On Friday, July 31, 2015 SRLP core collective members, attorneys and interns (past and present) attended #Law4BlackLives, a national gathering of lawyers, legal advocates, and law students dedicated to building a world where #BlackLivesMatter. The conference involved various panels and workshops ranging from police reform, defending the civil rights of #BlackLivesMatter protestors, and legal observing trainings. #Law4BlackLives largely centered on the intersection of organizing and lawyering, and the importance of lawyers in showing up, stepping back, and supporting those engaged in grassroots organizing campaigns.
SRLP Core Collective member, former Director of SRLP’s Prisoner Justice Project, and now staff at the Urban Justice Center’s Peter Cicchino Youth Project, Alisha Williams, spoke at the #AllBlackLivesMatter panel focused on the prominent role of Black TGNCI (trans, gender non-conforming and intersex) people, women, and queer folks in liberation movements. The panelists discussed how these voices are often marginalized or erased within movements for Black liberation, despite experiencing police harassment, terrorism and murder at inordinate rates. Alisha and other panelists spoke about the importance of radical lawyers learning to craft legal challenges based upon the lived experiences of queer and trans folks, such as working towards the decriminalizing sex work; moving beyond gay marriage and building a movement towards freedom for all Black people.
Among the other SRLP attendees at #Law4BlackLives included Pooja Gehi, former SRLP staff attorney and Director of Litigation & Advocacy, and current Executive Director of the National Lawyers Guild. Earlier this week, Gehi was arrested while working as a NLG Legal Observer documenting and observing police officers at the most recent protests and state violence in Ferguson. For Gehi, “It was a privilege for me to come from out of town and be given an opportunity to join the people of Ferguson in solidarity. My wrongful arrest while providing legal support was an attempt by the police to undermine the organizing efforts of QTPOC activists fighting for racial justice. That kind of police harassment and violence is an everyday occurrence for Black residences in their own neighborhoods in Ferguson and across the US.” As discussed at #Law4BlackLives, legal observing is a critical tool in movement lawyering and one of the key methods by which lawyers can support #BlackLivesMatter.
As a law student committed to social justice and movement lawyering, I was originally drawn to SRLP’s work because of its community-based structure as well as its core values – that is, a commitment to participating in larger movements for racial, social, and economic justice with a specific focus on gender liberation. Thus, it felt important that #Law4BlackLives worked at centralizing the narratives of TGNCI and queer folks by ensuring those voices were present and highlighted when discussing how legal advocates can contribute to a movement in support of Black lives.