t’s been nearly a decade since a group of Black teenagers—known as the “Jena 6”—were excessively charged for the alleged assault of a white teen in Louisiana following several racist incidents that took place within their school. Their case garnered national attention; putting the focus on racist loopholes within the country’s criminal justice system. For Theo Shaw—one of the individuals who was convicted—experiencing injustice first-hand ignited his passion to pursue a career in law. According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Shaw recently became a lawyer.
He was sworn in by Chief Justice Bernette Johnson at the Louisiana Supreme Court on April 26. For Shaw, the swearing-in ceremony inside the courtroom was a full circle moment. In 2006, he sat in a courtroom along with five other Black teens facing an attempted murder charge that could have put him behind bars for 50 years. Through the power of protest and a strong legal team, the felony charges that the teens faced were lowered to misdemeanor charges and Shaw’s criminal record was expunged.
Shaw went on to attend community college, he earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Louisiana at Monroe and studied law at the University of Washington. He’s done work with legal advocacy organizations that include the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Innocence Project New Orleans. During the ceremony, Shaw was surrounded by family, friends, and individuals who were instrumental in fighting for his justice.
“Being wrongly arrested and incarcerated as a teenager motivated me to become a lawyer,” Shaw told Because of Them We Can in a statement. “After being caged for nearly seven months, I left that jail with a conviction in my heart to stand and fight with all people at risk of losing their freedom.” He hopes that his story will inspire others to make an effort to change the landscape of the criminal justice system.