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NYSBA’s Civil Rights Committee to examine use of federal forces in U.S. cities

July 31, 2020 Rob Abruzzese

Scott Karson, president of the NYS Bar Association, has directed the Committee on Civil Rights to look into whether or not the Trump Administration has been violating U.S. law by sending federal law enforcement troops into American cities.

This comes following a heavy presence of federal law enforcement officers in the streets of Portland, Oregon.

“The deployment of federal law enforcement into cities around the country, and the threat to use such force in New York City, appears to undermine and run counter to the longstanding practice that states have the authority to handle local policing and crime prevention,” said Karson.

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The Committee on Civil Rights is expected to act quickly to draft a legal opinion that will examine these and other constitutional issues, according to Karson.

Specifically, the committee will examine reported warrantless seizures of protesters by unmarked and unidentified federal law enforcement personnel and the federal government’s targeting of Black Lives Matter and other protesters.

Protests have gone on throughout the country since the killing of George Floyd by Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin was caught on film.

Since July 4, federal agents have reportedly been in Portland, allegedly to protect federal property. According to multiple reports, backed up by viral videos on Twitter, these federal agents have injured medics, journalists and legal observers by shooting them with rubber bullets and pepper balls.

Viral videos have also depicted unidentified federal agents seizing protesters and throwing them into unmarked vehicles before disappearing. Protesters have accused the NYPD of using similar tactics in recent days.


Karson has been proactive on racial justice issues in his short time as NYS Bar Association president. Sworn in on June 1, he announced the creation of the Racial Justice Task Force by June 10.

“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,” Karson said at the time. “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.”

When civil rights leader U.S. Rep. John Lewis died earlier this month, Karson issued a statement in which he credited Lewis with inspiring his own legal career.

“I had the privilege of hearing him speak at the 1963 March on Washington, which inspired me to pursue racial justice my entire life,” Karson said in a statement about Lewis. “Although illness forced him to the sidelines as the country confronted the death of George Floyd, his insights still galvanized his followers and touched me personally.”

Karson is a former assistant district attorney in Suffolk County and a principal law clerk to an Appellate Division, Second Department judge, Hon. Lawrence Bracken. He graduated law school from the Syracuse University College of Law.


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