Two lawyers of color facing 45 years for burning police car

The lawyers remain in jail after an arson charge and what legal experts say is unfair treatment

(Credit: U.S. Attorney's office)

Two lawyers of color who were arrested in May following the protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death are facing a potential of 45 years in prison.

HuffPost reported that Colinford King Mattis and Urooj Rahma were arrested on May 30 in Brooklyn during the height of the protests that took place following Floyd’s death while in the custody of Minneapolis police. Mattis, 32, and Rahma, 31, were charged with attempting to burn a damaged New York City Police Department vehicle that was not occupied.

READ MORE: NYC detectives union to file lawsuit against George Floyd protesters

Protesters hold signs as they gather to protest police brutality and racism in the US, with the recent deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, in Boston, Massachusetts, on May 29, 2020. (Photo by Joseph Prezioso / AFP) (Photo by JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty Images)

The two lawyers have now been hit with seven federal charges of use of explosives and arson that carry a minimum sentence of 45 years. The penalty is so severe because police were allegedly the target.

Allies claim that Mattis, who is a Princeton and NYU educated corporate lawyer and Rahman, a Muslim woman educated at Fordham Law School who works for Bronx Legal Services, are being treated unfairly.

In an unusual set of circumstances, Magistrate Judge Steven M. Gold declared during a virtual arraignment that both could be released with electronic monitoring. Federal officials appealed that judgment but District Judge Margo K. Brodie ordered them to be released on a $250,000 bond and home confinement. However, the government filed another notice.

A three-judge panel in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit revoked Mattis’ and Rahman’s bond on June 5. They were deemed to be a danger to society and returned to the Metropolitan Detention Center.

They are being held without bail as some of the police officers who were involved in the killings of Floyd and Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta have been released.

READ MORE: Thomas Lane, former cop charged with killing George Floyd, makes bail

The disparity has prompted law students and faculty from both their alma maters to write in support of the jailed lawyers. The ensuing letter had more than 1,500 signatures.

“We believe that the Department of Justice’s prosecution and efforts to incarcerate Urooj and Colin are a gross overreach of federal law enforcement power, and an attempt to stifle and delegitimize dissent against police brutality,” NYU  wrote.

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a roundtable at the State Dining Room of the White House June 18, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The harsh treatment they are receiving in comparison to the officers was also noted. The Fordham Law School signatories wrote in their open letter that some of the judges in the case were biased. Judge Michael H. Park and Judge William J. Nardini were appointed by President Donald Trump and the signees claim they are attempting to distract from police violence.

“Indeed, Rahman, a Pakistani Muslim immigrant and Mattis, a young Black man, are convenient scapegoats given this country’s deeply entrenched and violent history of anti-Black racism and Islamophobia,” the Fordham letter stated.

READ MORE: Atlanta cops booked and officially charged in Rayshard Brooks killing

J. Wells Dixon, a senior staff attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights, told Huff Post that the treatment of the lawyers was in stark contrast to that of white police officers accused of crimes. He declared it was an illustration of all that was wrong with the criminal justice system.

“They face a 45-year mandatory minimum,” Dixon said. “How do you square that? It is shocking and appalling that in the United States someone could spend 45 years in prison for vandalizing an empty police car that had been previously vandalized. That is not right.”

Mattis and Rahma are set to appear before another panel of judges Tuesday. None of them were appointed by President Trump.

Have you subscribed to theGrio’s new podcast “Dear Culture”? Download our newest episodes now!