New York Law School

Stand Your Ground Laws: The Enshrinement of Racism Under the Guise of Self-Defense

The highly publicized murder trials of George Zimmerman and Michael Dunn have brought Stand Your Ground (SYG) laws to the forefront of public debate. In 2005, Florida was the first state to pass a SYG statute,[1] and two dozen other states have since followed suit. But the black and white nature of these laws had been largely overlooked by the public until the Florida killings of two teenage boys. The killings of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis are merely illustrative of how SYG laws have institutionally legitimized a fear rooted in racism.

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Recent Articles on R. Kelly Raise the Issue of Why Some Crimes Receive Less Publicity and Attention – Is it Because He is Famous, or Because his Alleged Victims are Young Girls from Poor Communities of Color?

We have all heard and may love the song, “Bump N Grind,” may have anticipated the release of R. Kelly’s most recent album, Black Panties, and may enjoy listening to his other albums, including Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number. What we may not have heard are the reports and outcries from the numerous young women whose lives have been allegedly ruined by R. Kelly’s sexual predation. In a recent issue of the Village Voice, Jim DeRogatis, former music journalist at the Chicago Sun-Times, offered his reason as to why no one has given attention to allegations around R. Kelly’s criminal behavior: “nobody matters less to our society than young black women. Nobody.”

It has been 15 years since DeRogatis first reported about R. Kelly’s alleged violent sexual acts upon teenaged girls of color in Chicago, including reports about the videotapes purportedly showing the rapper with one teenaged girl; yet, R. Kelly continues to avoid criminal sanctions while headlining major music festivals. In April 2014, over 200 school-aged girls were kidnapped in Africa and likely forced into slavery, yet received almost no media attention until activists demanded it. The violated girls in Chicago and the missing girls in Africa have two things in common: one, their dark skin; and two, no one seemed to care. Disappointingly, neither R. Kelly’s victims nor the missing African girls have become household names like those of JonBenet Ramsey and Elizabeth Smart. DeRogitis’ candid statement, “nobody matters less to our society than young black women,” seems to ring true not only as a distinctly American problem, but as a global one.

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White Like Me

Did you ever see that 1984 Eddie Murphy sketch “White Like Me” from Saturday Night Live? Murphy disguises himself as a white person and sees just how many rules don’t apply if your skin is paler. No collateral for a bank loan. Free food in restaurants. Even a free newspaper. Since 1984, we have elected an African American president, but, as Ta-Nehisi Coates so brilliantly argued in “The Case for Reparations,” black people are still being plundered in America. Here’s another example of how racism creeps into ordinary life as observed by a 65 year old white woman, me!

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The Persistent Problem of False Confessions

“I was there.” These three words became the crux of prosecutors’ arguments in fifty-six cases now under review by the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office in New York. The undeniable likeness of the confessions, all elicited during interrogations conducted by detective Louis Scarcella, lead to suspicion that these confessions were coerced. Following the recent exoneration and release of David Ranta, who was imprisoned for over two decades for a murder he did not commit,[1] several defendants currently serving lengthy prison sentences have come forward with damning information against Detective Scarcella. These defendants allege that their confessions were drafted for them and they were subsequently coerced to sign these statements using physical and mental tactics.[2]

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Pressure to Settle: The Mount Holly Settlement, Disparate Impact and the Fair Housing Act of 1968

 Parties rarely settle their dispute after the Supreme Court has agreed to hear their appeal and the case is scheduled for oral argument.  Yet the parties in Mount Holly v. Mount Holly Gardens Citizens in Action Inc. did.  Just weeks before their oral arguments would begin on December 4, 2013, Mount Holly Township settled its housing discrimination dispute with Mount Holly Gardens.  Both sides settled late November 13, 2013.  Why, after advocating at each level of appeal and finally receiving a highly sought after slot for oral argument in front of the Nation’s highest court, would these parties settle?

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Obama’s Plan To Reform The School To Prison Pipeline And Return Students to Classrooms

On January 24th, 2014 a fifteen-year old boy from Wake, North Carolina was handcuffed by a security guard for skipping the lunch line at his high school. While the innocent action likely could have been resolved with a verbal admonishment, the incident escalated when the security guard approached the teen, twisted his arm, pushed him against the wall and led him out of the cafeteria in handcuffs. In addition to the assault, the student was subsequently suspended for three days . Incidents like this are extreme examples of a growing, disturbing national trend called the school to prison pipeline. Many consider the school to prison pipeline an intentional and conscious attempt by school administrators to funnel “troublesome” students out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.

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Video: Voting Rights Litigation Training

Friday, January 31, 2014 the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy held the Voting Rights Litigation Training at New York Law School. Featured speakers included: Gerry Hebert (Executive Director and Director of Litigation, Campaign Legal Center), Ezra Rosenberg (Partner at Dechert, LLP), Paul Smith (Partner at Jenner & Block), Juan Cartagena (President and General Counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF), Natasha Korgaonkar (NAACP Legal Defense Fund), and Myrna Perez (Deputy Director, Brennan Center for Justice). The video of this event is now available to stream. Read more

Fair Housing, Equal Opportunity

The upcoming Supreme Court docket promises to settle two salient issues relevant to racial justice. The first, Mount Holly Gardens Citizens in Action, Inc. v. Township of Mt. Holly involves discrimination in the housing market. The second, Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action continues the discussion of diversity in the college admission process, in the context of a Michigan amendment that prohibits the consideration of race on collegiate applications.

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Black, Low-Income and Special Needs Students Pushed Out through Suspensions and Arrests, NYCLU Analysis Finds

In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education held that equal access to public education is essential to the progress of a democratic nation. By law, race could no longer be used to exclude children from school. Brown’s promise of equal educational opportunity has never been fully realized in New York City. It continues to be impeded by harsh disciplinary and school safety policies that disproportionately exclude low-income students, black students, Latino students and students with disabilities from classrooms. As a result, these students are denied Brown’s guarantee of equal access to an education, adding to their greater risk of being pushed through the school-to-prison pipeline (STPP).

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The Fight to Renew the Dream

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On September 13, 2013, New York Law School had the pleasure of hosting a few of the most progressive civil rights lawyers and social justice advocates at our Racial Justice Symposium, Remembering the Dream, Renewing the Dream. We were also proud to host several of the Civil Rights Movement’s pioneers, including Clarence Jones, Dr. King’s lawyer, adviser and one of our featured panelists. During the “Fierce Urgency of Now” panel, Jones discussed the March on Washington, its history and how Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech came to be. Mr. Jones also discussed some of the statistics and issues facing minorities today, such as the correlation between single-parent homes and poverty rates for African-Americans. The discussions of the day concentrated on the challenges social justice advocates face in modern society and the strategies they can utilize to counteract issues such as apathy within the community.

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