- Born in 1975, Ekow N. Yankah earned a B.A. from the University of Michigan in 1997, a J.D. from Columbia University in 2000, and a B.C.L. from Oxford University in 2002. Today he is a professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University. He also co-chairs the New York Democratic Lawyers Council and serves as a […]
Born in 1975, Ekow N. Yankah earned a B.A. from the University of Michigan in 1997, a J.D. from Columbia University in 2000, and a B.C.L. from Oxford University in 2002. Today he is a professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University. He also co-chairs the New York Democratic Lawyers Council and serves as a board member with the Innocence Project, an organization whose mission is to free the allegedly large number of innocent nonwhites incarcerated as a result of a racist criminal-justice system. In addition, Yankah has been a Visiting Fellow at the Israeli Institute of Advanced Studies, a Visiting Professor of Law at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, a Distinguished Visiting Faculty Member at the University of Toronto School of Law, and a board member of the American Constitution Society‘s New York chapter.
Yankah views the United States as a nation awash in racism and discrimination against African Americans. In July 2013 he was deeply angered when a Florida jury rendered “not guilty” verdicts on murder and manslaughter charges against a “white Hispanic” man named George Zimmerman, who in February 2012 had shot and killed black teenager Trayvon Martin in a case that made national headlines. Referencing the fact that Zimmerman had shot Martin during a fight that ensued after Zimmerman had followed the teen on suspicion that the latter might be seeking to burglarize a home in Zimmerman’s neighborhood, Yankah wrote in an op-ed piece that appeared in The New York Times: “Every step Mr. Martin took toward the end of his too-short life was defined by his race. I do not have to believe that Mr. Zimmerman is a hate-filled racist to recognize that he would probably not even have noticed Mr. Martin if [the latter] had been a casually dressed white teenager.” This, Yankah explained, was because the notion that many blacks are dangerous criminals was “firmly lodged in Mr. Zimmerman’s imagination.”
Yankah was similarly outraged by an August 9, 2014 altercation wherein a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri shot and killed an 18-year-old black male named Michael Brown just minutes after Brown had robbed a local convenience store. Brown’s death set off a massive wave of demonstrations and riots in Ferguson, eventually growing into a national movement where protesters falsely claimed that Brown had been shot in the back while fleeing from the officer, and that Brown at one point had raised his hands in an attempt to surrender. In a September 2014 op-ed that appeared in the Huffington Post, Yankah compared Brown’s case to that of Edward Garner, another “young unarmed black man” who, 40 years earlier, was “suspected of committing a petty theft, [was] confronted by a police officer and, trying to flee, [was] shot in the head and killed.” Yankah explained that he saw fit to “bring up this nearly four decades old case in the wake of (yet another) unarmed black man shot by a police officer,” because it was emblematic of what he called the “ceaseless cycle of police violence turned frustration turned community violence” by which so many black families had “lost their sons,” and by which so many black communities had been “torn apart.” Noting also that black representation in the Ferguson police force was considerably smaller than the black presence in the town’s overall population, Yankah stated that “the Ferguson police force, like too many across the country, has come to look too much like a foreign occupation force as that city has grown increasingly African-American over the years.” Just as “Garner’s shooting revealed that violence and death are aimed at black men,” Yankah added, “it remains true today that African-Americans are disproportionately more likely to suffer from incidents of police brutality” and “the routine use of police force.”
In a November 2017 op-ed titled “Can My Children Be Friends With White People?” – which appeared in The New York Times – Yankah lamented that Donald Trump’s 2016 election as U.S. President had “made it clear that I will teach my boys … to be cautious.” “I will teach them suspicion,” he elaborated, “and I will teach them distrust…. I will teach my boys to have profound doubts that friendship with white people is possible” – lest they run the unnecessary risk of being victimized by the “rending, violent, often fatal betrayal” that whites, by Yankah’s telling, so commonly display. Characterizing Trump as a “simple-minded, vulgar, bigoted blowhard” with a “history of housing discrimination … casual conflation of Muslims with terrorists, [and] reducing Mexican-Americans to murderers and rapists,” Yankah stated that Trump’s election had convinced many black Americans that “you can’t trust these [white] people.” “History has provided little reason for people of color to trust white people,” Yankah expanded, claiming that “these recent months [during Trump’s presidency] have put in the starkest relief the contempt with which the country measures the value of racial minorities.”
Emphasizing the ubiquity of America’s “continuing racism,” Yankah says that he himself has been able to befriend and trust only those whites who happen to share his political values – e.g., those “who have marched in protest [or] rushed to airports to protest the president’s travel ban.” (This was a reference to a 2017 Trump executive order which sought to place a temporary moratorium on travel to the U.S. from a handful of nations with well-established reputations as hotbeds of Islamic terrorism.) Such individuals, Yankah explains, are “people who have shared the risks required by strength and decency.”
Further Reading: “Ekow N. Yankah” (Cardozo.yu.edu); “The Truth About Trayvon” (by Ekow N. Yankah, NY Times, 7-15-2013); “Ferguson’s Easy Answers” (by Ekow N. Yankah, Huffington Post, 11-3-2014); “Can My Children Be Friends With White People?” (by Ekow N. Yankah, NY Times, 11-11-2017).