Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, November 21, 2014

Taking steps in an uncertain world

Under Analysis

I live in a city. The big city near Ferguson, Mo. Ferguson used to be a “white” suburb. African-Americans moved in, but the power establishment remained white. Michael Brown was shot many times and left on the pavement for four-and-a-half hours. There’s not much excuse for that.

If the police had controlled the narrative better, it would have gone something like this. “A robbery suspect was approached, resisted questioning, injured a policeman in a resulting scuffle, was shot and died on the scene. The policeman was eventually taken to the hospital for his injuries. Fortunately, the shopkeeper that was robbed was not hurt.” If that had been the narrative, the incident may not have seemed very different than similar reports or events occurring every day in cities across the United States. That doesn’t mean the narrative would have been true in Ferguson any more than it might have been true in other cities, but the aftermath of the shooting likely would have been different.

There are concerns and threats that violence will ensue once the grand jury announces if it will indict the police officer for the shooting. A product of the Sixties, I’ve been involved in civil rights issues, including as a lawyer, all my life. I live in a prosperous part of the city that’s near less prosperous areas. As a precaution, when I went out of town to take depositions last week, I moved my nice vehicles from their on-street parking. That’s an odd thing to be concerned about.

My wife, Cheryl, called me at the law office earlier in the week and said, “Jeff is going to call you. I told him you could solve his problem.” Jeff is a commercial lender; I’ve known him for a while. He’s a big, tall white guy who looks like Elvis Presley. He showed up at my office at the appointed time. Jeff said, “I have run into a problem, and Cheryl assured me you know everybody and can help.” Well, okay, no pressure there.

Jeff pulled out a picture of sixth grade basketball players and an article that said they were this year’s Cinderella team, shocking everybody in the AAU championship tournament. Jeff then started talking to me about the six ball players; two were white from the county, and four were black from the city. The white students were relatively well off, the black students were not well off at all. Jeff explained to me that he’d started teaching these kids basketball as one step in trying to provide them with a means for a better life. Jeff now has 40 kids. That doesn’t count his two sons and daughter. His daughter was born with spina bifida. He and his wife, who works at an adult home for the mentally handicapped, take good care of their own children. They don’t complain.

Jeff told me the problem is he can’t find cheap enough basketball court time for his “adopted” kids to practice. Renting gyms often costs $50 to $100 an hour. He said once in a while, he gets some gym time donated, but then somebody with better connections comes in and his kids are out on the street again.

When Jeff told me about “his kids,” tears came to his eyes. He described how well most of them do in school. He also told me that an alternative to finding free or cheap gym time was locating an investor who’d buy a building, slap down a portable basketball floor, and run tournaments from the facility. He said these days, such tournaments are money-makers. Jeff told me he could help the investor/do-gooder with the tournament work. Since my wife said I could do anything, I told him that I would find some people who had more experience in this area than me.

I spoke to a friend in the school district. She does more for underprivileged students than anybody I’ve known. I thought maybe she could hook Jeff up with the right people at the school districts so his kids could practice in the gyms of some of the abandoned inner city schools. She told me she’s approached with issues like this literally five times every week. She said everybody says they want to do good, but some of them don’t really want to. She told me most of the individuals that want to do good don’t realize the difficulty of the situations they’re getting into. She offered to help, but experience has made her skeptical. A couple of days later, I spoke with a close friend who’s a well-known African-American sports lawyer. I told him I wanted some advice and contacts for the project. He told me the whole AAU circuit was filled with seedy people, that he had experience with it and he didn’t want to have anything to do with it. I also spoke with a few big money people and didn’t raise much interest.

Jeff doesn’t make a ton of money; he has given his van to the foundation he established, and has spent years working with his kids and their families. I tried to convince my contacts that Jeff was a hero and wasn’t like the rest of the people who have apparently tarnished this sector. I tried to explain that this wasn’t about basketball, it was about saving kids. I don’t give in easily, and I’m not giving in this time, but it’s been an eye opener. Sometimes despite good intentions, the past and the actions of all of those who have come before us get in the way.

As usual, there were surprises during my out-of-town depositions. I was trying to bolster my client’s damage claim by questioning one of the Defendant’s executives about the details of a meeting I knew he previously set up to enhance sale opportunities for my clients. He denied setting up the meeting! He denied even being at the meeting!

When I returned from those depositions, there still had been no announcement from the Ferguson grand jury. There was, however, a news story that someone had been found shot to death on a front porch four blocks from my house. All around our country, people are doing good things, and people are doing bad things. We might or might not learn who shot the young man in my neighborhood. The Ferguson decision will be announced soon. Maybe I’ll find somebody to help Jeff – maybe not. We all make choices every day.

© 2014 Under Analysis, LLC. Under Analysis is a nationally syndicated column of the Levison Group. Mark Levison is a member of the law firm of Lashly & Baer. Contact Under Analysis by e-mail at comments@levisongroup.com.