Lawyer-activist tells students to obey police to survive, then call attorney

Jamia Collins/Courtbouillon
Attorney L. Chris Stewart, right, talks with members of the audience after his speech during Freshman
Convocationin Georges Auditorium on Jan. 26. 

NEW ORLEANS (March 10, 2017) – The lawyer for the families of Alton Sterling and Walter Scott, both slain by police, recalls being a young Xavier student in New Orleans and talking back when police stopped him and his friends in his old car.

Today, said attorney L. Chris Stewart, he would act differently because police act differently. Police then might pull a gun on you, ask you for your ID, but they let you live, he said, but such a situation is much riskier now.

Addressing about 200 freshmen during Convocation in Georges Auditorium on Jan. 26, Stewart advised the best thing to do nowadays is to obey police commands to survive the encounter and live to fight the battle the next day. Then call a lawyer, he said.

“Everyone wants justice in these types of situation but don’t immediately get it or don’t get it at all,” Stewart said in the speech hosted by the Center for Law and the Public Interest along with the Academic Center for Excellence, or ACE.

Stewart, who said he grew up in a rough part of Atlanta and could barely read until fifth grade, earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology with honors from Xavier, a master’s in public health from Tulane and his law degree from Howard.

He’s won millions in personal-injury lawsuits as a partner in the firm of Stewart, Seay and Felton in Atlanta, and he attributed his transition to his parents’ guidance, his determination to do better and to staying humble.

“Nobody defines you but you,” he said. “Struggles don’t define you…Don’t let the outside world define you.” He said everybody has issues that they deal with, but it’s all about how you handle it.

Stewart is representing the family of Sterling, the Baton Rouge CD peddler who was shot by police at point-blank range last July 5 at a convenience store when police were called about a man with a gun. He also is representing the family of Scott, an unarmed man who was shot running from an officer in South Carolina in April 2015.

Cellphone videos of both shootings prompted huge protests. The South Carolina patrolman was fired and tried, but a mistrial was declared last December; the prosecutor has vowed to retry the case. The U.S. Department of Justice is still investigating the Sterling case.

(Ali McBride contributed to this report.)