The Catholic University of America

Marques Banks

Law Student Gets Involved After Ferguson

When Marques Banks saw the news last year about the protests going on in Ferguson, Mo., in the wake of the police shooting of Michael Brown, he was distraught.

He saw that the First Amendment rights of many of the protestors were being violated by the police. As an evening student at the Columbus School of Law, he wondered what he could do to get involved.

“When I’m thinking about the real world, I wonder how what I learn [in law school] applies to what I want to do. Sitting in the classroom while the world is still going on can be hard,” he says.

Banks made the decision to fly to Ferguson on his own and do whatever he could to help. He didn’t have a concrete plan until the day before he was scheduled to leave.

That day, he received an email from the National Black Law Students Association seeking volunteers in Ferguson to help with tasks such as jail support, legal observation, and legal research.

Banks spent much of his time in Ferguson doing legal observation, which Banks describes as a “shield” for protestors.

“When a demonstration goes on, we’re watching to make sure cops don’t use certain tactics to infringe on protestors’ First Amendment rights,” he explains. “If they do, we note that. If arrests take place that are unlawful and in violation of the First Amendment, we help protestors out with their cases. We give them our notes and help however we can.”

In Ferguson, Banks worked with Nicole Lee, a prominent human rights lawyer who has made hundreds of media appearances, and Justin Hansford, an assistant professor at Saint Louis University School of Law who accompanied Ferguson protesters and Michael Brown’s family to Geneva, Switzerland, to testify at the United Nations about what was going on in Ferguson.

He’s continued to work with Lee in other U.S. cities, such as Baltimore and Cleveland, where there also have been protests against police brutality. In these cities, Banks has continued his work in legal observation and he has begun to train others to become legal observers.

Banks also has partnered with Hansford, who received a Fulbright to study the legal career of Nelson Mandela in South Africa. Banks is helping Hansford sort through some of the research he did in South Africa.

These connections helped Banks put together a Feb. 5 panel at the law school titled “Focus on Ferguson: Police Use of Force and Next Steps.” Panelists included Leslie M. Proll, director of the Washington office of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund; Marbre Stahly-Butts, Open Society Soros Justice Fellow with the Center for Popular Democracy; Lee; and Hansford. Banks says that the panel was such a success that it went twice as long as expected because attendees had so many questions for the panelists. (Banks is depicted in the above photo introducing the panel.)

Banks’ experience in Ferguson, Baltimore, and other U.S. cities has reinforced his desire to use his law degree to promote civil rights.

“It’s given me a lot of motivation to continue with law school and it gave me a different view of what a lawyer is. I want to get into movement lawyering, which is something that is reemerging in the law world. Thurgood Marshall, Charles Hamilton Houston, and even Nelson Mandela would all be in the category of movement lawyers. I’ve started to see the different roles lawyers can take … and how they can aim for systemic changes.”

Banks also hopes that the work he’s done shows that there are avenues for law students to pursue in order to make a difference in areas that they are passionate about.

“I know at times we [law students] feel that we’re very limited in what we can do,” he explains. “There are very good reasons for that: the time constraint of law school, debt is very real, finding a job is hard. I just want to show that there are still ways, if you’re very passionate, that you can get involved. If my story shows anything, it shows that it doesn’t necessarily have to be an avenue the law school provided. You can create your own path. The law school will be supportive. You just need to get out there and do the work.”


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Marques Banks

Hometown: Detroit

Major: Rising third-year evening law student

Favorite class: Civil Rights Law

Favorite spot on campus: The water fountain outside the law school

Person who most inspires you: Professor Justin Hansford and human rights lawyer Nicole Lee (see story)