Claribel Morales awarded Bart Gordon Fellowship to work at Community Legal Aid

Community Legal Aid, a non-profit organization that provides free legal services to low-income and elderly residents of Western and Central Massachusetts, is pleased to announce that Attorney Claribel Morales has been awarded the Bart Gordon Fellowship by the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC). The fellowship will support Ms. Morales’s housing work throughout Western Massachusetts, where she will assist tenants facing homelessness or denied the housing of their choice for discriminatory reasons. Ms. Morales will be based in Community Legal Aid’s Springfield office starting in August.

A 2019 graduate of Western New England University School of Law, Ms. Morales joined Community Legal Aid in the summer of 2019 as an AmeriCorps Legal Advocate serving in the organization’s Civil Legal Aid for Victims of Crime and Housing Units. A native of Trenton, New Jersey, Ms. Morales earned her Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice in 2008 and Masters in Public Administration in 2014 from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. Ms. Morales worked at the Bronx District Attorney’s Office for six years as a paralegal before moving to Massachusetts to attend law school.

While attending law school, Ms. Morales interned at Mass. Fair Housing Center in Holyoke, Massachusetts, and the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities in Hartford, Connecticut. She also participated in the Legal Services Clinic, a partnership between Western New England University Law School and Community Legal Aid, where she assisted tenants with eviction cases in the Western Housing Court.

“Even though she is just beginning her legal career, Claribel Morales has already demonstrated her strong commitment to ensuring that the most vulnerable people among us can live in safe housing,” said Lynne Parker, executive director of MLAC. “Her work is so needed during the COVID-19 crisis, when many people are at risk of losing their homes. I’m thrilled that MLAC can fund this essential work through the Bart Gordon Fellowship.”

Jonathan Mannina, Executive Director of Community Legal Aid, said, “We are so grateful to MLAC for funding the Bart Gordon Memorial Fellowship and enabling us to hire Claribel. This Fellowship will let us expand our housing work in Western Massachusetts at a time of great community need.”

MLAC created the Bart J. Gordon Memorial Fellowship to improve access to justice for people who face linguistic or cultural barriers to attaining legal assistance. The fellowship funds positions for recent law school graduates at legal aid organizations funded by MLAC. It is named in memory of Bart Gordon, a Springfield attorney and founding member of the MLAC Board of Directors.

MLAC is the largest funding source for civil legal aid in Massachusetts. It was established by the state legislature in 1983 to ensure that people with critical, non-criminal legal problems would have access to legal information, advice, and representation.

About Community Legal Aid:

Community Legal Aid provides free civil legal services to the low-income and elderly residents of the five counties of Western and Central Massachusetts (Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden, Hampshire, and Worcester), and maintains full-time offices in Worcester, Fitchburg, Springfield, Northampton, and Pittsfield. Community Legal Aid works to assure fairness for all in the justice system, protecting homes, livelihoods, health and families. For more information, please visit www.communitylegal.org.

COVID-19 is a disaster for people with disabilities. Without 30-year-old law, it would be worse

The isolation can be terrifying and tragic. The stress can exacerbate mental illness and other health problems. Add the loss of mobility and independence, the disruption of routines: the beloved caregiver who doesn’t come, the day program that doesn’t open, the concern that lack of support will give families no choice but to institutionalize.

In the hospital, people who can’t speak are left with no one to communicate for them, vulnerable to the fear medical care will be rationed, given to someone deemed more worthy or valuable than themselves.

Though everyone has been suffering during the COVID-19 pandemic, people with disabilities have perhaps been the most disadvantaged, their lives the most disrupted….

…“This is another example of a very powerful way that the ADA is an important tool to stop some of the most insidious discrimination – literally discrimination that will have an impact on ‘will you live or will you die,’ ” said Alison Barkoff, director of advocacy for the Center for Public Representation, a public-interest law firm that focuses on the disabled community…Read more in USA Today

White, white, white. Then there’s me.’ A Black lawyer shares her experiences

Danielle Johnson is a staff attorney at Greater Boston Legal Services focusing on elder housing and disability benefits. Here, she shares her experiences as one of the few Black lawyers during weekly Housing Court proceedings (pre-pandemic) at the Edward W. Brooke Courthouse, which is named for the first Black politician from Massachusetts to serve in Congress. — As told to Katie Johnston

By 8:45 a.m. on “Eviction Thursday” there’s usually a long line of people waiting outside the courthouse to go through the metal detector. There’s a separate line for attorneys, which is white, white, white. Then there’s me. Then it’s white, white, white again. I definitely always get looks. “Where is she going? Doesn’t she know the line starts back here?”… Read more in the Boston Globe

CLA Attorneys Selected for Ground-Breaking Program to Advance Racial Equity

Community Legal Aid, a non-profit organization that provides free legal services to low-income and elderly residents of Central and Western Massachusetts, is pleased to announce that four of its staff members have been selected to participate in the 2020 Racial Justice Institute, a leadership program organized by the Shriver Center on Poverty Law. The Institute is a ground-breaking program designed to equip, train and coordinate anti-poverty advocates to affirmatively advance racial equity.

Read more from Community Legal Aid.

Appeals Court decision allows survivor of domestic violence to stay in her home

BOSTON (June 29, 2020) – A survivor of domestic violence is able to stay in her New Bedford home after the Massachusetts Appeals Court reversed a Housing Court decision to evict her.

The woman, identified in court records as S.R., was represented by Laura Camara and Stephanie Herron Rice, Attorneys at the Justice Center of Southeast Massachusetts, a subsidiary of South Coastal Counties Legal Services.

