Caree Harper (Courtesy photo)

Tired of being unable to afford college books until mid-semester when the guaranteed student loan arrived, a 19-year-old Caree Harper signed up for the police academy.

“It was after my first two years at San Diego State that I ran out of money for college and I saw an ad for the police academy: ‘Women & minorities wanted,’” Harper said.

Harper always wanted to help in her community and saw this as the perfect opportunity to “do good.” She spent five years as an East Bay area police officer and enjoyed it. She credits her ability to stay optimistic in high-intensity situations to her grandmother, who used to say, “Ok now, we’re not gonna worry on that. Let it roll off your back like water off a duck.”

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As a police officer, Harper was awarded a medal for helping save a man whose car was sinking into a canal. Harper was off duty when she saved the man’s life with the assistance of another citizen. She was also rewarded with a marksman medal for her shooting skills.

Caree Harper in uniform at age 22 as a rookie in the Bay Area. (Courtesy photo)

However, her family wasn’t too thrilled about the physical encounters and foot pursuits Harper frequently engaged in. They were concerned about her safety, and Harper said there was pressure on her to return to college. Eventually, the worries of Harper’s family were unfortunately made real when she was injured in the line of duty and ended up in the hospital.

After healing, Harper’s department put her on light duty for a while and ended up paying to retrain her as a certified paralegal. Her stint as a paralegal led to her attending the Thomas Jefferson School of Law.

As a police officer, Harper was awarded a medal for helping save a man whose car was sinking into a canal. (Courtesy photo)

“It was a different type of challenge, and it was pretty difficult.  I found myself in a familiar position of attempting to obtain overpriced education while completely underfunded,” Harper said.

Later in Harper’s attorney career, she had a life-changing case where she represented the family of Kendrec McDade, a 19-year-old, unarmed Black man who was shot to death in 2012.

“That case was hard, and it still sticks with me. I feel like Matthew Griffin got away with murder. Period. This kid was unarmed when he was shot multiple times and then hit by Griffin’s patrol car. He miraculously survived that for several hours, and some of his last words to a paramedic were, ‘Why did they shoot me? Why did they shoot me?’” Harper said.

Having worked on other civil rights cases since this and as a former cop, Harper advises cops to “do unto others as you would have them do unto your mother.”

Harper is a successful civil rights attorney. (Courtesy photo)

Harper’s advice for Black folks in protecting themselves is to not argue at the scene of a car stop or contact with the police. She said to let the lawyer do the arguing in the appropriate place.

“Your job when dealing with police is to simply survive the contact first and argue later. It’s that simple. It is not a time to say: ‘I know my rights. You can’t do this to me’ and give attitude. Save it, bottle up all that energy, and tuck it away deep down inside because you could be right, but you could also be dead, right,” Harper said.

As the boss of her Santa Monica law firm and still actively practicing civil rights law, Harper can sometimes feel the weight of the trade, yet she still seems to glow with happiness and perseverance. Harper understands the importance of making time for self-care to be the best in her personal life and for her clients.

Harper in Santa Monica in 2023, doing one of her favorite hobbies, cycling. (Courtesy photo)

“I’m making a conscious effort to work smarter and not harder. I’m learning to utilize the word ‘No.’ I’m starting to put a period after that word instead of a comma. Exercise helps a lot: cycling, pickleball, etc. And I’m a foodie. I love the IG food sites and cooking. It’s very relaxing,” Harper said.

“Family helps when I worry too much.  And even though she’s gone now, my grandmother’s prayers still keep angels encamped around me.”

For more information on Harper’s bravery and civil rights experience, visit her Instagram account @harper4justice or her website at