You may remember Theo Shaw as one of the six Black teenage boys whose lives were thrown into the spotlight in 2006 when their court case, known as the “Jena 6,” made media headlines.
Inspired by that experience to help fix the criminal justice system, Shaw later went on to study law at the University of Washington on a full scholarship. After completing a clerkship with Louisiana Chief Justice Bernette Johnson, Shaw was recently sworn in to the bar of the District of Columbia on Friday.
“Being wrongly arrested and incarcerated as a teenager motivated me to become a lawyer,” he tells Because of Them We Can. “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.”
In 2006, Shaw, along with five other young Black men, were charged with attempted murder after getting into a fight with a young white man at their high school in Jena, Louisiana. Their case made national news as thousands of supporters took to the streets to protest their arrest. According to a 2006 New York Times article, the fight between the young Black men and their white peer was preceded by a series of racially charged incidents at the school that included the hanging of a noose from the branch of a tree.
Shaw, who was 17 at the time, maintained his innocence while spending seven months in jail as he awaited trial. Thanks to the national spotlight of the case, which led to many prominent leaders getting involved, Shaw’s attempted murder charge was lowered to a misdemeanor simple battery charge, reports The Root. The teen then pleaded no contest to the misdemeanor, and after receiving additional help from attorneys, was able to have his record expunged.
Shaw, who is eager to move forward in his career, explains, “I am excited to be a lawyer in part to join the heroic efforts of those who push against a criminal justice system that too often dehumanizes Black and brown people and the poor. For those who share my conviction, I say, let’s get to work!”