviously detaining those two people, I just wouldn’t want any parts of that and so I am going to keep driving and mind my own business, that is how our mother’s raised us…mind your damn business. in Caine’s shoes, I would have just kept on driving, I am not going to speed, I know better, I am not going to even look and just mind my own business and that poor young man did not even know that he was being targeted. He was not even given the appropriate time to stop and then you know…its just, what is your take on it?
Shean Williams: Well, everything that you said, I agree with, he did not know, and it was a tragic shooting. But when you find out some more of the underlining facts it is even more tragic. Let me share with you some things that people do not totally understand about this sad, sad case. First of all, Caine was 22 years old and he has his whole life ahead of him, he had just started a new job and unbeknownst to him, a police officer who was working off duty at an apartment complex on Monroe Drive had called in about someone looking into cars. He did not offer a description of this individual; he did not have anything but just says that he sees someone in the parking deck. A police officer picks that up by the name of James Burns, who comes onto the scene, unbeknownst to Caine Rogers, he is getting into his car and he is leaving. We believe and unfortunately, we cannot ask Caine Rogers directly because he is dead, we believe that he was going over to a night club…coming from a bar/night club across the street on Monroe and they park their cars down that street (H.O.R. confirms that anyone from Atlanta is familiar with that side of town and states that they all do it because the streets gets packed). So he more likely was doing that but the bottom line is, James Burns never had a description of anybody, let alone a description of someone like Caine Rogers doing anything wrong but Caine gets into his car and at the same time that he was leaving out, James Burns assumes that this Black man is the person that the off duty officer was talking about in the apartment complex looking into cars and as Caine Rogers, just as you said, was minding his own business is going around the officer…as he has gone past the officer, he shoots him two times in the head. There is no justification for that because the law clearly says that you cannot use excessive force unless you or someone else is in imminent danger.
The video that was released last week proves that that was not the case because Caine Rogers car was already passed the officer. Also, what is even more tragic is like you mentioned there were two bystanders, these officers are making decisions, where they are only supposed to use deadly force when their lives are in danger or someone else, not only are they doing that but they are putting other people’s lives in danger! He could have shot and injured those two individuals. Because he assumed that Caine Rogers was a criminal and that is the value system that I mentioned earlier, he made the decision that we are NOT human and that we do not have the same value as someone else. He shot and killed him. On top of all of that the police department comes to determine later that in their own investigation that there was no evidence that Caine Rogers did anything wrong and that James Burns violated their policies and procedures with what he did. But what is even more tragic is that this incident was foreseeable because James Burns had shown himself to violate policies of the police department, even when he was a cadet in training.
He had shown himself to use excessive force, he had shown himself to not value people’s lives before this incident happened and yet the city of Atlanta hired him allowed him to continue to be on this force so unfortunately, it is no surprise about what happened on June 22, 2016 when he shot Caine Rogers.
H.O.R. What I actually got from reading about Caine’s case, was that the officer has like you mentioned has had prior instances where he has used excessive force and they overlooked that. Not only did he not get the appropriate training to assist with that aggressive nature that he had but someone like that should not be on the force “protecting us” when they obviously have issues with anger management. It was not just one incident; it was more than once and then on top of that, he lied… as you mentioned, you can only use excessive force if you feel threatened and he lied under oath, stating that he felt threatened for his life because Caine was actually charging his car when the video footage clearly shows that he was not speeding, and to make it worse, the officer did not give him ample time after yelling stop…he ran behind his car, Caine had no idea that he was being targeted. So how are you being run over if you are standing behind the car? It makes no sense…it makes no sense and not only was he putting Caine’s life in danger, which unfortunately, he ended up losing his life because of the drastic aggressive action that was taken by the officer, like you mentioned he was also putting the lives of the bystanders in danger too.
Shean Williams: This was for an alleged property crime! That is the other thing about this. George Floyd is dead because of a counterfeit $20 bill…supposedly. Jacob Blake has been shot; he went to go see his girlfriend. Caine did not do anything wrong but EVEN if we are talking about a crime, they are investigating someone breaking into cars…that is the value system that I am talking about, you are ready to shoot and kill somebody because of an alleged car break in? This is a culture mentality issue and that is why as much as I love this city and I was on the mayor’s use of force taskforce to make changes because I love this city. We have to do something beyond policy changes. We have to change the mentality of how police officers see their own citizens, in particular, Black people.
Because there is no reason to pull out your gun for an alleged car invasion. It just does not make any sense.
H.O.R. I love my city as well and they do everything to protect us but when it comes to singular cases of this sort, we have to make sure that we address it and everyone is accountable, the officer has to be accountable for his actions, yes it was his actions but there was not enough training and the fact that his aggression continued to be overlooked. He mentioned later on that he was aware that he was not sure if Caine was the suspect and he still shot at him. You cannot label someone suspicious just because they are Black or Brown. That is the issue, you just cannot do that.
