Over 1,000 people from across the country came together on July 31 and August 1 in Harlem, New York, to help vision and build the legal arm of the burgeoning Black Lives Matter movement. The #Law4BlackLives conference, initiated and organized by CCR’s Bertha Justice Institute together with many co-sponsoring movement groups, was a gathering of lawyers, law students, legal works and jailhouse lawyers prioritizing the voices and leadership of people of color and bringing together a virtual who’s who of movement leadership from the last year. Connecting past and present, law and action, vision and nuts and bolts, through plenaries, caucuses, dozens of workshops, art, organizing spaces and more, it was a truly inspiring event. (Read the full program here.) The historic conference was kicked off on Thursday night with a special screening and talk back in the BJI Freedom Flicks series, showing “Concerning Violence: Nine Scenes from the Anti-Imperialist Self-Defense.” In the last year, led by BJI Director Purvi Shah, CCR has played a crucial role in helping build legal infrastructure and local support systems in Ferguson and Baltimore in the wake of the local uprisings after the police killings of Michael Brown and Freddie Gray. #Law4BlackLives was about continuing and broadening that work by bringing together the people who can make it happen – who are making it happen! Watch the key plenaries:
State of the Movement
In this grounding plenary, grassroots organizers from Los Angeles to Ferguson and Madison to New York City reflected on the current state of the movement, spoke to the urgency of building the power of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, shared their forecasts of what is likely coming in the next year, and talked about what is needed from radical legal advocates.
- Patrisse Cullors, Organizer/Co-Founder, Black Lives Matter
- Thenjiwe McHarris, Campaign Director, US Human Rights Network/Co-Founder, BlackBird
- M. Adams, Organizer, Freedom, Inc./Young Black & Gifted Coalition • Elle Hearns, Field Coordinator, GetEqual
- Moderators: Purvi Shah, Bertha Justice Institute Director, Center for Constitutional Rights & Marbre Stahly-Butts, Policy Advocate, Center for Popular Democracy.
Black Radical Tradition in Law & Organizing
Established in 1968 to serve as the legal arm for Black liberation and to protect the human rights of all African people in the diaspora, the National Conference of Black Lawyers heeded the call of developing unique and unorthodox legal remedies to address the legal, social and economic injustices endured by Black people. This tradition of radical organizing in the black community is far from new; it traces back to the Antebellum period, where the likes of Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass helped to spearhead the end of black physical enslavement in this country. In recent history, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and Black Panther Party, known as the more radical branches of the Civil Rights Movement, took the charge and, under the rubric of Black power, demanded justice, self-reliance and equal rights for all of Black America.
In this plenary, we considered the tradition and contribution of these radical groups to the Black liberation movements in this country and abroad; examined some of the unconventional strategies they used to resist state sanctioned anti-black violence and racism; surveyed how the #BlackLivesMatter movement can move forward with its mission to oppose the out-right assault and devaluing of Black lives in a world that heralds we live in a post-racial society; and discussed important takeaways that legal practitioners and organizers can use from these approaches of the past.
- Michael Tarif Warren, Attorney, Central Park Five
- Elandria Williams, Education Team, Highlander Center
- Rev. Osagyefo Sekou, Pastor/Organizer/Theologian
- Lumumba Akinwole-Bandele, Senior Community Organizer, NAACP-LDF/ Organizer, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement
- Jaribu Hill, Executive Director, Mississippi Workers Center for Human Rights
- Moderator: Soffiyah Eliijah, Executive Director, Correctional Association
We concluded the conference with a series of inspiring and radical talks by visionary legal and movement leaders. RadTalks surfaced radical ideas, deepened radical imagination and sought to inspire radical action. The theme for this series of RadTalks was "What Is Possible When The Legal Community Stands With Black Lives"
- Colette Pichon Battle, Executive Director, Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy
- Vince Warren, Executive Director Center for Constitutional Rights
- Alicia Garza, Co-Founder, Black Lives Matter/Special Projects Director, National Domestic Workers Alliance
- Elle Hearns, Field Coordinator, GetEqual
- Carl Williams, Racial Justice Staff Attorney, ACLU of MA
- Norris Henderson, Executive Director, Voice of the Ex-Offender (V.O.T.E)
- Umi Selah fka Phillip Agnew, Organizer and Mission Director, Dream Defenders
- Maurice Moe Mitchell, Co-Founder Blackbird/ Organizer, Movement for Black Lives