As lawyers we have a responsibility to ensure that the operation of our criminal justice system is fair, equitable and anti-racist. Our Criminal Justice, Police Reform and Civil Rights section brings together the City Bar’s work in this area as a way to report on our advocacy efforts and to invite further dialogue, understanding and engagement throughout the legal profession. Our collective goal – the eradication of systemic racism in our criminal justice institutions – is crystal clear and worthy of our unwavering support and continuing efforts.
The committees working together and contributing to this goal include the Capital Punishment Committee; Civil Rights Committee; Corrections & Community Reentry Committee; Criminal Advocacy Committee; Criminal Courts Committee; Criminal Justice Operations Committee; Criminal Law Committee; Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee; Drugs & the Law Committee; Federal Courts Committee; Juvenile Justice Committee; Pro Bono & Legal Services Committee; and Task Force on Mass Incarceration.
The committee work includes: a 1993 report in support of an independent Special Prosecutor to address police brutality and corruption; a 2001 letter calling for major reform of the discriminatory Rockefeller drug laws; a 2006 letter encouraging oversight hearings for the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice; 2009 and 2013 reports raising concerns about NYPD’s “stop and frisk” procedures and its significant racial disparities, and calling for changes, including officer training, use of body cameras, public access to data, and enhanced oversight; 2013 support for a City Council bill prohibiting bias-based profiling and a bill supporting public reporting of all civil actions filed against the NYPD, as well as support for creating an Inspector General for the NYPD; a 2015 report supporting federal legislation to reduce mandatory minimum sentences for certain crimes; and, over the past five years, continuing support for reform efforts aimed at reducing mass incarceration and exposing racism and racial disparities in our criminal justice system, including, closing Rikers Island jail facilities, legalizing the production, sale and use of marijuana, reforming parole and bail procedures to achieve more just results, and repealing Civil Rights Law 50-a so that police misconduct records are no longer shielded from public view.
At a moment of national reckoning, the City Bar has a leading role to play advocating for the justice system that New Yorkers deserve. Our 150-year mission continues, guided now by the words of our President, Sheila Boston:
“Those of us in the legal profession must rise up and lend our intellect, talent, creativity and problem-solving skills to solve this systemic and chronic injustice in our nation. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. remarked to a room full of lawyers at the City Bar in 1965, ‘I am impelled to wonder who is better qualified to demand an end to this debilitating lawlessness, to better understand the mortal danger to the entire fabric of our democracy when human rights are flouted.’”