If you are walking around here with a lot of aggression, then you should not even be out in the streets to “protect us” so we have to pay attention again to who we vote for and who we elect, that is very important. It is not rare to see these cases, we have a lot of cases where a lot of young ladies and men are losing their lives. Caine’s case hits home because I am from Atlanta and he was a young man. I am a mother of three kids, and it is just heartbreaking. I appreciate the family that is holding on strong and we are here for you. I would like to know how they are doing because it is very important that we are united, especially people from ATL. Caine was family and what happened to him, hurts us too. He was a young man who was succeeding, he had just gotten a job and he did not deserve this at all.
Shean Williams: His parents, as you can imagine, are just heartbroken because they lost their child at such a young age for no reason, there was no justification but it is also so difficult for them because as we continue to see officers who shoot and kill people similar to Caine Rogers, it just brings up that harsh memory. But let me say something that I think is important to why things are looking different. I told you about the Corey Ward case in the early 90’s, Mr. Cochran and I.
What made that case difficult even though we were able to win on some motions, is that we did not have a video like we do now. What is bringing this all to light is that we have bodycam, and dash cams, so we know what is going on, this is new technology. Now that people are able to see the things that are happening every day, just imagine what you do not see when the camera is not on, video matters. We have to also bring light to the police department. So as we talked about James Burns having this history…he is not able to do anything unless the city of Atlanta hires him, trains him and retains him and they did that in this case and I will tell you based on other cases that I have against the city, they have a problem with officers shooting at moving vehicles. We have a case with a young man by the names of Favors, officers shot into that vehicle. We represent a young man named Noel Hall, officers shot at him and almost killed his wife, but they shot through his chest. So that tells you that they are being trained and told that it is okay to shoot into vehicles even when it is not practical or sensible, it is also not in accordance with the law regarding no shooting someone if there are not a threat. The other issue with the city is, they do not hold their officers accountable. Their investigation department regarding the officer’s professional standards very seldom ever hold any officer’s actions as sustainable or saying that they were at fault, that they did anything wrong.
That has to change. Finally, there are no consequences when these officers do anything because what they city will do, as they did in Burns, after the fact, now they fire him. They fired him within a week of this incident happening. But they did not fire him before this happened. So now they fire him, and they say to us and his family, he has been fired, sue him… he has no money (we know) he is not the reason that he is on the force, we are but we cannot be sued under the law. So, you sue him, we are going to fire him, separate ourselves and we have no compensation for you and this family. We are going to fight you in litigation even though you are citizens of this city, we have a duty to protect and to serve you, we have nothing in place to stop officers like that from being on the force and we did not properly train him but because the law says that we are not automatically responsible for our officers actions, we are going to hide behind the law and you have to sue us and we are not going to pay you anything, unless you finally get your day in court which is always difficult.
That makes this even worse. This city has never ever acknowledged the killing of this young man, they have never sat down with this family, they have never apologized…Mayor Reed was the Mayor then but Mayor Bottoms was on the city council and she has been the Mayor since we have been in litigation. We do not have insurance for these officers when they go out and do anything to our own citizens. So, when the officer does something wrong, you can sue the officer, but they do not have any money. They are not backed by any kind of financial coverage or protection for their actions by this city. I think that is wrong. That makes this even worse. So there is not only Caine Rogers family out there but there are hundreds of families in this city who an officer has either killed, shot or severely injured that have never received compensation from this city because they have hidden behind a bad law, a federal law that says a city is not vicariously liable for their officers. They can change that with legislation, city council can change that…the mayor can make that effort but that is not what is going on. The mayor and I commend her, she gets on tv and she talks about civil rights and I commend her for that, she has been an amazing leader on that but you cannot have justice when you still have injustice in your house. You have all of these families here who have never ever gotten justice from this city. It is so hypocritical!
H.O.R. I think that this is something that we need to bring to our communities so that we can go ahead and change that. If we cannot hold the city or the police department accountable for who they hire and train and put out there to “protect” us then when fatalities like this happen, who do we come to? Who do we address about the officer that acts out of rage? If they fire them and the fact that they do not even reach out to the families and apologize, this is a product of their negligence in overseeing the conduct of their officers and their aggression, their track record in not being able to work with others, that is their negligence. It is their responsibility to pick and choose who gets the job to go out here and protect us. When fatalities like this occur, who are we holding accountable? If our city can actually change legislation that will protect us, and they are not doing that…that’s enough said.
Shean Williams: It is one of the most underappreciated issues in this city regarding police reform and I am going to do everything in my power, not just for the Caine Rogers family but for other families out there, people that I have represented and people that I do not…that should not happen. We call ourselves such a great city and we are but other big cities like, New York, D.C., Philadelphia, Chicago, L.A., Dallas, they have insurance for their officers. How is it that we do not have insurance for our officers to cover them when they make mistakes that cause harm and injury to our own citizens? That makes no sense to me.
H.O.R. Just to represent all of our families here in Atlanta and nationwide, is not easy and I just want to thank you for that…you and the whole firm, everything that you all do, it is very empowering to know that we have somebody in our corner.
