Say It Louder As a non-Black POC in America, I am indebted to the Black community
Jasjit Singh the Program Officer at ChangeLawyers.
As a Sikh, first-generation immigrant from Punjab, and a non-black person of color, I recognize and acknowledge that navigating this country, as hard as it has been, was possible due to the path forged by countless black lives that were enslaved, brutalized, torn from their mothers, their motherland, and forced to build a nation under instruction from white settlers that terrorized the indigenous brown lives and rightful owners of this land.
The fact is: the Black community fought to ensure Civil Rights for us all, and it is our duty to fight so to ensure their voices are heard, amplified, uplifted, and manifested into a reality where Black Lives Matter.
Sikhs have been in the United States since the early 1900s, leaving behind the colonial British rule of their homeland of Punjab. But, the larger South Asian migration only began after the passage of the Civil Rights Act. Sikhs who fled genocide at the hands of the Indian Government after June 1984, found refuge in already thriving South Asian communities that had prospered thanks to the efforts of the Black community through the passage of the Civil Rights Act.
George Floyd was murdered by an institution, a system, a death machine that was originally created as a slave patrol to terrorize, control, and capture blacks who were fleeing to save their lives. When slavery became outlawed, the police’s purpose evolved into protecting white business, enforcing segregation, and ensuring voter suppression.
This government’s response to police brutality has been more police brutality. But, the people in the streets refuse to be quiet. They are unsatisfied by kneeling cops- a triggering reminder of the knee that remained on George Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Kneeling cops who themselves have been accused of murder and police brutality themselves, but often go unscathed with or without video evidence. How can immigrants such as myself remain quiet, when it’s police brutality- murder, rape, and genocide, that my community fled. We know far too well that “our own” were the ones murdering us in our homeland.
Read the story on Medium
Speaking Of… This is what we get for not confronting racism sooner
Mitch Landrieu is a lawyer and the former mayor of New Orleans.
I was struck by these words.
“To pursue our present course will involve the continuing polarization of the American community and, ultimately, the destruction of basic democratic values.”
I read on. The alternative “will require a commitment to national action — compassionate, massive and sustained, backed by the resources of the most powerful and the richest nation on this earth. From every American it will require new attitudes, new understanding, and, above all, new will.”
No, this was not a news report in the wake of unrest in cities across America this week. It was not a statement about the devastating impact of the coronavirus.
Some 52 years ago, the bipartisan National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders — better known as the Kerner Commission, appointed by President Lyndon Johnson — released a report after researching and analyzing the causes that had led to over 150 race-related riots in 1967.
While certainly not perfect, and a product of its time, one of the main conclusions of the report was that the United States was “moving toward two societies, one black, one white — separate and unequal.” And this growing segregation and inequality was fueling unrest.
The Kerner Commission challenged the nation to admit that racism had been institutionalized and had become a driving force and cornerstone for inequality. The commission laid out specific actions needed to start addressing our nation’s institutionalized racism — the beginnings of a road map for change.
Unfortunately for all of us, the report’s recommendations were mostly shelved, deemed too expensive and controversial. Johnson, who commissioned the report and is rightly hailed as a hero for championing civil rights and the poor, barely acknowledged it largely out of fear of how it would be received by the white middle class.
The truth is, we do not have a deficit of ideas in this country. We have a deficit of courage.
And what a price we have paid.
Read the story on NY Times
More of This A civil rights lawyer wants you to understand the frustration behind the protests
Bryan Stevenson is a civil rights lawyer and the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, a human-rights organization that challenges convictions, advocates for criminal-justice reform and racial justice.
What has been your biggest takeaway from the past week?
We need to reckon with our history of racial injustice. I think everything we are seeing is a symptom of a larger disease. We have never honestly addressed all the damage that was done during the two and a half centuries that we enslaved black people. The great evil of American slavery wasn’t the involuntary servitude; it was the fiction that black people aren’t as good as white people, and aren’t the equals of white people, and are less evolved, less human, less capable, less worthy, less deserving than white people.