S.R. lived with her then-boyfriend, K.R., and their disabled daughter in a New Bedford Housing Authority apartment. One night, K.R. returned home intoxicated and physically abused S.R., striking her multiple times. S.R. sought help from a neighbor, and the police arrested K.R. In the following days, S.R. contacted the housing authority to try to remove K.R. from the lease, but they did not provide her with accurate information on the process and K.R.’s name remained on the lease. In the meantime, K.R. moved out. S.R. continued to pay rent and care for their daughter.

Six months later, the police arrested K.R. for dealing narcotics. The New Bedford Housing authority claimed the tenants had violated the terms of the lease by engaging in off-site drug offenses and tried to evict S.R. and her daughter based on K.R.’s actions. But S.R. had nothing to do with K.R.’s illegal activity, and K.R. had not lived in the apartment for months. S.R. tried to stop the eviction in Housing Court, but to no avail.

Camara appealed S.R.’s case. The three-judge panel of the appeals court—Justices Kathryn Hand, James Milkey, and Sabita Singh—accepted Camara’s arguments that the Housing Authority failed to comply with the Violence Against Women Act by demanding that S.R. obtain a restraining order to have K.R. taken off the lease and that the Housing Authority could not evict S.R. for K.R.’s conduct long after he had vacated the unit. They found that by its own policies, it was the housing authority’s responsibility to remove K.R.’s name from the lease after he abused S.R. “…[T]he NBHA is unable to provide any rational justification for evicting S.R. and her daughter,” Justice James Milkey wrote.

“The decision of the Appeals Court demonstrates a true understanding by the Court of the complexities and cyclical nature of domestic violence relationships – it is truly a breath of fresh air for survivors and advocates across the Commonwealth. It also ensures that a wonderful mother will have a safe, stable home to raise her daughter,” said Camara.

Several other MLAC-funded legal aid organizations submitted an amicus brief to the court, including Community Legal Aid, De Novo Center for Justice and Healing, Greater Boston Legal Services, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, MetroWest Legal Services, Northeast Legal Aid, Victim Rights Law Center, and the Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association, among other organizations.

The ruling in NEW BEDFORD HOUSING AUTHORITY vs. K.R. & another can be found here.

Legal Aid Speaks Out Against Racism

Since the death of George Floyd, legal aid organizations across the state have issued strong statements against systemic racism and called for collaboration and change. Their statements are below.

Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts
Community Legal Aid
Center for Law and Education
Center for Public Representation
De Novo Center for Justice and Healing
Disability Law Center
Greater Boston Legal Services
Health Law Advocates
Justice at Work
Massachusetts Advocates for Children
Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation
MetroWest Legal Services
National Consumer Law Center
Northeast Legal Aid
PAIR Project
Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts
Rian Immigrant Center
Veterans Legal Services
Victim Rights Law Center


Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts

The board and staff of the Children’s Law Center of MA extend our sincere condolences to the families, friends, and colleagues of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and the countless other innocent victims of racial injustice across the ages in America and beyond.

We stand with those of you whose voices are now being heard on the streets around the world in support of freedom and equality. In your honor, and on behalf of those for whom you march, the Children’s Law Center pledges to continue its fight for justice for our child clients whose path to equality will, we hope, have been paved by your voice, courage, and conscience.

A REMINDER: Only seven years ago, in August 2013, the Honorable John R. Lewis, member of Congress from Georgia, legendary civil rights leader, and a strong supporter of legal aid, made the following observation about the state of racism in our country, as pertinent and telling today as it was then, indeed as it has been over the centuries:

“The scars and stains of racism remain deeply embedded in American society, whether it is stop and frisk in New York or injustice in the Trayvon Martin case in Florida, the mass incarceration of millions of Americans, immigrants hiding in fear in the shadow of society, unemployment, homelessness, poverty, hunger, or the renewed struggle for voting rights.”

As we, sadly, add new chapters to Congressman Lewis’s poignant observation in the persons of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and others, we urge all to caution against simply “turning the page” on this most recent stain in our country’s history. Instead, consider one of the Congressman’s suggestions to guard against such complacency: “…find a way to get in trouble…good trouble…necessary trouble!”


Community Legal Aid

CLA joins in mourning the death of George Floyd and all who’ve lost their lives as a result of injustice. We grieve for those put at risk by systemic inequality, and pledge to continue working with our local communities to dismantle structural racism and to fight for justice for all.


Center for Law and Education

A MESSAGE FROM OUR BOARD PRESIDENT . . . .

Dear Colleagues,

Like many, I mourn the murder of George Floyd. But I am also frustrated by the current pattern of repeating the conversations we have had for years about police abuse of their powers with impunity. It is time for action: we know the problems and we know the solutions, at least enough to get us started and have an immediate impact. The issue is whether we have the WILL to take the necessary actions to solve the problems.

I have found the work of the Police Use of Force Project to be especially helpful in moving from discussion to concrete, often immediate, action proposals for local elected officials and police chiefs. DeRay McKesson, one of the founders of the project, has a great piece in this issue of GQ. They argue that the evidence suggests we can achieve up to a 72% decrease in police violence leading to death by implementing these eight policies.

Eight Policies to Reduce Police Violence

1. Ban chokeholds and stranglehold
2. Require de-escalation
3. Require warning before shooting
4. Exhaust all other means before shooting
5. Duty to intervene and stop excessive force by other officers
6. Ban shooting at moving vehicles
7. Require use-of-force continuum
8. Require comprehensive reporting each time an officer uses forces or threatens to do so

Especially useful is their tool tracking the 100 top departments in the nation and the extent to which they have implemented these policies. The project makes a critically important point regarding the need to defund police departments and to reallocate resources currently going to police to provide funding for the people who should be handling all the situations (the vast majority of police work) that do not require someone with a gun.

