‘You can’t outsmart racism’: Black law student says sheriff mistook her for the accused

PROVIDENCE, RI (WPRI) – It was business as usual at the Garrahy Court Complex in Providence, Rhode Island, until Brooklyn Crockton was barred from entering a courtroom.

Crockton, a law student at Roger Williams University, said a sheriff pulled her out of the line and started asking her questions.

“He asked me if I was the accused,” Crockton recalled. “It sort of threw me off balance. I was aware that situations like this had happened with other law students, but I just couldn’t believe at the time that it bothered me. was coming.

After Crockton, who is black, explained to the sheriff, who was white, that she was representing a client at the Roger Williams University Criminal Defense Clinic, he offered a quick apology.

But it didn’t stop there.

Crockton said the sheriff approached her several times after she entered the courtroom, adding that he continued to talk to her as if she had never set foot in a courtroom before.

“I was getting anxious every time because I really wanted the interaction to be over,” she said.

Crockton recounted his experience in a TikTok video which later went viral.

“I’ve never been so embarrassed in my entire life,” Crockton said in the video. “I felt like crying at that moment.”

“You hear about these stories all the time with black lawyers, but when it happens to you, it’s so visceral you don’t even know what to say,” she continued.

In the video, Crockton said she was dressed appropriately for court and she believes it was the color of her skin that caused the sheriff to mistake her for the defendant.

“You can’t beat racism,” she said. “It doesn’t matter how well you dress or what you wear. Someone will always look at your skin color and judge you based on that.

Crockton said she told her attorney and law professor Andrew Horwitz about what happened.

Horwitz said this isn’t the first time he’s heard about what’s happening to lawyers of color.

“I don’t think we can train people’s biases,” Horwitz said. “I think the best we can do is make people aware and aware of their biases.”

“The right kind of training will help us all recognize the biases we carry,” he added.

While Crockton said she forgives the sheriff for his actions that day, she still felt it was necessary to share her experience with others.

“It’s just part of a larger conversation we need to have about implicit biases,” she said. “It’s not just in the legal sector. It’s in every industry that exists.

Crockton said it was the first time in her life that she had faced blatant discrimination. Although it wasn’t something she expected that day, she knew it would eventually happen. She said she was grateful it happened because it helped her find her voice.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Roger Williams University said that upon learning of what happened to Crockton, the college immediately contacted the Rhode Island Judiciary, as well as the state’s sheriffs division. , to resolve the situation.

“Roger Williams University School of Law is grateful to Brooklyn for sharing its personal experience of bias in the legal system to help bring attention to a pervasive, national problem,” the statement read. “This requires collective and concerted action, and we are committed to being part of the solution. We are extremely proud of Brooklyn for their strength and leadership in bringing these issues to light. »

A spokesperson for Rhode Island Justice clarified that the sheriffs division is not under their supervision, although employees of both entities are required to undergo training on implicit biases.

“A meeting like this is an opportunity to speak up and challenge the assumptions we make about the people who walk through our courthouses every day,” the spokesperson added.

Rhode Island State Police, which oversees the sheriffs division, said they were conducting an internal investigation into the incident, but declined to comment further. It is unclear at this time whether the sheriff involved will face disciplinary action.