New York Law School

#ALLLIVESMATTER: Speaking Out Against Injustice

Most people are aware of the cause behind the social media hashtag #BLACKLIVESMATTER; the movement began as a response to the brutal attacks on Black men and women by police officers and has ballooned into a multitude of movements that span across racial and cultural lines[1]. The movement has taken on several different permutations including #MUSLIMLIVESMATTER, #MIGRANTLIVESMATTER, #GAYLIVESMATTER and, most inclusively, #ALLLIVESMATTER. The #ALLLIVESMATTER movement in particular has sparked more than its fair share of controversy. Many believe that those who use the hashtag #ALLLIVESMATTER are hoping to diminish or counter the #BLACKLIVESMATTER movement. Huffington Post’s Politics Intern, Julia Craven, wrote an article titled “Please Stop Telling Me That All Lives Matter”[2] arguing that “race brings on individual issues for each minority group [and] saying “all lives matter” causes erasure of the differing disparities each group faces.” Similarly, New York Times opinion writer, George Yancy conducted an interview[3] with Judith Butler and posed the question “What’s Wrong With ‘All Lives Matter’?”[4] In response she stated “It is true that all lives matter, but it is equally true that not all lives are understood to matter which is precisely why it is most important to name the lives that have not mattered, and are struggling to matter in the way they deserve. [W]e cannot have a race-blind approach to the questions: which lives matter?” Others believe that the #ALLLIVESMATTER movement could be a way of asserting that people from all different racial and ethnic identities have obstacles and barriers that should be equally recognized. Read more

Fisher on Remand: Reconsidering the Rationale behind Race-Conscious Admission Programs

In Grutter v. Bollinger, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the use of race in school admission programs may be constitutionally permissible only if necessary to achieve student body diversity.[i] Today it is widely accepted by the courts that diversity forms the only constitutional justification for affirmative action programs. Stare decisis notwithstanding, however, it may be time to consider an alternative to the diversity rationale in light of the implications it carries for the most recent challenge to affirmative action in school admissions. A challenge that is likely to come again before the Supreme Court this coming term.

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Students or Criminals?: The Effect of School Safety Officers on the Rights of New York City Public School Students

Many people are probably not aware that School Safety Officers (“SSOs”) are present in all New York City public schools. The presence of SSOs creates an environment of punishment and puts the discipline of students in the hands of police officers rather than in school administrators and teachers. Arrests on school grounds take children out of the classroom, contributing to the school-to-prison pipeline, particularly in schools with high numbers of black and Latino students. This system is setting up many children to fail, rather than providing a safe environment where students can learn and thrive.

The application of zero tolerance policies and the involvement of SSOs in minor discipline incidents increases the likelihood that New York City youth will become involved in the juvenile, and eventually the criminal, justice system. In addition, the application of the police department’s “broken windows” policing led to record levels of suspensions during Michael Bloomberg’s administration. Prison should not be the end of the road for young New Yorkers; children should be attending school so that they receive the education and tools that they need to become productive members of society. Read more

The Central Park 5 and the Price of Racial Injustice

Recent news of the $40 million settlement in the Civil Rights Lawsuit for the wrongful conviction of five men in the Central Park Jogger rape case forces me as a law student and social justice advocate to confront the institutional failures of our legal system. The incarceration of these young men did not happen absent powerful social forces influenced by deep-rooted racial biases. Sadly, many of these conventions and fears are as alive today as they were then, and people of color continue to be treated differently by our courts.

Who is responsible for this tragedy? Although it may be easy to blame the police dept. or jury, vilifying any one person or institution to the exclusion of others diminishes the true scope of this injustice. The overly ambitious prosecutor and the hasty detective played their respective roles within a larger system that tolerated racial prejudice and perpetuated systematized discrimination. It is this system that needs to be addressed.

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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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