An Open Letter from the Legal Services Staff Association 2320:
We are members of the Legal Services Staff Association 2320—a union representing secretaries, paralegals, receptionists, process servers, social workers, attorneys and other non-management employees of Legal Services NYC (LSNYC) and Mobilization for Justice (MFJ). We serve low-income persons and communities throughout New York City in a wide-range of civil legal matters.
LSSA 2320 joins in the nationwide calls for an end to police brutality and systemic racism, and we stand with the many protesters who have poured into the streets nationwide to demand dignity and justice for Black people. We are proud that many of our own members have joined these historic protests. However, on May 30, 2020 while protesting the murder of George Floyd and systemic police brutality one of our members, Urooj Rahman, together with Colinford (“Colin”) Mattis were arrested. We write to express our deep concern with the federal government’s aggressive charging and pursuit of pre-trial detention of Urooj Rahman—a staff attorney in the Housing Unit at Bronx Legal Services, a branch of LSNYC and a respected member of the Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, community; and Colin Mattis—a public interest oriented attorney and respected community member of East New York in Brooklyn.
We believe that the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) aggressive efforts to jail and prosecute Urooj and Colin are a gross overreach of federal law enforcement power and an attempt to stifle and delegitimize dissent against police brutality. Urooj and Colin are facing charges of attempting to burn an unoccupied, already damaged New York City Police Department (NYPD) vehicle during protests. As a result of the DOJ’s aggressive prosecution, these attorneys are languishing in federal jail and facing federal charges that carry a forty-five-year mandatory minimum sentence. These aggressive tactics are politically motivated and are an attempt to make an example out of Urooj and Colin for alleged acts in which no one was harmed.
Urooj is a graduate of Fordham College and Law School, and she has dedicated her entire professional career toward advocating for racial and economic justice and serving marginalized members of our society. She has long been engaged in advocacy against the policing of Black and Brown communities in New York City, and the targeting and surveillance of Muslim communities after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center. More recently, Urooj represented low-income tenants facing eviction in Bronx Housing Court. While at Bronx Legal Services, she has demonstrated the utmost compassion for her clients and respect for her colleagues, adversaries, and court personnel. She is a skilled and hard-working attorney with a caring disposition who is always willing to do everything in her power to help her clients and their families remain housed. At home, Urooj is a loving daughter, sister, aunt, and friend. She lives with and cares for her elderly mother in Bay Ridge, the neighborhood where she grew up.
Since her arrest, certain media coverage about Urooj has unfairly focused on her Muslim faith and Pakistani origin with shameful anti-Muslim and xenophobic connotations. The implications of this narrative are irrelevant, unacceptable, and inconsistent with her faith, compassion for others, and exemplary moral character.
Colin is a devoted advocate for Black and Latinx youth, and his commitment to race equity has profoundly enriched his communities. While at Princeton University, he served as the President of the Princeton Black Student Union. As a law student at New York University, Colin spent his time volunteering for the legal representation of youth facing incarceration and for low-income families facing separation by the child welfare system. Since graduating from law school, he has been recognized by Her Justice for his outstanding pro bono advocacy for low income women. After the recent death of his mother, Colin took on the responsibility of raising three young foster siblings and provided emotional and financial support for his family.
George Floyd and Breonna Taylor’s murders have forced this country to reckon with its history of systemic anti-Blackness. People across the country and abroad are mourning and protesting in solidarity over the lives cut short by brutal police violence and lack of accountability. In response to national uprisings, the Trump Administration has attempted to distract us from the very real problems of police brutality. For example, this administration has promoted conspiracy theories about Martin Gugino, the 75-year old protestor who is now hospitalized with a fractured skull after he was assaulted by Buffalo police. The government’s over-zealous prosecution here is an attempt to use excessive charges as a weapon to silence the voices of those calling for the change that this country needs.
The two experienced federal judges who presided over Urooj and Colin’s arraignments, District Judge Brodie and Magistrate Judge Gold, issued well-reasoned decisions based on a wide-range of facts presented in their hearings. They thoroughly considered the facts that formed the basis of the charges against Urooj and Colin, as well as their extensive family and community ties, their unblemished record as public servants, their innumerable contributions to our society, and their high moral characters. After a careful weighing of all these factors, both judges found that Urooj and Colin should be released with electronic monitoring and home confinement. Urooj and Colin fully complied with these conditions in the days between their release and the date on which the government’s motion for a stay of the judges’ orders to release them on bond was granted. This has resulted in Urooj and Colin’s reincarceration in the midst of a global pandemic at least until the government’s appeal of Judge Gold and Judge Brodie’s original orders is heard and decided. We firmly believe that Judge Brodie and Judge Gold’s decisions to release Urooj and Colin were correct, and that they should be released immediately.
In sharp contrast, Derek Chauvin—the white police officer who murdered George Floyd and who has a history of using violent, excessive force —was released on bail. Urooj Rahman— a Brown woman from an immigrant background, and Colin Mattis, a Black man—harmed no person and had no prior encounters with the criminal justice system, yet are confined during a pandemic in a federal jail: an institution that disproportionately detains Black and Brown community members, and has systematically failed to protect detainees from COVID-19. Therefore, we, the undersigned, stand in solidarity with Urooj and Colin in the strongest terms and call on the federal government to immediately drop these politically motivated charges and their aggressive pursuit of detention without bail.
Questions may be directed to the Legal Services Staff Association’s Executive Committee.
The Legal Services Staff Association