The National Lawyers Guild honored Oakland civil rights attorney Walter Riley at its annual Law for the People Convention, which was held in Oakland this year at the Marriott Oakland City Center.
Riley, who received the Law for the People Award, is one of eight members and friends of the guild that were recognized for whose exemplary work and activism speak to the guild’s mission of human rights over property interests.
Riley grew up in Durham, North Carolina where he experienced first-hand the injustice of the Jim Crow South. His response was to become a young civil rights activist and has continued his activism ever since.
Following years as an organizer, Riley moved back to the Bay Area to become a lawyer.
He is a member of multiple organizations including the National Lawyers Guild and serves on the boards of Global Exchange, Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute, Haiti Emergency Relief Fund, Berkeley Jazz School, and is co-chair of the John George Democratic Club.
He serves on the legal defense teams representing fellow Law for the People Award recipients, the Black Friday 14 and Trayvon 2.
The Black Friday 14 consists of Black, Bay Area social justice organizers and community leaders who responded to Ferguson’s Call for National Action against police brutality and state violence after the non-indictment of Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
On Nov. 28, 2014, the Black Friday 14 chained themselves to two BART trains at West Oakland Station, stopping operations for under two hours.
This action drew public attention to the existing systemic and institutionalized racism. The Alameda County District Attorney’s Office filed trespass charges against the Black Friday 14. BART initially demanded a restitution of $70,000 but after receiving intense pressure, the BART Board of Directors dropped this demand.
The Black Friday 14 continue to fight their charges with representation from fellow Walter Riley among others.
The Black Friday 14 are: Cat Brooks, Rheema Calloway, Robbie Clark, Mollie Costello, Nigel Le’Jon Evans-Brim, Celeste Faison, Alicia Garza, Devonte Jackson, Ronnisha Ann Johnson, Karissa Lewis, Vanessa Moses, Nell Myhand, Neva Walker, and Laila Sapphira Williams. Their legal team consists of Walter Riley, Aliya Karmali, Hasmik Geghamyan, Zoe Polk and Leigh Johnson.
The Trayvon 2, Hannibal Shakur (Lamar Caldwell) and Tanzeen R. Doha, are non-white, Muslim men who were charged by the Alameda County District Attorney’s office in connection with a July 15, 2013 protest of George Zimmerman’s not guilty verdict in the murder of Trayvon Martin.
The District Attorney’s office charged both defendants with felony vandalism despite no evidence they engaged in such conduct. The DA finally dropped the charges for lack of evidence.
Doha has worked actively on questions of race, religion, and colonialism both as a graduate student in the US and as a political organizer in Bangladesh. Shakur was very active in the protests around Oscar Grant’s 2009 murder by police, and continues to work for Black autonomy and self-determination in various collectives in the Bay Area.
The Trayvon 2 legal team consisted of Walter Riley, Gabriela Lopez, and Nadia Kayyali.