This week, Cochran made his debut in a new role as a soap opera star, with a guest appearance as an attorney representing a celebrity client on the CBS program, The Guiding Light. But he has a more serious role in real life, as the lawyer in two high-profile New York City cases. CBS This Morning Co-Anchor Mark McEwen talked to him Monday.
Cochran has agreed to represent the family of Amadou Diallo, the young West African immigrant who was killed by 41 bullets fired by four members of the New York City Police on Feb. 4.
Cochran says he is assembling an all-star legal and investigative team to determine why the four police officers killed the unarmed 22-year-old Diallo. His team will include two former colleagues from the O.J. Simpson trial, Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld.
The case is currently before a Bronx grand jury, which is considering whether to indict the officers on criminal charges.
Cochran is also teaming up with Scheck and Neufeld in another high profile case, the suit by Haitian immigrant Abner Louima that charges the New York City police department with brutality.
Cochran says the cases have similarities: "I think with regard to the cases they point out excessive force. It's the dark side of an otherwise good police department. It points to the fact we have to make changes. There are stories about the lack of diversity in the police departments, and that's true."
A related issue, Cochran says, is "profiling," the practice in which traffic cops stop drivers based on a particular "character profile," such as race or age. "If you do that...you're stereotypical in your thinking," Cochran says. "If this person makes any move, like going for his license or keys, then you're shot. Then they use that to justify it. It's frightening. It's hard for a lot of Americans to understand that."
Cochran isn't giving up his role as a crusading attorney, despite his debut in an acting role. About being a lawyer, he says, "There is a certain amount of passion, caring that has to come across to your jury, and you have to believe in what you are doing. I enjoy it. I have a lot of practice playing myself. I'm not quitting my day job."
Acting in a soap opera was a new challenge, "It's tough," Cochran says. "You can learn your lines, but you've got to react to the other person talking. Get your lines down, but the person has to key you. I enjoyed it."
Cochran says when he thinks about films in which lawyers have a starring role, the one he likes best is To Kill a Mockingbird because "Finch was a lawyer we all liked to aspire to be. He was the hero in the town."
More recent films have not treated attorneys so favorably, he notes. As to who might star in The Johnne Cochran Story, Cochran has a suggestion: Denzel Washington.
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