That ideology of white supremacy was necessary to justify enslavement, and it is the legacy of slavery that we haven’t acknowledged. This is why I have argued that slavery didn’t end in 1865, it evolved. Next month will be the hundred and fifty-fifth anniversary of when black people gathered to celebrate the end of slavery: Juneteenth. They believed they would receive the vote, and the protection of the law, and land, and opportunity, and have a chance to be full Americans. They were denied all of those things because this ideology of white supremacy would not allow Southern whites to accept them, to value them and to protect them, and so, immediately after 1865 and the Thirteenth Amendment, violence broke out. We are going to be releasing a report next month on the horrendous violence that took place during Reconstruction, which blocked all of the progress.
So, for me, you can’t understand these present-day issues without understanding the persistent refusal to view black people as equals. It has changed, but that history of violence, where we used terror and intimidation and lynching and then Jim Crow laws and then the police, created this presumption of dangerousness and guilt. It doesn’t matter how hard you try, how educated you are, where you go in this country—if you are black, or you are brown, you are going to have to navigate that presumption, and that makes encounters with the police just rife with the potential for these specific outcomes which we have seen.
How do you think our current era of criminal justice and policing is a continuation of that past?
I think the police have been the face of oppression in many ways. Even before the Civil War, law enforcement was complicit in sustaining enslavement. It was the police who were tasked with tracking down fugitive slaves from 1850 onwards in the north. After emancipation, it was law enforcement that stepped back and allowed black communities to be terrorized and victimized. We had an overthrow of government during Reconstruction, and law enforcement facilitated that. Then, throughout the first half of the twentieth century, it was law enforcement and police and our justice system that allowed people to be lynched by white mobs, sometimes literally on the courthouse lawn, and allowed the perpetrators of that terror and violence to engage in these acts of murder with impunity. They were even complicit in it. And, as courageous black people began to advocate for civil rights in the nineteen-fifties and nineteen-sixties, when these older, nonviolent black Americans would literally be on their knees, praying, they were battered and bloodied by uniformed police officers. That identity of violence and oppression is not something we can ignore. We have to address it. But, rather than address it, since the nineteen-sixties, we have been trying to distract ourselves from it and not acknowledge it, and not own up to it, and all of our efforts have been compromised by this refusal to recognize that we need to radically change the culture of police.
Now, the police are an extension of our larger society, and, when we try to disconnect them from the justice system and the lawmakers and the policymakers, we don’t accurately get at it. The history of this country, when it comes to racial justice and social justice, unlike what we do in other areas, is, like, O.K., it’s 1865, we won’t enslave you and traffic you anymore, and they were forced to make that agreement. And then, after a half century of mob lynching, it’s, like, O.K., we won’t allow the mobs to pull you out of the jail and lynch you anymore. And that came after pressure. And then it was, O.K., we won’t legally block you from voting, and legally prevent you from going into restaurants and public accommodations.
But at no point was there an acknowledgement that we were wrong and we are sorry. It was always compelled, by the Union Army, by international pressure, by the federal courts, and that dynamic has meant that there is no more remorse or regret or consciousness of wrongdoing. The police don’t think they did anything wrong over the past fifty or sixty years. And so, in that respect, we have created a culture that allows our police departments to see themselves as agents of control, and that culture has to shift. And this goes beyond the dynamics of race. We have created a culture where police officers think of themselves as warriors, not guardians.
Do you think this situation with the policy today has a specific purpose, and what is it?
It does. But the purpose was possible because of our unwillingness to recognize the wrongfulness of this racial hierarchy. Even the abolitionists, many of whom fought to end slavery, didn’t believe in racial equality. So, if you embrace white supremacy, then you are going to use black people and exploit black people and deny black people opportunities, because it advances that purpose. And a lot of white supremacy wasn’t even “purposeful.” What was the purpose of banning interracial marriage? What was the purpose of banning black people from coming into restaurants? It was about maintaining racial hierarchy, and that presumption or narrative that black people are dangerous, that black people can’t be trusted, that black people have to be controlled. And if it didn’t have an economic value, that didn’t mean that it wasn’t purposeful. The purpose was to sustain that hierarchy.
