One of the most difficult things I’ve found about doing civil rights advocacy is this: there are so many things wrong in this country, and you can’t make time to fight them all. Once you learn that it is, in fact, possible to challenge the injustices in this world (and that many times, if you don’t challenge them, no one else does), it becomes far too tempting to just take on another issue. When Edward Snowden’s revelations about the NSA came out, for example, it took all my willpower to not write up a lawsuit. (I couldn’t resist having a little fun, and created a Web site for people to request their NSA file called My NSA Records, but no legal challenges from me.)
If one takes on too many challenges, sufficient focus to complete any of the challenges will be lost. Indeed, sufficient focus to maintain the rest of your life can become lost as well, especially if you’re working a full-time job in addition to fighting the man (if anyone would like to sponsor a full-time civil rights advocate, let me know!).
The same goes for continuing current cases when they’ve lost meaning. My case against NYPD stop-and-frisk was dismissed last month after a judge ruled that I couldn’t prove that I was dealing with actual police officers. Four men, who looked like cops, in a dark sedan that looked like an undercover cop car (complete with console electronics) identified themselves as police, detained me, searched me with neither consent nor cause, and then let me go without taking anything. I didn’t ask for a badge because I thought I’d get a face full of sidewalk and because I had no doubt that these men were real cops, but the city claims they have no record of cops being there.
It makes no sense that these men were just random troublemakers looking to pat down random people on the street, and I believe the judge made a clear error in determining that no reasonable jury could find that the NYPD was responsible for my constitutional injury. But, taking that argument to the Court of Appeals, I believe, will take my focus off of the cases that are more important to me — my work against the TSA — and in light of the fact that stop-and-frisk was recently ruled unconstitutional in another case, I’ve decided it would be a distraction with minimal benefit. The war on stop-and-frisk has, hopefully, already been won.
The people who are the best at what they do are the best because they have the sharpest focus. They know what they want and they work every day to get it. I shall continue to sharpen my focus on the issues that are really important to me.