This summer I had the amazing opportunity to be an Ella Baker Intern at the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York City. CCR is a legal organization whose work is centered on supporting social movements. This means that, at CCR, lawsuits are not simply about who wins and loses in the courtroom, but how legal work can support wider systemic change. The Ella Baker program is named after one of the most brilliant strategist and organizers of the Civil Rights Movement and carries forward her work by equipping young lawyers with the necessary tools to become movement lawyers.
I, along with 11 other law students and two undergraduate interns from across the country, started the program with an exercise asking four questions: Who are the people who inspire us to do social justice work? What is our superpower? What was our “aha moment” that led us to law school and CCR? What we each do to relax?
The people who inspire me have always been my family and my community in the Bronx. I admitted that my superpower was overthinking, which might be one of the reasons I was drawn to law school in the first place! My “aha moment” reminded me of the year I spent working as an administrator in education where I very much enjoyed the work environment but was not fulfilled in the same way as I had been in my previous work as civil legal advocate for over three years. My idea of relaxation included the beach, books, music, and making watercolors, all of which would be activities that I would do this summer outside of the office. Most importantly this exercise reminded me of the reasons I came to law school and what I hope to do with my legal education. In the weeks that followed we had seminars, field trips, and docket discussions where we learned more about each other and all the amazing work being done at CCR.
I got to learn from attorneys who have worked on cases such as Rasul and Boumedienne which challenged the incarceration of Middle Eastern Muslim men in Guanatanamo Bay, Floyd v. NYPD in the now historic challenge to the NYPD’s broken windows policing policy and use of stop and frisk in a racially discriminatory fashion, and Ashker v. California where CCR helped a group of incarcerated men who have been held in solitary confinement for over 10 plus years challenge the constitutionality of their conditions.
My work this summer included working on CCR’s and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s challenge to the NYPD’s illegal use of a gang database to designate thousands of people, mostly Black and Latinx in poor communities, as gang members with no path for recourse or correction of that information. This summer CCR and LDF filed an Article 78 suing for the NYPD to disclose its methods and policies around this practice. As a native New Yorker and Bronxite working on this case was especially meaningful since this type of racist stereotyping affects members of my own community the most.
Working at CCR this summer made me hopeful. From the first day, CCR pushed me to imagine how radical lawyering can support systemic change. Despite the current chaos of this administration, being at CCR this summer reminded me that there are radical lawyers out there challenging discrimination, racism, and the oppressive systems in our world.