In addition to the eight policies they focus on, I would add a few to the list for consideration including:

– External civilian review boards for review of all allegations of misconduct for use of force
– Independent review of police misconduct by skilled investigators external to the local police and prosecutors
– State restrictions on hiring cops fired from one jurisdiction for abusive conduct by another department
– Police complaint records are public (without complainants’ names divulged to officer or public during investigation) and sustained charges against officers should part of the public record
– Police departments should be required to publish annual/semi-annual reports on the number of civilian complaints and the result of reviews and action taken for sustained charges

Those currently working on police and criminal justice reform probably can add many more. But this is a good launch pad for moving from protest to action.

As we move to take immediate, initial actions to end unbridled and unaccountable police behavior, we must recognize that police brutality does not operate as an isolated phenomenon but is part of a societal structure and supporting systems of oppression that permeate most aspects of American life. Especially important to understanding and addressing the treatment of Black people by the justice system is how policing intrudes into the educational process and constitutes one fountainhead of the “school to prison pipeline.”

As we consider the broader context in which Black people experience disparate economic and other life outcomes in America, we must sharpen our focus on quality education for all as one powerful anecdote to poverty and economic inequities, making it even more critical that we focus on education.

In the words of James Baldwin, “we are our history” and, therefore, we must work to actively adopt and implement an anti-racist agenda in our schools, from curriculum, instruction, and learning opportunities to school-based safety and climate. No longer can we accept the legacy of color and permit it to mute our voices in opposition to racism in schools; silence is complicity.

Just as there are immediate actions we must take to end police violence while we educate and deliberate on the structural changes needed to cure the disease of racism that infects that system, justice in schools is no exception.

First, we urge school districts to be informed by research showing that more security leads to more disciplinary infractions particularly for low-level offenses and for Black and Hispanic students.

Second, school districts should immediately decriminalize the school environment so that it is conducive to learning by:

1. Stopping criminalization of student behavior that should be handled as a school matter.
2. Ending the practice of suspending students for non-violent conduct and especially for highly subjective offenses like defiance of authority and disruptive conduct that disproportionately impacts students of color.
3. Redirecting funds from contracts with local police departments to hire bilingual, culturally competent mental health counselors, teachers and administrators who look like their students and other supportive staff to create safe, positive and supportive environments.
4. Investing in culturally responsive approaches to restorative and transformative justice, social-emotional learning, trauma-informed approaches, support for healing of students, especially those who have been victimized by aggressive policing that is known to lower educational performance.

I hope you will join me in pursuing these actions now.

Junious Williams, Board President


Center for Public Representation

The Center for Public Representation denounces the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis – the latest in a series of Black deaths, including Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and Breonna Taylor in Louisville. We condemn the structural racism that has allowed this to take place.

We stand with protesters in the Twin Cities, Atlanta, Louisville, Columbus, New York City, Washington, Philadelphia, D.C., Los Angeles, Portland, and every community across this nation.

We harken to the words uttered by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1967:

I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear?

As disability lawyers fighting for change, we have a responsibility to change a system that has repeatedly failed to deliver justice for all. Even though our work challenges the status quo, we are still part of the system – the system that failed to deliver justice when Freddie Gray was killed in Baltimore, when Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, when Trayvon Martin was killed in Florida.

This racism is entrenched in American society.

And it is that same institutional racism that has led to Black and other communities of color being disproportionally impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, health care inequities and the long-term impact of poverty.

Racism underlies it all. And all of us must do more to combat it.

We are committed to standing with people from Black and communities of color and to condemn the racism and the killings that have horrified us. We commit to working to understand and address our own implicit bias, to address racism in our work – to listen, to hear, and to act.


De Novo Center for Justice and Healing

Dear Friends,

Our hearts are filled with sadness and grief as yet again we witness the grave injustice experienced by the Black community. We, at De Novo, stand with those demanding justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, and all people of color who have been and continue to be subjected to racism, prejudice, violence and discrimination.

De Novo strives to increase access to justice and healing, and that must include dismantling systemic racism that targets Black people or any other group and excludes them from the protection of our justice system. We recognize and speak out against the racial disparities we see in our society and stand in solidarity with those demanding change. Thank you for partnering with us as we advocate for human rights and social justice for all.

On behalf of all of us at De Novo,

Mojdeh Rohani
Executive Director


Disability Law Center

Friends,

Our nation has been rocked by tragedy and pain during the past few months. We were shaken by the disparate impact that COVID-19 has had on the disability community and communities of color and the widespread economic devastation that followed. As if this wasn’t enough, during the past three months we have also witnessed the senseless murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and now – George Floyd. These murders are the most recent in a long line of injustices and indignities suffered by Black men and women and black transgender people throughout the Nation. As an organization committed to promoting the civil and human rights of all persons with disabilities – and in respect of the undeniable intersections that exist between disability, race, and socioeconomic status in this country – we stand in solidarity with the Black community during these difficult times. Our communities are in pain and we share the fear, anger, and sadness felt by so many. Please know that:

We See You.

We Hear You.

We Stand With You in the fight to eliminate racism and advance racial justice.

Yours in the struggle,
Marlene Sallo
Executive Director


Greater Boston Legal Services

GBLS stands in solidarity with those who are calling for justice and protesting the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, and others who have died as a result of injustice. We speak out against racial disparities in the justice system, the health care system, the immigration system and other systems that impact access to basic human needs. We believe that all people have an inalienable right to justice and fairness.

