Advocate: Law student aims to promote economic, legal reform efforts

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Wayne Law student Henry Schneider relaxes from his studies by fishing on a local lake.

Photo courtesy of Henry Schneider

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News
   
A native of historic Rosedale Park in Detroit, Henry Schneider found that growing up in the Motor City was a formative experience.

“My parents made a very conscious decision to remain in the city, and I found it impossible to ignore all the ways our institutions marginalize poor people, and poor black people in particular,” he says. “From the state of public schools, water-shutoffs, mass foreclosures, and this farce of an emergency manager law, it’s clear the state does not treat black lives in Detroit and elsewhere like they matter.

“As a white man who grew up comfortably, I saw a law degree as a means of furthering causes like Black Lives Matter which I support, but cannot directly call my own. I want to help reform the economic and legal institutions that continue to marginalize people based on race and economic status.”

A graduate of Detroit Jesuit High School, Schneider earned his undergrad degree in urban studies, Africana studies and political science from Wayne State University, and remained a WSU “Warrior” to study for his J.D.

“Law school could stifle anyone’s enthusiasm, but I’ve found a fantastic network of friends who’ve made law school an energizing and fun experience,” he says.

Schneider, whose father, brother and sister are attorneys, is heavily involved in the Damon J. Keith Students for Civil Rights – the action arm of the Damon J. Keith Center at Wayne Law – and has served on its governing board for two years.

“We exist to promote the legacy of Judge Keith, and that means identifying and confronting evolving forms of institutional oppression in Detroit and beyond,” he says.    

Last year the organization helped host the Youth Justice and Leadership Exhibition with the Michigan Roundtable for Civil Rights, where high school students from around the region presented social-justice oriented workshops, discussions, and performances.

Schneider also is a leader with the law school’s National Lawyers Guild group, the first integrated bar association in the United States, founded in Detroit.

“We work to the end that human rights are regarded as more sacred than property rights,” he says. “One of our most important functions is to observe at actions and protests to help ensure law enforcement respects the constitutional rights of demonstrators.

“I’ve legal observed at actions in Detroit in support of D15 and against water shutoffs, evictions, police brutality and emergency management. In July, many of us went to Cleveland to observe protests around the Republican National Convention.”

In October 2014, Schneider went with several other students to observe #FergusonOctober actions in Missouri.

“The killing of Michael Brown was tragic, but it was clear the protests implicated a nation-wide system of abuse, much larger than any single police officer,” he says. “The Department of Justice would later reveal how the Ferguson Police Department was less of a public safety force and more of a mechanism for extracting revenue from an already-poor population base.

“Unfortunately, the practices of the Ferguson Police Department remain common across the country. Until we make deep changes to the incentive structures guiding police conduct, it’s only a matter of time before another city erupts in conflict.

“It was frustrating to hear many of my peers and classmates express more outrage over looted property than the unnecessary death of a young man,” he adds. 

Interested in civil rights law, especially with regard to prisoners’ rights, Schneider has worked since May 2015 at Constitutional Litigation Associates, PC under attorneys Cynthia Heenan and Hugh “Buck” Davis. The firm specializes in Constitutional Law, which usually means suing police officers or the state for 1st, 4th, 5th, and/or 8th amendment rights.

“We’re one of a handful of Michigan firms that accept letters from prisoners, and I’ve become aware of just how difficult it is for prisoners in Michigan to vindicate their rights,” Schneider says. “It’s very difficult to hold police officers and prison guards accountable using the law, but that’s exactly what I want to do.”

In 2014, Schneider ran the state senate campaign for Rashida Tlaib, a former state representative and the current Community Partnerships Director at Sugar Law Center.

“We ran against long odds, and came up just short, but Rashida has shown me through her work at Sugar Law Center that electoral politics are not the only means of progress,” he says.

“I admire the way she blurs the line between activist and representative. Whether laying down in the street to prevent the closing of Southeastern High School, or interrupting Donald Trump’s speech to the Detroit Economic Club, we need more leaders like Rashida who are willing to put themselves on the line like that.”

The Hamtramck resident, who played baseball for two years at Wayne State, coaches baseball in summer with the Rosedale Grandmont Little League; and plays baseball on Sundays in southwest Detroit’s Mexican League.

“I’ve loved baseball my whole life,” he says. “My favorite part of baseball is the absence of a clock. That, and trotting the bases after a home run.”

He also plays soccer in the Detroit City Futbol League, where teams representing various neighborhoods in Detroit play against one another and perform community service.

“I play for Grandmont-Rosedale, my native neighborhood,” he says. “I’m proud that many of my teammates are people I once played soccer and baseball with as a child.”
 

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