Do helpless citizens need some ‘high-priced’ activists to get justice? Do they need some expensively paid street rallies to get the attention of the authorities, or do they merely need good lawyers?
A lawyer can be an activist, but an activist can never be a lawyer without passing through the high walls of the law school and without a law license. Notwithstanding, both the community activist and the lawyer play significant roles in shaping a fair and equitable society, however, their operational boundaries and the sharp contrasts in their operative competencies must not be overlooked.
So, two years ago when some individuals called my newsroom to complain that “Brother Quanell X” took thousands of dollars from them for undisclosed “legal services” but did not deliver, my two questions were “What legal service?” and “As what?” My questions were asked out of curiosity – battling to figure out what paid legal service an activist would provide for a community that empowers his voice and supports his statesmanship.
Quanell X has been a local leader of the New Black Panther Party in Houston until recently. In fact, it was just last month, when the organization announced they’re breaking up with him over allegations of failure to deliver services to families and individuals he received payments from. Again, questions about the nature and scope of these services remained ambiguous and inexplicable. In my years in the media, I have known Quanell X as a community activist and not as a CEO of any company structured to prosper from the defenseless population he claims to be defending.
Concerns about the “Quanell X-factor” and the community started around 2008 and 2009 when the Ibarra brothers through their attorney claimed X was paid $20,000 to organize a protest about their case. The two brothers said they were wrongfully arrested by Harris County sheriff’s deputies without probable cause and was seeking $5 million in damages through the court system. Quanell X denied payment for the protest but admitted working on their case as a jury consultant. Lloyd Kelley, a former lawyer for the brothers corroborated Quanell X’s defense and said he paid the activist for jury consulting and publicity to keep the case alive in the eyes of the authorities. But again, this was way back around 2009.
Since this period, Quanell X has remained in the local news as a defender of system fairness and community activist for victims of an unequal justice system, ranging from police brutality, murder, to racially motivated policy engagements. He appeared in local news clips where he protested and spoke on behalf of families of victims. There were at times when he would negotiate with law enforcements to either handover a suspect or get justice for a victim.
Thus, Quanell X’s influence in the community over matters of justice amplified in no small measures, to the extent that he would call news conferences at will to announce a given case or in most cases parade devoted protesters to gather intense media attention. Always sharp-looking in classic American well-fitted suits, X speaks in a commanding tone and would challenge the authorities over system lapses and wrongness. Remarkably, his brand metamorphosed into a popular movement, stirred by the camera- clutching TV reporters who followed and shadowed him as desperate flees.
The totality of these circumstances, invoked by the influences he generated from the media fraternity apparently engorged his ego and boosted his self-worth. Apparently, he took advantage of his popularity and monetized his brand – making a lucrative career off of what would be considered a broken justice system. For instance, in October 2016, a group who claimed to be ‘victims of Quanell X’ rallied outside the Harris County Criminal Courthouse in Houston claiming that Quanell X did not deliver on services they paid heavily.
Testimonies by individuals included instances where Quanell X received moneies and not offering services. In fact, it was gathered that several alleged victims who testified their ordeals brought copies of contracts or checks as proofs of a service engagement with Quanell X. Then in February, the People’s New Black Panther Party in Houston announced that it was splitting with Quanell X over similar allegations that he has not delivered services to the families he took money from to represent. The group claimed it had launched an investigation into the X’s practices. A rally participant said he hired Quanell X because the activist said he could help his daughter get a lighter sentence. Another participant said she hired him to help her with a custody battle, but lost totally because of his ineffectuality. These complaints go on and on with victims showing how they payed as much as $3,500.00 to $7,500.00. (see Video >>>).
Frankly, the purpose of this commentary is not to disparage Quanell X’s bizarre commercialization of his influence in the community, but these stories and testimonies emit a contour of amoral practice excesses. The entire scenarios leave us with the fundamental questions: “Do helpless Citizens need some high-priced activists to get justice? Do they need some expensively paid street rallies to get the attention of the authorities, or do they merely need good lawyers to penetrate a stringent legal system?”
Activists must choose between community service engagement and “Doing Business As.” Passion or quest for community service must not be undermined by an insatiable thirst for money. It might be unacceptably unscrupulous to pretend to be an advocate for societal lapses and at the same time milking helpless masses. I am not sure of Al Sharpton, but I cannot recall how many invoices Martin Luther King wrote for his community service engagement – in fact, his legendary speech “I have a dream” was delivered at no cost to his community.
Of course, it might be necessary to be in the news and the U-tubes, but why would any victim of the system pay thousands in cash or trade-off his goods and chattels just to get a street presence and be in the local news rather than hire an intelligible lawyer? Simply put, lawyers are intellectually trained to defend injustice through the justice process, whereas the activists rally community support to advocate legitimate communal interests as it applies to the justice process, social conditions, and public policies. The law profession is a business. Lawyers get paid to defend their clients. Social activism, however, is a reformation venture – a collaboration of the activist and the citizens toward surviving in a society where injustice and social inequality still pervade human existence.
Political or social activism is not just about protesting and yelling out grievances, but also entails a passion to educate the society about policies and processes that impact their lives. Therefore, people who are vulnerable as victims of policies and system actions have a decision to make on sourcing attorneys who understand the language and practice of law. Consequently, they could invest in pricey activists who would yell in front of TV cameras and leave them with exorbitant invoices.
Also, activists must choose between community service engagement and “Doing Business As.” Passion or quest for community service must not be undermined by an insatiable thirst for money. It might be unacceptably unscrupulous to pretend to be an advocate for societal lapses and at the same time milking helpless masses. I am not sure of Al Sharpton, but I cannot recall how many invoices Martin Luther King wrote for his community service engagement – in fact, his legendary speech “I have a dream” was delivered at no cost to his community.
Often, political activism could be triggered and driven by necessities. However, participation is not obligatory. Involvement hinges on individual values, motivation, and scope of emotional attachments to the prevailing circumstances. Therefore, brother X must choose between being a capitalist and serving as an advocate for the community. He could do both but must set the appropriate boundaries to avoid conflicts. For a start, he could separate his expedition to make ends meet from his self-professed defense of the common man.