Walter Riley

Golden Gate University Law School 1980
Area of Practice: Criminal Defense, Civil Rights, Police Misconduct
Location: Oakland

Walter Riley grew up in Durham, North Carolina where he experienced first-hand the Jim Crow south. His response to the situation was to become a civil rights activist at a young age and has continued his activism ever since. By the time he graduated from high school Walter had already served extensively with Durham’s NAACP, organized lunch counter sit-ins, protests and job campaigns at segregated businesses, and chaired Durham’s chapter of CORE’s Freedom Highways Project to integrate public facilities on Highway 1 from Maine to Florida.

Riley’s early experiences as an activist continued to shape his fight for social justice. In the 1960s, Riley was a NAACP organizer and served as the Field Secretary for the Congress of Racial Equality for the Southeast Region of the United States. Later, after moving to San Francisco, Walter became a student activist at San Francisco State University. Becoming increasingly politicized, however, Riley left school in 1968 to become a bus driver and help set up a Rank and File Caucus. In the 1970s, Riley moved to Chicago and served as a Welfare Organizer and a Housing Advocate as well as a Rank and File Labor Activist in the automobile industry in Detroit.

Eventually, Riley moved back to the Bay Area and transitioned from activist organizer to activist lawyer, viewing the law as an instrument to fight for social justice. Riley’s first legal job was as a public defender; later he would move into other areas of law including employment discrimination and police misconduct.

Walter has transitioned between many roles during his time as a civil rights activist, but his hard work, determination, and passion have remained constant throughout.

He has been part of the Bay Area Free South Africa Movement, and was a leader in the fight against California Propositions 209 and 187. He continues to be active in his community around issues of police misconduct, education, housing, and youth. Riley is a Member of multiple organizations including the National Lawyers Guild, Charles Houston Bar Association, and American Civil Liberties Union. Riley is a Board Member of Global Exchange, Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute, Haiti Emergency Relief Fund, Berkeley Jazz School, and a Co-Chair of the John George Democratic Club.