Advocating for Change: LCCR
October 11, 2017
Posted by: Adi Alouf, Intern
Fourth in our “Racial Justice: Advocating for Change” series.
The law has served as a system of racial control in America. The institutions of slavery and Jim Crow clearly demonstrate how the status of black people as inferior and criminal has been etched into the American legal tradition.
The Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area’s (LCCR) website frames the current state of institutionalized racial control in the United States in the following words: “Although decades of struggle, determination, litigation and advocacy have removed the most egregious and blatantly racist laws from local, state and federal governments, systemic and structural racism still exists.” Black people are incarcerated at more than five times the rate of whites. Stop-and-frisk and racial profiling, the War on Drugs and the school to prison pipeline, racial bias in court, and racial discrepancies in policing and police brutality function to criminalize communities of color.
In her book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Michelle Alexander writes, “Like Jim Crow (and slavery), mass incarceration operates as a tightly networked system of laws, policies, customs, and institutions that operate collectively to ensure the subordinate status of a group defined largely by race.”
LCCR was founded in 1968 to uphold and promote the legal rights of communities of color, and low-income persons, immigrants, and refugees. The San Francisco Bay Area committee is part of a network of nine independently funded and governed public interest law firms “affiliated by similar principles, goals and history.” LCCR works for the three intertwined causes of racial justice, immigrant justice and economic justice. These simultaneous commitments guide LCCR’s comprehensive and intersectional work on the issues of educational equity, voting rights and criminal justice.
Fundamental to the work that LCCR does is its commitment to policy advocacy -- the LCCR is able to harness resources to effect structural change by pushing for policy and legislation that protects the civil rights of all citizens, as well as to challenge policies and abuses of power unjust based on race through impact litigation.
Driven by the principle that access to justice means access to quality legal services, LCCR provides direct services to those individuals and communities who have been systematically denied the right to such assistance and representation. In 2011, LCCR launched the Second Chance Legal Clinic, offering free reentry and reintegration services and legal advice to individuals previously arrested or convicted. A dedicated network of pro bono attorneys and volunteers from the legal community assist these individuals with criminal record “expungement,” occupational licensing, background checks, housing and employment rights, and obtaining driver’s licenses.
In addition to the Second Chance Legal Clinic, LCCR offers free legal representation in disputes with school districts through its Education Advocacy Project (EAP). EAP educates and advocates for the rights of students in need of special education or facing disciplinary action, providing direct services to “students who wish to challenge educational decisions that will severely jeopardize their academic success and post-secondary opportunities.” By protecting the rights of individual students, LCCR works to secure equal access to education and educational opportunities for low-income students and students of color.
To highlight a recent LCCR project: In 2015, the committee released a report, Not Just a Ferguson Problem – How Traffic Courts Drive Inequality in California, addressing the growing trend of license suspensions covering how the problem happens, its impact, and possible solutions. This is just one example of LCCR’s work of combating institutionalized racism and the systemic criminalization of people of color, so that all are truly equal under the law.