So you take a history like that, and then you combine it with a culture like the culture of policing that we have created, where people are taught to fight and to shoot like soldiers. When the government equips police departments like they’re equipping the military, we undermine healthy relationships between the police and the community. We don’t train them to deëscalate, or deal with people suffering from mental illness or the complexities and anger and frustrations of poverty. And then we bring them in, often to places where they don’t live. We view the police as an occupying military force. That kind of culture gives rise to the violence that we see.
It is possible to create a police department where people think of themselves as guardians. Their commitment is to protect and serve even the people they are arresting. The best police officers will tell you that their job is to make sure that the person who may have just committed a crime is safely encountered, that they keep that person safe, but that is not the way most police officers are trained. And we facilitate it by protecting the whole institution, so no one in this country can tell you how many people were killed by the police last year, because we don’t require that data. People have been trying for two decades to mandate the disclosure of that kind of information, and there is this institutional resistance. And that’s a larger problem—the way we have insulated these institutions from reform.
Should the protests be oriented toward a specific agenda, and, if so, what should that agenda be?
I don’t think it would be fair to ask protesters to solve the problems created by this long history. In many ways, protests are a reaction of frustration and anger to the unwillingness of elected officials to engage in the kind of reforms that need to happen. The protests are a symbol of frustration and despair. I think the answers have to come from elected officials. We can change the culture of institutions in this country. We have done it time and time again. In the nineteen-seventies and nineteen-eighties, if you look at the laws, there was hardly any punishment for people convicted of driving while drunk. We tolerated it. Even though it was catastrophic, it wasn’t something we saw as a priority. Then Mothers Against Drunk Driving began lifting up new narratives, and all of a sudden the political will shifted. We created a new culture, and we now take stronger steps.
Regardless of the wealth or affluence of the offender, we do more. That is a cultural shift that has made death from drunk driving much less frequent than it was fifty years ago.
With domestic violence, it is the same story. In the nineteen-sixties, a woman who called the police could not expect that her spouse would be arrested. The police would come and pull him outside and tell jokes. There was a sympathy for the frustration that led to violence. And then we began changing that narrative. Women and victims of domestic violence started lifting their voices, and the political will changed. And today we have a radically different view of people who engage in domestic violence. Even our most prominent athletes and celebrities, if accused credibly, are going to be held accountable in ways that weren’t true even ten years ago. That is a cultural shift. And we are in the midst of a cultural shift about sexual harassment in the workplace. There is a different tolerance level. In New York, people need to take tests to make sure they can recognize sexual harassment.
We have not engaged in that kind of cultural transformation when it comes to policing. Now, we have the tools. We know how to do it. I spent several months on President Obama’s task force on policing, in 2015, after we had a period of riots. We have forty pages of recommendations. That can change the culture of policing. It begins with training. It begins with procedural justice, and policies, and changing the way police officers are viewed and opening up communities.
Read the interview on The New Yorker
More of This Too How to fix America’s police
Seth Stoughton is a professor of law at the University of South Carolina and a former officer. Jeff Noble is a police consultant, former deputy chief of police at the Irvine (California) Police Department. Geoffrey Alpert is a criminology professor at the University of South Carolina.
George floyd’s death is the latest in a long series of brutal encounters between the police and the people they are supposed to serve. Police abuse has targeted people of every race and class, but members of vulnerable populations and minority groups, particularly young black men, are especially at risk.
This is well known. The solutions are also well known. Prior tragedies have resulted in a string of independent, blue-ribbon commissions—Wickersham (1929), Kerner (1967), Knapp (1970), Overtown (1980), Christopher (1991), Kolts (1991), Mollen (1992), and the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing (2014)—to make recommendations for meaningful change that could address police misconduct. These groups have developed well-reasoned conclusions and pointed suggestions that are widely discussed and enthusiastically implemented—but only for a time. As public attention shifts, politics moves on and police-reform efforts wane. The cycle continues unbroken.