GBLS’ work includes advocating for systemic change to create equal access to justice, the removal of barriers keeping people in poverty, and disruption of racial inequities that impact many in our community on a daily basis. Today, that includes standing with those raising voices for change. Justice delayed is justice denied.


Health Law Advocates

Health Law Advocates has and always will represent and fight for people made vulnerable by inequities in our health care system and society generally. Racism is at the root of many of these inequities. We are compelled to speak out today to affirm that we join the mourning and share the outrage of people here in Massachusetts and across our country for the deaths of George Floyd, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and countless others who are targeted because they are Black. We are also inspired by and stand in solidarity with the protestors and allies crying out for immediate, permanent change.

The fact that the COVID-19 pandemic is disproportionally devastating people of color is also rooted in racism. Systemic racism and discrimination existed long before the pandemic, and they will continue long after it. As our community responds to and begins recovering from the pandemic, we must ensure the steps we take serve to eliminate the stark disparities playing out once again before our eyes. We will continue to address structural racism in our health care system and the deep-seated barriers limiting people of color the access to quality care they deserve, while confronting our own biases deliberately and daily.


Justice at Work

Justice at Work stands in solidarity with the Black community and all those who experience police brutality and the daily effects of systemic anti-Black racism in the U.S. At this key moment, when unprecedented numbers of people are turning out across Boston, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the United States and the globe to protest violence against Black people, police brutality, racism, and White supremacy, we look to the leadership of community-led organizations and their campaigns. We hope you will support them.

Please read our longer reflections and paying of respects below.

A Moment to Pay Respects

Five days after George Floyd’s murder, members of our team were on a call with a group of workers from Central America who described their workplace in a way that we at Justice at Work hear all too often: racially segregated, with workers forced to toil in illegal, undignified conditions. We heard from them that at their pallet recycling job, the “Americans” work inside with air conditioning; fix the pallets already in good condition; have a place to sit and eat their lunch; are paid hourly and receive overtime, vacation, and sick time. The Central American workers, on the other hand, work outside, fixing the pallets that are in the worst condition. They eat lunch outside, sitting on the pallets. They are paid based on production and forced to punch out at noon so the company can avoid any record of their working overtime. They receive no regular vacation, or sick time, and must purchase their own personal protective equipment. And when they’ve complained, their boss has shouted insults deriding their country of origin and legal status.

These conditions echo those of Black workers like Echol Cole and Robert Walker, who were crushed to death in 1968 by their sanitation truck’s hydraulic ram because they weren’t allowed to seek shelter from the rain in a White neighborhood in Memphis and a segregationist mayor had refused to pay for fixing their vehicle. In the aftermath of Cole and Walker’s deaths, sanitation workers launched their historic “I Am A Man” strike for dignity and respect — and Memphis police shot and killed sixteen year old Larry Payne, a Black strike supporter and student, even as his hands were raised. A racialized order based on anti-Blackness has always been, and continues to be, at the core of the U.S. economic system. State-sanctioned violence protects that order, thwarting efforts to challenge the status quo.

As we support immigrant workers’ demands for dignity within a system still segregated by race and maintained by state violence, we continue to fight for a workers’ rights movement that embraces all workers. This means avoiding and redressing the racism of policies like the National Labor Relations Act, which excluded agricultural and domestic workers in order to leave out Black workers. Many laws still perpetuate the legacy of slavery and the marginalization of people of color. It also means deepening our understanding of how anti-Blackness and White supremacy shape every aspect of life and work in the U.S. And it means continuing to support our partners like the Black-led Brazilian Worker Center, and the Brockton Workers’ Alliance, with Haitian and Cape Verdean members, and bringing workers together to recognize their common interests and wield their common power. But today, most importantly, we pay our respects to the Black civil rights leaders, workers, and protestors of yesterday and today, and to George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and Rayshard Brooks, whose killings have catalyzed a movement.


Massachusetts Advocates for Children

“To look around the United States today is enough to make prophets and angels weep. This is not the land of the free and it is only sporadically the home of the brave.”

– James Baldwin

In recent weeks, the devastating deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd (SAY THEIR NAMES!) have lent tragic relevance to the words of James Baldwin, written over a half-century ago. These devastating acts are three more links in a torturously long chain of racial violence in our country. This chain is wrapped around and around the heart and the lungs of our nation to the point that it threatens our collective asphyxiation if we cannot break it.

The structural racism baked into our nation at its birth made the murders of Breonna, Ahmaud, and George deaths foretold. It was not, however, an institution or a law that pressed down on the neck of George Floyd for eight minutes and forty-six seconds. It was the knee of a racist police officer, aided and abetted by the indifference of the three colleagues who lifted not a finger to protect George’s most fundamental right, the right to live and breathe. In each of these cases, structural racism provided the context in which savage racist acts by individuals robbed Black people of life.

Massachusetts Advocates for Children condemns these acts of racist violence and adds our voice to those of the thousands who have taken to the streets to express outrage over these murders. But is our condemnation and our outrage enough?

As we condemn the violence that took the lives of Breonna, Ahmaud, and George, we recognize an intimate familiarity with this violence through our work to remove the barriers to educational and life opportunities for Massachusetts children and youth. Make no mistake: that violence may take different forms in the everyday life of schools in our Commonwealth, but it is not a different racist violence that denies Black and Brown children their right to an education that could open a whole world to them. Our indignation at these recent senseless killings leaves us with an obligation to name that same violence where we live and work and do everything in our power to transform it.

