Saving lives: Attorney presents what to do if 'stopped'

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Attorney Robyn McCoy has watched with a heavy heart the ongoing clashes and tension between police and the public in cities around the country, including Ferguson (Mo.), Baltimore, and the breakdown of relations between the black community and law enforcement that seem to be growing in intensity.   

And she has stepped up to do something about it.   

A partner with McCoy & Associates in Ann Arbor, McCoy also works with the Michigan Children’s Law Center in Detroit.

“We work as lawyer-guardian ad litems and defense attorneys for kids in the Wayne County Juvenile Court,” she says. “Our goal is to help save lives and avoid unjust arrests with these presentations.”   

To that end, McCoy has planned, organized and facilitated several presentations of “What to Do When Stopped by the Police,” for local high school students at Henry Ford High School in Detroit, Ypsilanti High School, and for the community at large at New Hope Baptist Church in Ann Arbor. In her presentations, which will include an October 30 program at Denby High School in Detroit, she provides cards to the participants from the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Department and the American Civil Liberties Union with several tips for interacting with police.      

A video of the May 28 presentation at Henry Ford High School can be viewed at https://youtu.be/p8v-hKGfX4k.   

Over the past 18 months, McCoy has spoken at expungement forums with Judge Deborah Thomas of the Third Circuit Court in Wayne County, and attorney Saundra White of Ypsilanti. The trio has traveled across the state educating people about what it takes to clear their criminal records.     

“As I was participating in these expungements forums, hearing about the tragic cases of Michael Brown, Eric Gardner, Tamir Rice and Aura Rosser, I thought to myself there needed to be a shift in the conversation from what to do to clear your record to what to do to avoid getting a record and what to do when you get stopped by the police,” McCoy explains. 

As a defense attorney for 14 years, McCoy is tired of seeing clients after they have given a confession, and consented to the search of their car or house.

“Clients then expect a miracle and there is only so much that can be done after a person has given away most of their rights,” she notes.  “So, I felt compelled to start doing these presentations on “What to Do When Stopped by the Police” as a preventative measure.”   

McCoy has received very positive responses from local judges, prosecutors, police and defense attorneys who have taking part in these presentations.    

“The kids have been very receptive as well and have asked some of the most thought provoking questions,” she says.     

McCoy plans to do more presentations on “What to Do When Stopped by the Police,” but believes the expungement forums and workshops are important as well.     
“It’s clear to me that two issues go hand in hand,” she says. It’s important to educate people on how to avoid catching a case as well as what to do once you’ve gotten caught up in the system”.     

The Vanzetti Hamilton Bar Association, the African American Bar Association for Washtenaw County, did an Expungement Workshop and Fair on September 17 at the New Hope Baptist Church in Ann Arbor, with a video to be released on YouTube.     

McCoy gave a well-received presentation on “What To Do When Stopped by the Police” at the June 13 State Bar Leadership Conference in Lansing, in a session on “New Trends in Law-Related Education: Add a Pro Bono Component.”   

“There was a lot of encouragement and I felt inspired to encourage more of my sisters and brothers in the law to get involved with educating the public,” she says.   

In mid-July, McCoy and her father, attorney Robert I. McCoy, flew to Los Angeles to attend the 5-day 90th Annual Conference of the National Bar Association, the nation’s oldest and largest association of predominately African-American lawyers, judges, law professors and law students, with more than 65,000 members.     

“My father and I have attended previous NBA Conferences – however, we felt it was especially important to attend this one,” she says. “It was an amazing experience where we had the opportunity to get training on how to handle police brutality cases through a series of forums, panel discussions and trainings.”    

Speakers included Dr. Cornel West, a frequent guest on the Bill Maher Show, Colbert Report, CNN, C-Span and Democracy Now; outgoing NBA President Pamela Meanes; Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby; Collette Flanagan, founder of Mother’s Against Police Brutality; and incoming NBA President Benjamin Crump, lead attorney for the families of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Tamir Rice.    

While McCoy enjoyed all the speakers, she found Mosby to be the most inspiring.

“She told her story about overcoming obstacles, from struggling to get into law school, passing the bar exam and then encountering a number of naysayers who thought she was too young to run for the State’s Attorney position,” McCoy says. “By staying rooted in her spirituality and with the support of her family, she was able to run for office and become one of the youngest State’s Attorney in Baltimore’s history”.     

McCoy previously met Meanes in June, when community leaders met at the ACLU office in Detroit prior to a “Know Your Rights” forum held at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.     

“It was an awesome experience,” McCoy says. “President Meanes talked about her commitment to providing moral support to the families of victims of police brutality, educating the public about their rights through ‘Know Your Rights Forums’ across the nation and the NBA's commitment to assisting in passing new legislation that will end police brutality.”   

A native of the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti area, and graduate of Gabriel Richard High School in Ann Arbor, McCoy has long been a community activist. While earning her undergrad degree in anthropology at the University of Chicago, where she was mentored by First Lady Michelle Obama during her senior year, she co-founded Sistafriends, an academic support network for black women, and was the Umoja (cultural chair) for the Organization of Black Students. She also tutored elementary students in the Chicago Public School System    

She was the Political Action chair for the Native American and the Black Law Students Alliance (BLSA) at the University of Michigan Law School, handling community, civic and political meetings, debates and protests in support of affirmative action.   

McCoy participated in an externship in South Africa, where she worked with former ANC activist Willie Hofmeyr; served as a congressional page for the U.S. House of Representatives under the Hon. William D. Ford; and interned for the U.S. Senate under the Hon. Carol Moseley Braun.    

McCoy, who also has worked with the Legal Aid and Defender Association, is a member of the Board of the Democratic Women’s Caucus, the Black Women Lawyers of Michigan, the Wolverine Bar Association, the Wayne County Criminal Defense Bar, the State Bar of Michigan and past president of the Vanzetti Hamilton Bar Association, the Washtenaw County Bar Association and has served as the secretary for the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti Chapter of the Black Chamber of Commerce.

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