The problem America faces is not figuring out what to do. As an industry, American policing knows how to create systems that prevent, identify, and address abuses of power. It knows how to increase transparency. It knows how to provide police services in a constitutionally lawful and morally upright way. And across the country, most officers are well intentioned, receive good training, and work at agencies that have good policies on the books. But knowledge and good intentions are not nearly sufficient.
The hyperlocalized nature of policing in the United States is one factor here; the country has more than 18,000 police agencies, the majority of which (more than 15,000) are organized at the city or county level. Reforms tend to target single agencies. But it is not just the Minneapolis Police Department that needs reform; it is American policing as a whole.
Read the story on the Atlantic
Perspective Prosecutors need to stop taking money from police unions
Amid reports from across the country about escalating clashes between protesters and law enforcement, it’s worth looking underneath the images for the roots of the outrage. It is the extrajudicial killings of unarmed people by police, and not the protests against them, that too often spark the cycle of violence and death in the United States. It is the cruel and unyielding knee on the neck of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and thousands of other police officer knees, fists and trigger fingers that undermine public safety and instill fear.
That’s why we need to demand accountability and change from law enforcement and the criminal justice establishment that too often shrugs at police violence.
The ties that bind elected officials to police unions must be broken. District attorneys and other elected prosecutors should reject campaign donations and endorsements from law enforcement labor groups, because union support compromises a prosecutor’s independence and clouds the decision over whether to criminally charge police who abuse their power. It diminishes a D.A.’s incentive to seek out and share with defense lawyers — as the 6th Amendment requires — the names of officers whose past misconduct undermines their value as prosecution witnesses. It undercuts a D.A.’s impulse to fight laws that hide from the public the names of problem officers.
Bar associations should revise their ethics rules to forbid candidates for district attorney (and city prosecutor and state’s attorney) to accept police union money. Lawmakers should adopt laws to likewise prohibit the practice — although they will find it easier to do if they, too, say no to police union largess.
Police unions have every right to advocate for the pay, benefits and working conditions of their members. But one of their tasks is to defend officers in misconduct cases, and that makes the conflict of interest readily apparent. An elected official considering whether to prosecute officers should not be, in essence, on the political payroll of the agency defending the very same people.
These unions’ power to raise and dispense large amounts of campaign cash has warped the electoral process and has slowed or blocked reasonable efforts to hold officers accountable for bad performance. Elected prosecutors should not be in the unions’ thrall. Nor, for that matter, should elected sheriffs.
Read the story on LA Times
June 9 at 5PM PST
A lot is happening in the world. We know that in moments like these that what we need the most is connection and healing. That is why we decided to create a space for virtual community care, exploring ways we can support one another regardless of where we are.
June 9 at 5PM PST. Register here
June 16 at Noon
Many first generation and people of color have ideas to advance social justice based on their lived experiences. But where do you begin this process and how do you protect your intellectual property?
June 16 at 12:00 Noon. Register here
We're looking for a civil rights fellow
With support from California ChangeLawyers®, Immigrant Defenders Law Center seeks to hire a Post-Bar Legal Fellow that will focus on advocating for and increasing awareness of South Asiandetainees’ right for equal and fair access to civil rights and liberties. This Fellow will focus on documenting the South Asian experience in detention centers with the goal of producing a report on the findings and recommendations. These findings may lead to systematic change through advocacy or impact litigation.
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With support from California ChangeLawyers℠, UnCommon Law seeks to hire a full-time, year-long legal Fellow to support the work of our New Pilot Program. The Fellow will be a part of a team of advocates, counselors and attorneys supporting Pilot program participants in navigating the discretionary parole process, including supporting those participants in developing new self-narratives to heal from past trauma.
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With support from California ChangeLawyers®, Council on American-Islamic Relations (SF-Bay Area) seeks to hire a full-time, post-Bar Legal Fellow to support the work of our civil rights and immigration programs, and increase the projects capacity to build a removal defense docket, provide naturalization services in the American Muslim community, and support first-time callers seeking civil rights and immigration legal assistance.