SAN FRANCISCO —More than 200 public defenders and allies held a “hands up, don’t shoot” protest Dec. 18 on the steps of San Francisco’s criminal courthouse to show support for racial justice and stand in solidarity with protesters in New York, Ferguson and around the country.
While San Francisco public defenders rallied outside 850 Bryant St., public defenders in Alameda, Contra Costa, Santa Clara and Solano counties staged similar actions at their county courthouses.
Speakers included Cephus Johnson, uncle of Oscar Grant and founder of the Oscar Grant Foundation; Deputy Public Defender Chris Hite, co-chair of the San Francisco Public Defender’s Racial Justice Committee, which organized the rally; and Yolanda Jackson, executive director of the Bar Association of San Francisco and the executive director of the Justice & Diversity Center.
“There are few organizations in the United States that have closer ties to the black and brown members of our society than the public defender offices through the nation,” said Hite. “We felt it was essential to cast a light upon the racial injustices of the black and brown in our communities and to celebrate the notion that black and brown lives matter.”
The Racial Justice Committee was formed in 2013 to address racial disparities in the criminal justice system and to advocate for reform in police detentions and arrests, prosecutorial charging and sentencing. The committee has partnered with the University of Pennsylvania Law School’s Quattrone Center to study the impact of race on the criminal justice system in San Francisco.
San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi called for accountability on behalf of victims of racial profiling and police brutality.
“As public defenders, it our responsibility to ensure that there is justice for all in the courts,” he said. “We are here to say that our criminal justice system has no credibility when it fails to hold police officers accountable for the killing of black and brown people.”
Jackson said lawyers will be key to bringing about change.
“San Francisco attorneys are known for being brilliant legal minds. We are lawyers with a heart in this city and we are often national leaders on very tough issues. This time should be no different,” she said. “Lawyers work within the justice system every day. We understand the justice system and in fact in many ways we help to design the justice system through our work.”
The Racial Justice Committee is currently working on a plan for police department reform in light of the recent spate of unarmed black men around the country.