Fashioned of flesh and blood, the prophets weep, often profusely. But what distinguishes the prophets among us is that, not content to condemn, they find, even in the most difficult of circumstances, the inspiration and the courage to act. In so doing, their tears join rivers of transformation. The times demand that even we mere mortals follow their example.

One of our prophets, MAC’s founder Hubie Jones, reflected recently on this moment, in the context of the riots he lived through in Boston in the 1960s:

“This…dynamic quickly comes in an indecipherable bundle that destabilizes everyone caught in its grip. It is almost impossible for leaders on all sides to think clearly and act effectively. The window of quasi-attention given by white elites, with the power to forge constructive economic and social changes, suddenly closes, even though verbal pseudo commitments and some investments make some people believe that the window is still open.”

Our challenge is to find the strength and the support to think clearly and act effectively. This can only be done together with friends and allies who share our commitment to change, you among them. It is in that spirit that we ask our friends, allies, and supporters to first allow ourselves to feel deeply the pain of this moment and support others as they do the same. But even as we feel this pain, we ask that you demand of us that we take the risks implied by disrupting business as usual. Only through such disruption can we hope to take advantage of the “window of quasi-attention” that Hubie reminds us will not be open forever. Leaping through that window will mean something different for each of us and it may well mean danger, but there is danger in letting the window slam shut, as well.

Our hearts bleed and our tears flow with the families of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd. Let us honor their memories by doing what we can to attack the deep roots of racism in this country.


Massachusetts Law Reform Institute

The Deadly Plague Destroying Our Nation

A deadly disease has infiltrated our nation and will slowly destroy us unless and until it is addressed and eradicated. This disease has, for well over 200 years, destroyed countless lives, killed countless people, diminished our moral fiber, and degraded the founding principles of our nation. It is a disease that cannot be cured by a vaccine, but rather by conscience and action.

The disease is called racism.

Here is a very hard and painfully difficult truth: The United States has lost any moral authority to condemn human rights violations in other countries because our own nation is, and has been, violating human rights for a very long time.

There are many examples of how we have failed:
– the killing and targeting of unarmed Black and Brown men and women
– the ravages and glaring consequences of decades of institutionalized racism and economic disenfranchisement in communities of color (that have become glaringly apparent during the Covid-19 pandemic)
– the incarceration of Black and Brown men and women based on an unfair, racist criminal justice system
– the demonization of immigrants
– the detention of immigrant children in cages and in deplorable conditions
– the general contempt, lack of compassion or understanding for people living in poverty
And there are, sadly, many more examples.

As a nation, and individually, we must take a hard look in the mirror and ask: Are we proud of ongoing, unabated injustice? And are we living up to our foundational values as a nation based on fairness and equal justice for all? The answer is no.

This is not a partisan issue. No one has clean hands. Racism did not suddenly materialize in 2017 when the current administration took office. Neither did xenophobia or disregard for the lives of poor people or any of the long list of societal plagues that have haunted us for decades. As many have said: the intolerance of the Trump Administration is not the cause, but rather a glaring symptom of longstanding, underlying societal biases that have now come to the surface.

The tragic murder of George Floyd, the most recent in a long line of tragedies, injustices and indignities suffered by Black men and women, has mobilized our nation. That is because people of conscience, regardless of race, can no longer simply proclaim “outrage, dismay, disgust, horror, sadness, shock” when ongoing acts of racial injustice occur – because words without actions are meaningless. Words alone never cured a disease. Silence in the face of injustice is complicity.

Implicit systemic racist policies have infiltrated a range of public policies – from housing to criminal justice to health care access – and so many more. Our words of outrage ring hollow and are meaningless unless they are backed by initiatives and actions that dismantle policies that result in inequity and injustice.

For many years, legal aid programs, social justice advocates, civil rights organizations, and community activists have done the important work of highlighting how incidences of injustice are much more than just isolated events but are instead indicative of systems that defend abuse and oppression (and also protect the abusers and oppressors).

Part of that oppression is poverty. Decades of explicit discriminatory laws and policies and implicit racial biases embedded in laws, policies and practices have resulted in the denial of rights and opportunities that have kept communities of color in conditions of poverty. As a poverty law program, MLRI recognizes that poverty and systemic racial injustice go hand in hand, and we cannot meaningfully address one without the other. The legal aid community has a long tradition of fighting for and together with vulnerable and marginalized communities – and we have a critical role and a special obligation to identify, address and end the implicit bias and institutionalized racism that has poisoned and influenced our social and public policy.

We call upon all people who claim to stand for, fight for, believe in justice – whether labeled as “progressives” or “conservatives” or anything else – to live up to our nation’s promise of justice. The path forward is to acknowledge and face our societal failings, to listen to communities that have been devastated by racism and understand their pain, frustration and anger – and to work together productively to advance a policy agenda of equity and fairness.

Words alone never eradicated a disease. The disease of racism has plagued our nation for many decades. It is time to collectively and finally say that we will not tolerate racial injustice any longer – and to back those words with concrete actions to bring about systemic reforms that dismantle racist policies.

MLRI stands in solidarity with, and will continue to fight alongside with, our legal aid, community-based, civil rights, human rights and other organizational partners – and with all people who believe in our nation’s foundational value of “justice for all” and seek to eradicate the plague of racism in our Commonwealth and in our nation.

We have a lot of work to do. Let’s get to it.
In solidarity,

Georgia Katsoulomitis
Executive Director


Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation

The core tenet of civil legal aid is the pursuit of equal access to justice for all. The senseless deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless other Black lives, the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on communities of color, and continued systemic racism across the country are the most recent reminders that equal access to justice remains only a promise – not a reality – for Black people. The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation recognizes the pain caused by these events and stands in solidarity with all who demand racial justice. We must do more than express our frustration. We must collaborate to end racism. It debases every community in America and inflicts particular repeat trauma and suffering on Black communities.

