York attorneys offer free services to peaceful protesters arrested by police
Several local attorneys are offering to represent Black Lives Matter protesters at no charge if they are arrested by police for exercising their right to assemble and protest.
"It's only for peaceful protesters," attorney Jennifer Smith said. "If someone is looting or rioting and causing damage, I won't represent them."
No protesters were arrested in York City Monday or Tuesday, according to Officer Derek Hartman, York City Police spokesperson.
Attorneys Korey Leslie and Sandra Thompson also said they are willing to represent for free peaceful protesters who find themselves criminally charged or cited with crimes.
"I will support anyone who seeks to raise awareness, promote change and spark action as the purpose of these protests," Leslie wrote on Facebook. "I hope and pray everyone remains safe and no harm is brought to any person, business or property."
Smith said she is open to representing clients pro bono, meaning free of charge, in York, Adams, Lancaster, Dauphin and Cumberland counties — and further afield, if need be.
"I have seen systemic racism in our justice system, and I can’t sit idly by any longer and watch it happen," she told The York Dispatch. "I have to effectuate change."
Smith said the racism she sees in York County's justice system isn't intentional or overt.
"I do have to discuss with my (black) clients that they won't get a jury of their peers — that maybe there will be one black person on the jury," Smith said.
Differing advice: She said she has also offered black clients legal advice about how to act if they are pulled over by police, "to make sure they don't get shot," which is an issue already on her clients' minds.
"I don't have to do that for my white clients," Smith said.
Smith said she's offering to defend peaceful protesters arrested, cited or criminally charged because she believes in the Black Lives Matter movement.
"Finally we are standing up to the injustice and being an ally, which we should have been doing all along," she said.
Smith said she considers herself pro-police.
"York County has a lot of good police officers — great police officers," she said, adding that this is "about four police officers murdering (George Floyd). And it has to stop."
Smith said someone on social media challenged her views, asking what she would do if someone burned down her business.
"I said, 'I would probably represent them for free. Do you know me?'"
A similar scenario happened about two years ago, when a man named Kameron Smith was fleeing from police and crashed his car into the side of Jen Smith's home, creating a massive hole. Smith and her mother were home at the time but escaped injury.
Second chance: Jen Smith gave her blessing to a plea agreement that allowed Kameron Smith — who had no criminal record and is no relation to her — to avoid a felony conviction and receive a second chance.
She also hired him to do renovation work around her home and spoke on his behalf at his sentencing hearing, telling the presiding judge she didn't want to see the man's life ruined by a felony conviction.
York County Bar Association CEO Victoria Connor asked that other local attorneys contact her if they are interested in doing pro bono work for peaceful protesters.
Reach Jen Smith at 717-309-6480, or at firstname.lastname@example.org; reach Leslie at 717-8584799; and reach Thompson at 717-577-4436.
— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at email@example.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.