Chris Stewart has become known as one of the most famous civil rights attorneys in the country.
ATLANTA – After every civil rights case, Attorney Chris Stewart said it would be his last.
“I’m going to tell my legal partners we’re done with civil rights, no more cases where we don’t do another one, and then I’ll call them at two in the morning and say, ‘Okay, this will be the last one” said Stewart.
Behind all the press conferences and before the judgments are read, it is non-stop work that is physically and emotionally demanding.
Stewart said it was a 24/7 job that would require him not only to be a lawyer but also to be best friend, pastor, therapist and accountant.
“You’re not just carrying this case. You are carrying future cases,” he said.
Stewart has become known as one of the most famous civil rights attorneys in the country, making him a go-to place for families of men and women allegedly mistreated or killed by the police.
But that’s only a small fraction of the cases his law firm usually handles. He said he opposes 95% of the civil rights cases he’s called about.
“I don’t want to do these cases,” said Stewart. “So if you see me on one, it’s a problem, it’s bad,” he said.
He relies on gut instinct to determine which cases to take. It’s not a role he sought during his 16 years as a personal injury attorney, although his law firm’s motto speaks for the cause: “Treat every client like family, never lose confidence in a case, and you get better . ” Justice.”
A graduate of Howard University Law School, he considers it his responsibility to take civil rights cases.
“It’s in your DNA in law school. Your job is not just to make money. Anyone can make money for which you have an obligation to fight for civil rights,” said Stewart.
In 2014, it was Stewart’s heart that landed him on his first major civil rights case.
Gregory Towns, 24, died after being repeatedly handcuffed by two East Point officers during his arrest. Both officers were convicted, one of murder. Stewart helped the family settle a lawsuit with the City of East Point.
That case would lead to Walter Scott and years later to George Floyd. Stewart is representing Floyd’s daughter.
“George Floyd broke something in everyone,” said Stewart.
In the midst of a pandemic, the country had to stop, listen, and watch a Minneapolis police officer kneel on George Floyd’s neck and kill himself.
“They were drowned in the tragedy around the clock on social media and television. They couldn’t even go outside to keep from getting away from it,” he said.
But many could not sit still. Protests echoed across the country demanding more than justice for George Floyd. They wanted a major change in systemic racism.
While the protesters took to the streets, Stewart worked 20 hours a day leading his own protest which helped bring that justice to a guilty verdict.
“It was just a mixture of joy and relief because I knew if it were a not guilty verdict it would have been the end of civil rights,” Stewart said.
Since handling his first major case, Stewart said he’s seen changes that give him hope for the future.
“More whites are very interested in how they can help,” he said. “So that pure changes can take place, it cannot be just us, but not just blacks on the one hand, whites on the other. So civil rights have not changed at MLK or others.”
In any case, Stewart, albeit sometimes reluctantly, takes the ear of the country and, in some cases, the world.
It doesn’t make the 20-hour days any easier, but it does give them a sense of the possibility of change.
“The impact you could have on the police, society, and black-white problem solving, you can actually try to solve a lot of it if people listen to you.”