Black people who have paid close attention to the recent fatal police shootings of boys and young men of color know S. Lee Merritt. The civil rights attorney, 35, has represented several families broken by relatives’ deaths at the hands of law enforcement over the last five years, the Dallas News reported. He has vowed to fight for justice and confirmed his commitment to that mission with each case — many of which have made national headlines.
When the family of 15-year-old Jordan Edwards, the Balch Springs, Texas police shooting victim, began their battle against the police last April, they called Merritt. When father Diante Yarber was fatally shot by police in a Walmart parking lot in Barstow, California on April 5, relatives turned to Merritt, who devised a “justice” action plan. When other victims of violence, including a woman who fought R.Kelly over abuse and DeAndre Harris who was beaten with pipes after the Charlottesville “Unite The Right” rally last August, needed help, Merritt stepped up.
Now, with the fatal police shooting of 17-year-old Antwon Rose who was killed without warning in East Pittsburgh on Tuesday (June 19), Merritt has a renewed focus on justice.
Merritt’s career has been dedicated to helping people of color, and his beginnings point to why this mission is so important to him.
The civil rights attorney and activist had a rough childhood growing up in South Central Los Angeles in the 1980s. He credits his inner city upbringing as one of the reasons why he committed himself to social justice, it reads on the Merritt Law Firm website. He was a Cum Laude graduate of Morehouse College in Atlanta before attending Temple University’s James Beasley School of Law in Philadelphia. At Temple, he received several commendations for trial advocacy as part of the National Trial Team and was inducted into the Temple American Inn of Courts, an educational organization for those in the legal community.
Merritt spent time as a school teacher and basketball coach before he launched fully into his legal career, according to his firm’s website.
Merritt began his career in law as an associate of the Cochran Firm, founded by the late Johnnie Cochran, before going into private practice. Since then, he has taken on cases in corporate discrimination and those tied to the Black Lives Matters Movement, in addition to ones concerning police brutality.
The lawyer, who is also a father, mentor and spoken word artist living in North Texas, is steady on his grind of battling for Black people. He wants to use his law practice to help underserved and underrpresented communities fight for justice system reform.