McDermott Will & Emery Statement on George Floyd and Condemning Injustice


Chicago, May 31, 2020 – McDermott Will & Emery Chairman Ira Coleman issued the following statement to our Firm this evening:

Dear Colleagues,

The death of George Floyd, together with all too many other instances of racial injustice – well-publicized or not – have propelled our country to a heartbreaking flashpoint. At McDermott, we have always stood for equality, both in our Firm and across our communities. At moments such as this, however, we also recognize that this support requires us to firmly and unequivocally speak out against such acts of racial injustice. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., reminded us, “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people, but the silence over that by the good people.”

The issues of racism, bigotry and inequality are deeply rooted in our country’s history—and there is rightful frustration, anger and sadness that we have not yet made further progress. We’ve seen the story line in countless iterations, from overt acts of violence to the higher morbidity rate of illnesses, including most recently, Covid-19. Clearly, there are no easy answers, but that doesn’t mean we give up or turn a blind eye. Rather, this is a moment for us to listen more closely, to learn something new, and to open ourselves up to making a positive difference going forward. Above all, it means that we redouble our efforts to create the society we want for ourselves and our children.

I would also like to extend a particular message to our black colleagues. Personally, as a white man, I recognize my privilege in our society, and as much I listen and try to learn, I know that I can never truly know what it’s like to walk in your shoes. But, please also know that I and our other colleagues across the Firm, stand with you in mourning the lives lost, condemning the ongoing injustices, and striving to do better.

Specifically, we are asking our Pro Bono team to immediately identify new ways for how we can best support those working for greater racial equality; we will continue to advance and improve our own internal initiatives for our colleagues; and we stand ready to support you in any way we can, recognizing the extraordinary circumstances and stresses that we are all under.

Let’s continue to reach out to each other and bridge the gaps, even from a distance: This is not about waiting until we find the right words or the best answers, but rather about making the effort to connect with shared grace, humility and respect. With that, better days will no doubt lie ahead.

Be well and be safe.

Ira Coleman

Fighting for Social Justice and Equality

McDermott has long been committed to fighting for social justices and racial equality. Through our pro bono team, we dedicate our firm’s talent time and resources to making a positive, tangible change. Our focus includes everything from facilitating access to justice to helping obtain basic human needs, such as housing and education and protect against unfair, brutal and, at times, fatal encounters with our justice system. We recognize that this call to action is greater than ever and we are redoubling our efforts across a variety of current and new initiatives. Below are just a few select snapshots of our work:

  • Providing First Amendment Advice to Racial Justice Organizations: In 2018, McDermott authored a comprehensive report for the Poor People’s Campaign, which works on economic and racial justice issues across the country, analyzing the scope and limits of the first amendment in the context of peaceful civil disobedience, particularly in public spaces in Washington DC and at the US Capitol. This advice continues to be used to protect First Amendment rights during peaceful protests.
  • Investigating Allegations of Police Brutality/Torture: In partnership with the Illinois Torture Inquiry Relief Commission (TIRC), McDermott lawyers investigate claims of tortured confessions by disgraced former Chicago Police Commander John Burge and his subordinates. Through the TIRC’s work, a number of prisoners have been freed. Late last year, a team in Chicago successfully advocated for a new trial for a man who was the victim of torture that led to a false confession.
  • Challenging Qualified Immunity for Police Officers in Cases of Police Misconduct: McDermott is counsel of record in petitions for certiorari currently pending at the US Supreme Court that challenge qualified immunity in cases of police misconduct, including one on behalf of an innocent 10-year old boy, who was shot while lying face down in his yard. We are also currently involved in two additional cases related to the issue of qualified immunity for police officers—one involving the shooting of a man suffering a mental disturbance while his girlfriend pleaded with officers to let her handle the situation and another on behalf of a family whose husband/father died of asphyxia while restrained in the back of a police vehicle.
  • Addressing the Impact of Systemic Racism on Basic Human Needs: Systemic racism impacts people’s ability to access the most basic fundamentals of everyday life – safe housing, education, food, governmental benefits, medical care, etc. For example, Firm attorneys appear in eviction court to fight for a tenant’s right to remain in his or her home, represent students of color in school expulsion cases and assist individuals seeking social security or veterans benefits.
  • Supporting Civil Rights and Racial Justice Organizations: McDermott supports civil rights and racial justice organizations such as the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, Chicago Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, Shriver Center on Poverty Law and National Police Accountability Project. The Firm supports these organizations financially, with legal work critical to their mission (including tax, benefits, employment and transactional work), and our lawyers take a leadership role serving as members on their governing and advisory boards.
  • Pursuing Federal Civil Rights Claims under Section 1983: Firm lawyers regularly represent individuals bringing affirmative claims against government actors for a wide range of abuses, including use of excessive force, poor conditions of confinement in prisons and failure to provide adequate medical care while incarcerated.
  • Supporting Voting Rights: McDermott lawyers support Election Protection, the largest national non-partisan voter protection coalition that assists voters and non-partisan registration organizations, through work on its hotline in both local and national elections. McDermott lawyers are currently volunteering to respond to requests for assistance from Indiana voters facing issues while voting in Indiana’s June 2nd primary.
  • Mentoring Students of Color: Across nearly all of our offices, our lawyers and staff engage with and support students of color in our communities. Our efforts include reading and tutoring programs, job preparation, interview training and debate/mock trial and mock negotiation coaching.

About McDermott

McDermott Will & Emery partners with leaders around the world to fuel missions, knock down barriers and shape markets. With more than 20 locations on three continents, our team works seamlessly across practices, industries and geographies to deliver highly effective—and often unexpected—solutions that propel success. More than 1,100 lawyers strong, we bring our personal passion and legal prowess to bear in every matter for our clients and the people they serve.

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