Fighting for Women's Equality

Bay Area Lawyers and Allies Hold “Die-In” for Racial Justice at San Francisco Courthouse

January 16, 2015 | by

blacklivesmatterAn estimated 200 attorneys, law students, professors, and allies plan to gather in a symbolic “die-in” protest on the steps of the California Supreme Court in San Francisco. Participants are to remain on the steps in protest of police violence and racial profiling of communities of color. The protest highlights the unique role the legal system has played in recent high-profile grand jury decisions not to indict police officers in the killing of unarmed Black men and women. The die-in is planned as an act of solidarity with national and local protests that have taken place to affirm that Black lives matter.

Eva Paterson, President of Equal Justice Society is scheduled to be the main speaker and shares her reasons for participating in the action. “‘Will I be next?’ This sign has been carried by many young Black men during the Black Lives Matter rallies throughout the country. Seeing these signs and knowing that the fear was real broke my heart. All of my friends with Black sons have given them ‘the talk’ where these young men are instructed how to interact with the police and to come home alive. The talk should not be necessary in the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

Paterson urges all communities to come together to challenge police violence and racial oppression: “An unarmed Black man is shot and killed every 28 hours in this country. We must come together, Black, White, Asian American, Native American, Latino, young and old, to express our refusal to let these deaths continue unchecked and unmourned. In unity, there is power.”

Allyssa Villanueva, second year law student and co-president of UC Hastings Black Law Students Association, echoes the need for law students to engage. “To be a student and not a revolutionary is a contradiction. Young people and students have led many of our country’s most important social movements. Law students must combat racial injustice and violence. As future lawyers, it is our duty to not merely inherit the current legal system but to address its deficiencies and promote justice.”

One of the planners of the action, Na’Shaun Neal, adds, “I’m not surprised we saw such an outpouring of support today from the legal community. Many in our profession were first inspired to pursue a legal career because of their profound sense of justice. While disparate treatment in the criminal justice system on the basis of race and identity is hardly a new phenomenon, these recent civilian killings have been a renewed call to action.” Neal is a Bay Area attorney and a graduate of UCLA School of Law, with a specialization in Critical Race Studies.

Many of the participants are expected to be attorneys and staff from local civil rights organizations who sponsored the action. (See sponsorship list below.)

The planners of the die-in call on the legal community to remain engaged beyond the protest, particularly as certain policy reforms emerge. “Any changes to policy and practice must be discussed rigorously among all stakeholders and be tailored to the articulated needs of local communities,” noted Alina Ball, Associate Professor of Law at UC Hastings College of the Law. “The die-in action is not to say we have all the answers to these difficult issues but to demonstrate our willingness to be part of the solutions.”

Over the last few months, various stakeholders have put forth policy changes. Listed below are some proposals that have emerged from the issue of police violence and racial profiling. *Sponsorship from the organizations listed below does not signify any endorsement or approval of these proposals 

• Robust and ongoing elimination of bias training (to reduce bias on account of race, ethnicity, gender identity, language-spoken, mental disability, and other identity markers).

• Mandatory police training and testing of de-escalation techniques.

• Expanded and mandatory use of body-worn cameras and dash-cams to record police-civilian encounters, with penalties for failure to comply with camera usage.

• Elimination of “broken windows policing” such that police enforcement action based solely on a person’s race, gender, orientation, or other identity marker would be strictly prohibited and cause for disciplinary action.

• Appointment of a Special State Prosecutor to investigate and prosecute police officers involved in civilian killings.

• Mandatory disclosure deadlines for full disclosure of findings if the Special State Prosecutor finds no basis to prosecute.

• Data collection and publicly-accessible records of police-involved killings nationwide, including the race and gender on the victim.

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Sponsoring Organizations

ACLU of Northern California

Alameda County Bar Association

All of Us or None

Alliance for Justice

American Constitution Society Bay Area Lawyer Chapter

Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus

Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles

Chinese for Affirmative Action

Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund

East Bay Community Law Center

Equal Justice Society

Equal Rights Advocates

Impact Fund

Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area,

Legal Services for Children

Legal Services for Prisoners with Children

National Center for Lesbian Rights

National Center for Youth Law

National Lawyers Guild San Francisco Bay Area Chapter

Public Advocates

The Public Interest Law Project of California

San Francisco Public Defender’s Office

Thelton E. Henderson Center for Social Justice

UC Berkeley – Law Students of African Descent

UC Hastings Asian Pacific American Law Students Association

UC Hastings Black Law Students Association

W. Haywood Burns Institute

Western Center for Law and Poverty

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