In A Flash

Two Louisiana law school clinics join ACLU of Louisiana’s effort to curb racist policing

By: - July 9, 2020 2:17 pm

A scene in Minnesota after George Floyd died in the custody of Minneapolis police and residents erupted in anger. Floyd’s death sparked a wave of protests across the country and renewed calls for police reform. (Photo by Tony Webster/Minnesota Reformer)

In Episode 2 of the Louisiana Illuminator podcast, Kenneth Polite, former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana, talks to host Julie O’Donoghue about the decision made by Morgan Lewis law firm, where Polite is a partner, to join with 17 other firms and the ACLU of Louisiana to help people file lawsuits related to police misconduct. “The claims have either been unlitigated because of cost or perhaps they’ve been ignored by prosecutors or by investigators, and we will, on a pro bono basis, be taking up those claims and pressing them forward,” Polite said.

Since Polite spoke to the Illuminator, additional law firms have joined  the project called Justice Lab: Putting Racist Policing on Trial, and according to the state ACLU, there are now a total of 34 firms involved in the effort.  But in addition to those firms, 14 law school clinics are now participating, including two in Louisiana: Southern University Law Center’s Externship Program and Tulane Law School’s Civil Rights & Federal Practice Clinic.

“We are investing early in exposing young lawyers to impact litigation,” said Alanah Odoms, executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana. “In partnering with both law-school clinics and law firms, Justice Lab seeks to train the next generation of lawyers in civil-rights litigation.”

Odoms said the goal of the project is to “end the epidemic of legally sanctioned racist police violence and help promote a safer and more just future for all.”

On May 25 in Minneapolis, Minn., police officer Derek Chauvin pinned to the ground a man suspected of using a counterfeit $20 bill. George Floyd died after Chauvin pressed his knee on the suspect’s neck for almost nine minutes.  Since then, decision makers in multiple municipalities, multiple state capitals and in Washington, D.C., have been discussing how to best reform the police. Senate Republicans introduced a police reform bill that was promptly blocked by Senate Democrats.  Democrats in the House then passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, a tougher police reform measure that Republicans in the Senate are expected to reject.

Louisiana lawmakers passed the Police Training, Screening, and De-escalation Task Force. That group, which is expected to meet by August 15,” has been asked to “propose legislation to address the disparate treatment of people of color by law enforcement agencies.”






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Jarvis DeBerry
Jarvis DeBerry

Jarvis DeBerry, former editor of the Louisiana Illuminator, spent 22 years at The Times-Picayune (and later as a crime and courts reporter, an editorial writer, columnist and deputy opinions editor. He was on the team of Times-Picayune journalists awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service after that team’s coverage of Hurricane Katrina and the deadly flood that followed. In addition to the shared Pulitzer, DeBerry has won awards from the Louisiana Bar Association for best trial coverage and awards from the New Orleans Press Club, the Louisiana/ Mississippi Associated Press and the National Association of Black Journalists for his columns. A collection of his Times-Picayune columns, “I Feel to Believe” was published by the University of New Orleans Press in September 2020.