MLAC has a more than 35-year commitment to advancing justice. It is now more important than ever for us to demonstrate that commitment by holding ourselves accountable, modeling the change we wish to see in the world, engaging in difficult conversations, challenging our biases, and keeping racial justice at the forefront of our mission in the weeks, months, and years ahead.

We must ensure that Black and Brown communities and other communities that have been historically underserved have access to civil legal aid and other legal representation. We are committed to expanding the reach of legal services and working to direct it to the people and communities most in need.

As individuals, we must work to become anti-racist, and to take the time to listen to people who have experienced the pain of racial injustice, to speak out against individual and institutional racism, to take care of ourselves, and to work and stand in solidarity with our Black and Brown staff and community members.

Toward those goals, we are committed to helping MLAC staff and partner organizations to rededicate ourselves to racial justice, and to rethink policies and practices as we fight both explicit and implicit bias and systemic racism. We must do this to fulfill our mission of providing equal justice to all people.

We invite you to join us in this journey to recommit to our core tenet—equal access to justice—to make that a reality for all.

Lynne M. Parker
Executive Director


MetroWest Legal Services

The Silence of Our Friends: Statement of Support for Peaceful Protests of Racial Injustice

It has been our mission for over 45 years to help the most vulnerable and disenfranchised people overcome institutional barriers and obtain justice. We stand in support of those protesting across the nation in response to the brutal and unjust death of George Floyd and the history of racial injustice.

We believe strongly in breaking the silence and challenging the racial and economic inequities that continue to inflict hardship and suffering on our clients and our society. Access to justice is heavily impacted by systemic racism, lack of economic justice and implicit bias, and this is visible in all areas of our daily work, including immigration, housing, and family law.

Our advocates strive to make the promise of “justice for all” a reality. It is our hope that we can come together as a nation and address the painful inequalities and deep-rooted systemic racism leading to the protests. As Dr. Martln Luther King, Jr. said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” As allies of those seeking an end to racial injustice, we voice our support of peaceful protests and will continue working for access to justice for all.


National Consumer Law Center

The tragic death of George Floyd is just the latest in a long and repugnant history of unarmed African American deaths at the hands of police officers. We mourn the loss of his life and the lives of so many others like him in the history of this country. The repetition of such horrific events reflects the widespread, institutional, and deeply ingrained racism that exists in all aspects of American society.

The destructive impact of racism is everywhere to see. Witness the COVID-19 crisis where communities of color, which are suffering the highest rates of infection and death, are also now dealing with the highest rates of unemployment and financial instability. On every measure of individual or community well-being and security – economic, educational, and health – communities of color are overwhelmingly worse off and face tremendous barriers. The data is shocking in its consistency and reveals staggering levels of economic inequality.

If we are to ever move forward as a country and end the cycle of racism, violence, and oppression, we must all do our part in the fight. It is a fight that is vital to the very lives, dignity, and futures of millions of our fellow citizens.

The National Consumer Law Center’s pursuit of economic justice is a vital part of the struggle for justice and equality. We have established a Racial Justice and Equal Economic Opportunity Initiative to ensure that issues of racial equity are front and center in our work. The Initiative addresses the profound injustices present in every type of consumer transaction: mortgages and foreclosures, auto finance, debt collection, toxic land installment contracts, student loans and for-profit schools, criminal justice debt, credit reporting and scoring, access to broadband internet, and more. To make matters worse, people, families, and communities of color are suffering the most widespread consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic crisis.

We stand in solidarity with those risking their lives and their health to protest racial injustice, and urge our supporters to do the same.

As an organization and as individuals, we must all work to fight bias and racism wherever we find it. We cannot rest until we have made our society one where all people are treated with equal dignity and respect and have equal opportunities to provide for themselves and their families.

We also call on our community of consumer lawyers and advocates to join the fight for racial justice. Attorneys have a special responsibility to use their privileged position to achieve justice for the most vulnerable and victimized. No matter the focus of your practice, you can help attack systemic racial discrimination that denies individuals access to credit, affordable housing, and financial services on fair and equitable terms.

The list of outrages is long. There is no shortage of work to do. We urge you to jump into this fight and join us in building a more just and inclusive economy and society. To succeed, we must all join the struggle, together.

In solidarity,

Richard Dubois
Executive Director


Northeast Legal Aid

In these difficult times, marked by the tragic death of George Floyd, Northeast Legal Aid and its affiliate Northeast Justice Center express their heartfelt concern for all those throughout our community and elsewhere in the United States who endure racial injustice and discrimination or are deprived of equal opportunity or other fundamental rights.

We pledge to turn the current anguish suffered by so many into a recommitment to our principal goals–equal justice for all under law and a fair opportunity for all to enjoy the blessings of liberty.

We welcome all our clients, community partners and supporters to join with us to steadfastly pursue these goals. Thank you.


PAIR Project

To Our PAIR Family:

PAIR’s mission is to provide justice, hope, and safety to immigrants seeking freedom and refuge in the United States.

Through our work, we are consistently confronted with the reality of racial bias, xenophobic bias, and class bias deeply embedded in our society and immigration policy. Our role as legal advocates is to empower our clients, provide access to representation to immigrants when they would otherwise have none, and fight for them to have an opportunity to live in safety.

Racism, at all levels, has denied justice, hope, and safety to black people in America. The recent killings of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police, Breonna Taylor by the Louisville Metro Police, Tony McDade by the Tallahassee Police, and Ahmaud Arbery by armed vigilantes who were not even charged until over 2 months after his murder are horrific examples among too many others.

