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NYS Bar Association to create racial justice task force amid local bar associations’ statements

June 10, 2020 Rob Abruzzese
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Following a week where some of the local bar associations spoke out in support of the peaceful protests going on in Brooklyn and across the country, the New York State Bar Association announced that it will create a task force on racial justice as a response to George Floyd’s death.

“George Floyd’s death at the hands of law enforcement and its aftermath were not aberrations; they were the culmination of a long history of racism and inequality that continues to plague our nation,” said NYSBA President Scott Karson in a statement. “It is now up to us, as a society, to seize this important moment and make sense of what must come next. The death of George Floyd is a call for bold action, including institutional and cultural reform — in law enforcement, as well as within the broader criminal justice system.”

Karson said that the Association supports the vast majority of members of local police departments, but said that repeated incidents are not mere aberrations and need to be addressed.

“The status quo is plainly unsustainable,” Karson continued. “Police violence against people of color is just a symptom of the broader and more complex deep-seated racial disparities within our criminal justice system that undermine the rule of law. Meaningful change will thus require much more than addressing the issue of police brutality but instead rethinking all aspects of our justice system — from arrest to sentencing and incarceration.

“In light of the death of George Floyd while in police custody, NYSBA intends to form a task force to analyze the criminal justice system and to recommend meaningful reforms intended to eliminate the scourges of racism and disparate treatment of our citizens.”

The task force will work to improve transparency and accountability through the use of body cameras and other data-gathering techniques, more rigorous training techniques for police, and increased sharing of information about internal investigations and instances of misconduct among officers.

Karson also suggested that oversight of police needs to be more inclusive of the community. “In particular, there should be greater civilian participation in the review of police conduct,” he said.

He also suggested that there should be emphasis placed on prosecutors investigating and responding to police misconduct, “swiftly, transparently and fairly.”

There is no word yet on who Karson has picked to chair the task force. His announcement did come with quotes from Mirna Santiago and Violet Samuels, the co-chairs of the NYSBA’s Committee on Diversity and Inclusion.

“The waves of protests across the country represent society’s frustration with repeated incidents of police brutality and a corresponding failure to institute reform to stop them,” the co-chairs said in a statement. “This failure runs deeper than the incidents themselves and speaks to a failure of the criminal justice system in the United States.”

This announcement comes following a week of protests and announcements of support by local bar association leaders.

Joy Thompson, the president of the Women’s Bar Association for the State of New York, was the first to speak out. In her message, she praised officers who have taken a knee in solidarity with protesters and said that her organization will support peaceful protests.

“As a 40-year-old women’s organization well versed in the history of injustice yet committed to the struggle for positive change, WBASNY stands, arms locked, against racism, intolerance and bigotry and for the fair and equal administration of justice for all,” Thompson said.

Natoya McGhie, the president of the Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association, spoke out next by saying that the local Bar Association will “continue to support and stand with each other against injustice and inequality.”

On Friday, the Brooklyn Bar Association issued a joint statement in which its board of trustees announced support of the fight against systemic racism. It directed members and Brooklynites to turn to the NAACP and the ACLU for advice on how to contribute in a positive and impactful way.

“The Brooklyn Bar Association stands with the family of George Floyd and those appalled by the events of May 25, 2020, that culminated in the senseless and tragic death of Mr. Floyd by individuals who took an oath to protect and to serve the very community and city that Mr. Floyd held so dear to his heart,” said the statement.

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