Shean Williams: Well that is the reason that Mr. Cochran started this firm, from a national perspective so that we could be there for individuals all across this nation. We have 32 offices…he started an amazing legacy, I am very humbled to be a part of it, to continue the fight and to make sure that we hold our communities, our civic leaders, our politicians accountable in making sure that we all get justice, which is what Mr. Cochran stood for. So I am grateful for the opportunity and I am actually very hopeful that with this new energy, this new outrage, young people coming together, just in fighting this battle are bringing attention to this matter, getting out to vote and it is going to make my job as a civil rights lawyer easier because we have never in my lifetime, in my profession have had that support outside the courtroom that can make changes inside the courtroom.
There are some judges that have given some opinions that stated that they do not like this law and that it needs to changed so this is something that makes me very hopeful, I still got hope.
H.O.R. You know that is for everyone, over here in the communities we have hope too and to hear that you being a national renowned attorney, pillar of the community, fighting for us and are doing everything to help us and you are also hopeful, that pushes us to continue doing what we are doing. Young people are fed up and this is the generation where we are causing change, so it is very important.You know there are a lot of law students now, are there any recommendations or any pointers that you would like to give to these aspiring attorneys or the others who may not dabble in law but are interested in doing something else?
Shean Williams: Law school enrollment is going up, civil rights classes are being taken at a higher rate from professors that I know and young people in middle school and high school, I have talked to them about this, keep that passion to make change and law is a great profession to do that because everything on the books has to be legally written and at some point, some lawyer is going to have to articulate a position on behalf of a client. So, I encourage you to intern at any place whether it be courthouses, law firms. I encourage you to read a lot, it is important to have a high number of books in your library because that is what you do in law school. I also encourage people that may not even go to law school because you can make change in other ways, there is criminal justice reform organizations, there are civil organizations, you can be a teacher, a professor, being a police officer (both laugh) it sounds weird but to make change, we need officers from our communities who think like us. We need everybody getting involved in the healthcare community.
We have seen how this Covid-19 has disproportionately affected the Hispanic and Black communities. We need everybody to ask how they can fit in to make positive change and it does not have to be on some big stage, you can just do a little bit in your community. I encourage young people to take it one step at a time, have hope but have a plan and if you have a plan, then you should work toward that plan daily, you should be doing something every day to get you closer to your dream. Do not worry about the money because that will flow with what you are doing just do the right thing because finding what brings you peace and brings you joy is the most important angle that you can go with. If you do not figure that early, it is going to be a long road.
H.O.R. The reward at the end is so much greater than if you chase money. If you just focus on your dream and what God’s gift is to you and what you can do for others with that gift, that is so much more rewarding in the end.
Shean Williams: It is and when Mr. Cochran hired me, I did not make a lot of money at all. I was just so excited to have the opportunity to work with an amazing lawyer and to have a chance to make a difference, and that is kind of what drives me…change.
H.O.R. You are very passionate about it and we love that. We can trust in someone who is very passionate about their work, so thank you for that. I want to ask you; nowadays social media is very big. What about our listeners and our readers who are actually going to read and view this article, where can we find you on Instagram, Facebook, do you have any handles?
Shean Williams: Yes, I have been forced to in the practice of law (laughter), this is close to my 25th year but even an old dog needs to learn new tricks, so I am definitely on social media. Being a part of the Cochran firm we obviously are on social media as a firm, but I am @attorneyshean on Twitter, so please join me on Twitter and let’s talk. I am also on Instagram @cochranfirmatl and we are also on Facebook.
So reach out and have a conversation with us. We are posting things that will give people hope but that will also give people information about what is going on, not only with our firm and with our clients but also what is going on in this nation. We are going to provide some voter information very soon so that we can get people out, people need to understand how important this election is because what happens in this election affects them daily. I do not think that people realize that Trump has appointed over 200 judges who are very conservative and who are against holding officers accountable, they are against criminal justice reform and we have to make changes in that. This election is very, very important.
H.O.R. I agree with you and it is also very important that we tune in to see that the Cochran firm has for us. We have the tools right here. You all are helping us to engage and learn why this is important, for many of us who do not see it as a big deal…it IS a big deal! Our elders are very in tune with voting and we have to make sure that we are in tune too. We need to take advantage of the tools that the firm is offering us, so thank you. Are there any shout outs that you want to make?
Shean Williams: There is, I want to make sure that I shout out to the parents of Caine Rogers. Melva Rogers and D. Thomas, they have been amazing because having a 12-year-old, I have been able to live off of and build on their strength through this tragedy and I want to shout out to all individuals that have lost a loved one to officers in this city, in this state and in this nation. My prayers are with you. Keep the faith and have hope that we are going to get through this together. I am committing to you that the Cochran firm and myself are doing everything in our powers, legally and outside of the courtroom to make change that your children, family member life was not in vain and I always want to give a shout out to my son, Langston Williams, he is an amazing kid and I am so proud of him. I am very hopeful that everything that we are doing today will ensure that his life and his future is a bright one. I want to shout out to you, thank you for having me.
H.O.R. Thank you for being here. All love and respect to Caine’s family and to all the other families that have experienced this un-just system one way or another. I am thankful that you took the time to sit down and talk with me, so thank you.
Shean Williams: We are shouting out to Zone 6.
H.O.R. Zone 6, you already now, don’t get me started! Thank you Shean.