PAIR stands in solidarity with our staff members, clients, and our communities who are speaking out about the systemic racism that communities of color face on a daily basis.

We care deeply about racial justice.

We stand against the police brutality inflicted upon our Black community.

We stand against a criminal justice system that disproportionately targets Black Americans.

We stand against the mass incarceration of communities of color.

We stand against the widespread disempowerment of Black and Brown communities.

We continue to reflect on the ways in which we can support Black and Brown communities at this time, amplify and uplift black voices, and work to dismantle white supremacy and systems of oppression.


Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts

No one can be a defender of human rights or proponent of freedom while standing on the sidelines watching others fight for racial justice. It has always been time to be an anti-racist, but the recent murders of multiple Black people at the hands of police and armed vigilantes serve as a strong reminder that now is an especially critical time for all of us to lend our voices, our resources, our leverage, our influence, our hurt, and our belief in something much better to this current struggle – to Black Lives Matter. We must propel it forward and make this definitive turning point in history.


Rian Immigrant Center

Dear Friend,

We are profoundly saddened by the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and the many Black lives taken by the brutality of police forces throughout the United States. It is imperative that we work together to dismantle the unjust systems, and the racism and oppression that are deeply embedded within our society in all forms.

The Rian Immigrant Center welcomes families from more than 120 different countries across the globe, and we are concerned for the well being of our immigrant constituents of color. Our center will continue to actively fight racism and promote equity in our community. We are committed to fighting for racial justice, and we stand with the Black community, and people of color in protesting the injustice and violence they face.

Our Center will continue to provide vital resources to our underserved neighbors as we work towards a society where all are welcomed and valued, and have equal opportunities and protections.

Stand with us:

Educate yourself, suggested readings:
· Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad
· How To Be An Antiracist by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi
· The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

Support from home and take action:
· Ask your Mayor and City Council to hear your concerns
· Attend your (virtual) town halls
· Use your social media to have discussions about justice

Donate:
· Black Lives Matter (National Chapter)
· Color of Change
· NAACP Legal Defense Fund

In solidarity,

Ronnie and all at Rian


Veterans Legal Services

Dear Friends and Supporters,

The VLS team is pausing today in recognition of Juneteenth, the commemoration of the Union Army’s proclamation of the end of slavery on June 19, 1865. 155 years later, we reflect on this historic moment of emancipation, which holds unique significance for the Black members of our community.

The recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, demonstrate yet again that we must all do more to affirm the value of Black lives, reject racism, and work for change. VLS commits to doing so by continuing its work to reach marginalized veteran communities, condemning racism in all forms, lifting up the experiences of Black veterans, and working towards a more diverse board and staff.

Black Americans have served in the military with distinction throughout our nation’s history. A small handful of examples include Crispus Attucks in the American Revolution, the Massachusetts 54th Infantry Regiment in the Civil War, Charity Adams of the Six Triple Eight—a unit comprised entirely of Black women in WWII, the Tuskegee Airmen in WWII, Colin Powell in Vietnam and as the first African American Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr. the newly confirmed Air Force Chief of Staff and first Black American in history to lead a branch of the Armed Services, who spoke so powerfully about racism in “What I’m Thinking About,” a video released this month.

Civil Rights leaders like Hosea Williams of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and Medgar Evers of the Mississippi NAACP, are just two of many veterans who served bravely only to return home to be targeted with racially motivated violence. Evers survived the Battle of Normandy but was murdered after publicly demanding justice for Emmett Till. There are countless others.

Black servicemembers remain underrepresented in the military’s officer ranks and are more likely to be serving on the frontlines and sustain severe injuries that leave them facing lifelong disabilities and negative long-term health impacts. The fact that many military bases are named after Confederate leaders hurts the military’s recruitment and retention of diverse talent.

Since our country’s inception, Black and Brown people have risked their lives over and over again in defense of its democratic ideals, while having to simultaneously dispel negative stereotypes and break down innumerable barriers, both in service and at home. Today, the fastest growing demographics of our nation’s military are women and People of Color. VLS is proud to honor their service by working toward the goal of ensuring our veterans have equal access to justice. We hope that you will join us.

Sarah E. Roxburgh, Esq.
Co-Executive Director & Chief of Operations

Anna S. Richardson, Esq.
Co-Executive Director & Chief Counsel


Victim Rights Law Center

“I can’t breathe.”

Our hearts are shattered as another black man pleads, “I can’t breathe” in the final moments of his life as he is killed by police. We are sickened by this tragedy. We are enraged at the racism and white supremacy that make this – and far too many other murders – possible.

Black Lives Matter.

We grieve and mourn George Floyd’s death, but that is not enough. We remember and honor George Floyd and the countless other black people killed, not just by police brutality but by the entrenched and pervasive racism that is the bedrock of this violence. We see the injustice in the justice system.

At the Victim Rights Law Center, we stand in solidarity with our black communities. This is not simply a statement; it is an acknowledgement of our commitment to the long-term, hard work of racial justice. We know the shared roots of racism and gendered violence run deep. We see it with the disproportionate impact of sexual violence on black, indigenous, and other people of color; economic inequities; mass incarceration; harsher prison sentencing; and impoverished access to justice.

What can we do as a nonprofit law center? We commit to using a racial equity lens in providing legal services for sexual assault survivors. We commit to centering and listening to black voices. We commit to examining privilege and power; to naming how our work combatting rape, sexual assault, and gender-based violence is inextricably linked to the battle for racial justice. We commit to working towards dismantling white supremacy. We commit to using our privilege, power, and influence to speak out, and stand up as allies. We commit to work to end the scourge of racism that infects our systems and perpetuates police violence.

