Why he’s unhappy that former Balch Springs police officer Roy Oliver, who was convicted of the murder of Jordan Edwards in August, received a fifteen-year prison sentence. Merritt had advised the Edwards family during the ordeal and filed a federal civil rights suit on their behalf: It was bittersweet. On the one hand, it’s been almost fifty years in Dallas County since a cop has been convicted of murder, so it was a great relief to see that police officers can be held accountable. But given the nature of the crime and the nature of the person, I was hoping for at least a fifty-year sentence. The more you look at Oliver, he was a bad guy, from pulling a gun on a mother on Easter Sunday a couple of weeks prior [note: Oliver denies this incident occurred] to his long history of violence and hostility. And he betrayed the public trust from a position of authority. I honestly think police officers should be held to a higher standard than regular citizens. I deal with clients every day who are facing fifteen years for nonviolent crimes, drug offenses. To see Oliver sentenced to fifteen years took some of the power away from the conviction.

How he responds to people who say that he attacks police officers too quickly: I’ll accept the criticism, but it is a necessary other side of the coin. We know that if I wasn’t so aggressive, a lot of these shootings would never see the light of day. People are just not used to law enforcement being pushed back on. Lyndo Jones [who was shot twice in the back last year by a Mesquite police officer] is one of those cases that, without pushback, could have easily fallen through the cracks. The initial reports said “Man shot during the course of a burglary.” They didn’t report that he was “burglarizing” his own car. A year after Lyndo was shot, the video of the shooting was released in court. And when you look at it, that officer was completely out of control. He was behaving like Lyndo was committing an armed robbery.

Just like law enforcement has people who advocate on behalf of them, I advocate for my clients. We live in the deadliest police culture on earth—there’s no nation in the developed world that kills more of its citizens, period.

How he feels about the case of Sherita Dixon-Cole, a woman he was representing who claimed she’d been sexually assaulted by a state trooper at a traffic stop in May. Merritt told Shaun King about the allegation, who posted about it on Facebook and Twitter, causing national outrage, only to see it debunked by dashcam video. Merritt apologized and accepted responsibility, but his critics saw it as proof of his anti-cop bias: That was one time where I got ahead of the facts and was not able to obtain the necessary information and zealously advocated on behalf of the individual who gave me misinformation. But, you know, when the client says it and we believe it, we will go to bat for her.

People have attempted to discredit victims and their representation by highlighting rare incidents of false accusations against law enforcement. In my experience, law enforcement offers false narratives in almost every case of malfeasance. I zealously advocate for my clients with often incomplete information, but that is necessary, because not advocating on their behalf until we have all the evidence available would result in a gross miscarriage of justice in most cases.

What he tells his young children about how to deal with cops: We have the same talk that black families have all over the country: comply, be respectful, be polite. But in so many cases, like Botham Jean and Jordan Edwards, it wasn’t their failure to comply or their failure to comport themselves properly that got them killed. It was just the brutality of law enforcement officers. So we have the conversation, but the conversation needs to be had on the other side too: law enforcement officers need to know that if they engage in malfeasance, there’ll be accountability.

What he thinks about the website the Root putting him at number 8 on its 2017 list of the 100 most influential African Americans between the ages of 25 and 45, above Beyoncé: I don’t think I’m as talented in my field as Beyoncé is in hers. Ninety percent of my work is just showing up, being a resource, and using my training and experience in a field that is grossly underserved. The Bible says the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Unfortunately, the harvest for police brutality cases is huge.

This article originally appeared in the December 2018 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “Taking Black Lives Matter to the Courtroom.” Subscribe today.