Future 40: Meet Civil Rights Attorney Lee Merritt

Lee Merritt

Future 40: Meet Civil Rights Attorney Lee Merritt

Lee Merritt is a civil rights attorney and social justice activist dedicated to fighting for the victims of police brutality, hate crimes and corporate discrimination.

PUBLISHED ON : MAY 10, 2020 / 06:38 PM

Lee Merritt became a household name after fighting in several high-profile cases for the families of Black men and women who have died at the hands of police. 

He is the attorney representing the family of Ahmaud Arbery, who was slain in February by two men who law enforcement officials say chased him down and shot him. His demands for justice and release of a video that showed the incident led to the arrest of the individuals.

"It was the public reaction that caused the major shift in this case," Merritt told Atlanta's WXIA. "What I hope people take away from that is that it's going to be their continued investment that will ensure that justice is done in this case."

He was also the voice for Botham Jean's family during the prosecution of Amber Guyger -- who shot and killed Jean in his own home -- which resulted in an indictment and conviction of the former Dallas police officer for the murder of Jean.

Merritt also represented the family of Atatiana Jefferson, a young woman who was playing video games with her eight-year-old nephew, Zion, when she also was shot and killed in her home by a police officer. The former Fort Worth police officer, Aaron Dean, who fatally shot Jefferson through a window, was indicted for murder by a Texas grand jury


Merritt began practising law less than a decade ago and has already made a monumental impact in the fight against racial oppression. The south central Los Angeles native was the first person in his family to graduate from high school. He went on to attend Morehouse College, became a teacher through Teach for America, and studied law at Temple University. 

The lawyer has made it his mission to pursue civil rights cases specifically. "People are getting more and more frustrated and they're looking for opportunities to fight. The streets are upset," Merritt told BET in an exclusive interview. "No one feels safe anymore. Botham Jean, for example, he was an accountant, living in a swanky apartment in a nice part of Dallas. So, it doesn't feel like it’s just something that's a constraint to just the lower-class communities anymore." 

Written by BET Staff


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