Communities of color across the United States are under siege by an unforgiving criminal legal system. This system is made possible by racist laws that criminalize even the most minor actions, powerful and expansive law enforcement that harass, assault and murder with impunity, biased prosecutors and judges that make discretionary decisions, and a carceral system that serves as a disposal system.
In order for our communities to thrive, we need to divest from local policing and incarceration systems and invest in community resources like education, mental health, housing and employment. Our communities need more control and voice to create transformative change in our laws, institutions, and narratives that shape how we view and practice safety.
Advancement Project’s Justice Project supports grassroots movements in communities of color that challenge racial criminalization and attack all aspects of the criminal legal system, forefronting police. We help local campaigns seeking not simply to reform, but to wholly dismantle systems that criminalize and incarcerate people of color in the name of “law and order.” We support racial justice grassroots organizers through research, policy advocacy, litigation, political education, and strategic communications in cities across the country. We aim to help impacted communities define the terms and control the means by which safety is realized in their streets and neighborhoods and to re-imagine for themselves how safety is pursued.
The Justice Project’s work has included supporting grassroots groups in: challenging Stop & Frisk tactics and cash bail; implementing bail outs; closing jails and fighting expansions; training lawyers to represent survivors of police violence; and seeking release of people detained pretrial in the midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic.
We also work to shift narratives around safety through strategic communications in an effort to create new models for safety, while dismantling existing structures of white supremacy, including creating narrative shifting content like How Cops Get Off. How Cops Get Off is a three-part animated video series developed by the Advancement Project. Narrated by our board member, Jesse Williams, each four-minute video in the series breaks down a major structure in our culture and laws that keep cops in power and unaccountable: the dominant narratives in tv shows, movies, and news, the protectors within our criminal legal system like prosecutors and police associations, and the laws that shield cops from accountability like qualified immunity.
History of Justice Project:
Advancement Project has long collaborated with organizers and activists to combat the systemic racism of the criminal legal system. We have pioneered work to expose and end the school-to-prison pipeline and school-based arrests, including building and nurturing a grassroots movement of parents and youth. After Amadou Diallo was murdered by police d in New York City, we published a report with PolicyLink on promising community policing practices in an effort to provide tools to organizers challenging police policies and practices. For several years thereafter, Advancement Project supported a group of ministers as they sought reform of NYPD, providing legal, policy, organizing and communications assistance. Advancement Project relied upon its skill as an emergency responder to assist the Dream Defenders after the acquittal of George Zimmerman, staying with them during the 31-day takeover of the Florida capitol during which time we provided communications support and drafted Trayvon’s Law, a proposal developed by young people. Similarly, in Ferguson, Baltimore, Baton Rouge, and Charlotte, Advancement Project staff provided crisis response and longer-term capacity-building support to local organizations.
These pivotal moments generated a new wave of movement resistance against racist policing practices as well as the entire criminal legal system. While systemic reform has gained mainstream support in the wake of high-profile police killings, these efforts did not go far enough. Reforms lacked an authentic connection to organizing, forcing communities to rely on system actors to implement the changes. As a result, the criminal legal system simply recalibrated to reproduce the same results. Further, many politicians have turned back the clock and fortified the police state in communities of color. In response, Advancement Project continues to support local grassroots efforts in challenging policing and incarceration systems.