By Lisa Mansfield.
When I awoke on the morning of June 8, 2020 I never thought that by midday I would be face down on the ground with my colleagues outside of Tacoma’s County City Building (CCB), but that is exactly what happened. I walked with a group of lawyers to participate in a nationwide “Black Lives Matter to Public Defenders March” protesting police brutality in the Black community. We were on the ground for 8 minutes and 46 seconds which was the exact amount of time that Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin had his knee on George Floyd’s neck before he was asphyxiated. Here in Tacoma, Manuel Ellis was also the victim of police brutality, and we protested his untimely death as well.
As I lay on the cement in my court clothes, it was silent and I took that quiet space to consider the suffering Mr. Floyd and Mr. Ellis went through as they lay dying. I also thought about all of the suffering so many other Black people have experienced because of excessive force used by police.
The march started outside of the Department of Assigned Counsel on Market Street where we were addressed by James Bible, the Ellis family attorney. He spoke about the anguish of the family, their determination to seek justice and the need for change. After his speech, we proceeded with signs in hand to march up the sidewalk on 11th street to the rear entrance of the CCB and silently lay down. After the 8 minutes and 46 seconds were over, we marched to the front of the CCB and were cheered on by onlookers in support. After the group formed a large circle, several members of the march including Public Defenders Corddaryl Woodford and Andrea Jarmon spoke and shared their thoughts and feelings. It was a powerful gathering.
I reached out to one of the organizers of the march, Public Defender Dee Sonntag to learn more about how this event came about. I learned that she along with several other Public Defenders namely Jessica Campbell, Jennifer Freeman and Sara Alavi were largely responsible for putting the demonstration together. On Saturday, June 6th, the organizers saw a Facebook post from the National Association for Public Defense calling for Public Defenders to protest on Monday, June 8th. They got to work and Dee Sonntag reached out to James Bible who immediately said he would travel from Bellevue to support the demonstration. The Kiro 7 News team was contacted, an email went out to local Public Defenders, and the protest was thus organized.
I asked Ms. Sonntag why she felt the need to demonstrate in her role as an attorney and she said “It is imperative that Public Defenders use their unique position as witnesses to racial injustice not only to show up, but to stand up.” As a Public Defender, as a Black woman, and as an American, I too believe it is imperative to consistently show up, stand up, and also to speak out against racial injustice.
Lisa Mansfield works as a parent’s attorneys in the Dependency Unit at the Department of Assigned Counsel in Tacoma. She is President of the Pierce County Minority Bar and serves as Vice President of Community Outreach for Washington Women Lawyers.
Photos courtesy of Lisa Mansfield