We demand police accountability and justice. George Floyd. Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. Matthew Ajibade. Paterson Brown. Eric Harris. William Chapman. Walter Scott. Christopher Whitfield. Atatiana Jefferson. Botham Jean. Countless more. Say their names with us. Honor their lives. Pursue equity relentlessly. Demand justice. Take action. We cannot let their deaths be in vain.

Black Lives Matter.


Walk in My Shoes: A Day in the Life of a Black Woman Attorney

By Danielle Johnson, Staff Attorney at Greater Boston Legal Services

If you approach the steps of the Edward Brooke Courthouse (named after the first African-American elected to the U.S. Senate since Reconstruction) around 8:45 A.M. on a Thursday morning—colloquially known as “Eviction Thursday” in Boston—there is a seemingly endless line of people, mostly in street clothes, waiting anxiously to get through the security screening. I approach, dressed in a suit and dress shoes with my hair neatly dreadlocked. I walk quickly past the lines of waiting litigants with my bar card and driver’s license in hand. I am a young African American woman and I am an attorney. In court, I am both an anomaly and a chameleon, depending on whom I encounter.

The Court: The Tale of Two Lines

The familiar discomfort starts outside the courthouse. To get through the door of the courthouse to the Eastern Housing Court sessions on the fifth floor, I must walk past the long lines of fellow people of color waiting to submit themselves to the security screening—that often includes an electronic pat-down—before being allowed in the building. It is my weekly routine to swallow the discomfort of the two lines; one short line for predominantly white attorneys and another longer line for the litigants, including my clients, predominantly people of color. I present my bar card and driver’s license, and after close inspection—notably which are not scrutinized for my white colleagues who flash their cards and proceed before me— I am allowed to pass the first test and enter the foyer of the marbled courthouse….

Read more in the Boston Bar Journal.

Know Your Rights: What Your Employer Must Do To Keep You Safe As You Return To Work

As Massachusetts begins to slowly reopen its economy, people who are not able to do their jobs remotely may be asked to return to work. This brings up a lot of questions around safety for businesses and workers alike, as not everyone may feel safe coming to the workplace…

If you are in a job that feels unsafe to continue doing, at some point, you may feel you have to evaluate whether you feel it’s worth the risk.

Elizabeth Whiteway, a senior attorney in the employment law unit at Greater Boston Legal Services, said she is hearing from a number of clients who are weighing the risks of their job versus their own health and safety.

“They could take [sick] time, but eventually, what they’re looking at is, is the establishment reopening in a way that is going to allow me to continue to have assurances about my own health and also my ability to protect anybody else I’m coming into contact with?” Whiteway said. “At that point, it might make sense for a worker to look at the unemployment options.” Read more from WBUR.

Letter: Community Legal Aid committed to helping low-income during COVID-19 crisis

Letter to the Editor of the Worcester Telegram:

As the COVID-19 pandemic tears through Massachusetts, some of our most vulnerable neighbors face an increased risk not only of health complications, but also of inequities stemming from the economic fallout. As an organization providing essential services, Community Legal Aid remains open and committed to helping low-income individuals, families, and the elderly navigate the unique legal challenges endemic to this unprecedented emergency.

As the crisis deepens, we are projecting an acute spike in requests for legal services across our service area (Worcester, Hampden, Hampshire, Franklin, and Berkshire counties). We are already seeing significant increases in many of our practice areas. For example, our employment experts are assisting clients who have been laid off or furloughed and are in need of legal assistance to access unemployment benefits or appeal wrongfully denied claims. Our housing attorneys are handling emergency cases for tenants, while our benefits advocates are assisting clients with accessing government benefits, such as food stamps. Our family law attorneys are already seeing an uptick in domestic violence cases and are representing survivors in securing restraining orders to keep them and their children safe. Finally, our education attorneys are helping families get remote school services in place for their children with special needs.

At the core of Community Legal Aid’s mission is the belief in equal justice for all. The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the importance of this commitment, while simultaneously exposing the critical shortage in resources available to meet the increased need. Now more than ever, we are proud to serve our client communities as we continue to fight for justice for our most vulnerable neighbors. If you are a low-income or elderly person facing a civil legal issue arising from the coronavirus crisis, please reach out to Community Legal Aid – we are here to help.

Jonathan L. Mannina, Esq.
Executive director, Community Legal Aid

For Most Food Stamp Users, Online Shopping Isn’t an Option

Whether they need more yeast for stress baking or the comfort of Kraft macaroni and cheese, Americans sequestered by social distancing are shopping for groceries online. But for many low-income households using food stamps, that can happen only in person.

About 38 million people receive benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, but how they can use them is often limited by technology or government policy. That means they must walk the aisles, increasing the possibility of coronavirus exposure for a group of Americans that includes the poor, older people and those with disabilities.

Ariel Smith, 23, has a connective tissue syndrome that makes it difficult for her to work, and the idea of visiting a store makes her nervous.

She receives about $195 in SNAP benefits each month, but her state does not offer a way to use that money online. Most don’t, although Texas and several other states have recently signed up for a pilot program that would expand that access.

Congress authorized the pilot program six years ago, but it got off the ground only last year — and advocates for low-income Americans say it could have made a bigger difference during the pandemic if the government and other stakeholders had moved faster.

“It should have happened yesterday, and it should be accessible to everyone,” said Patricia Baker, a senior policy analyst at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, an advocacy group for low-income people…. Read more from the New York Times.