Massachusetts Legal Community Holds Black Lives Matter Day of Action

By Benjamin Evans, Northeast Regional Co-RVP

On February 25, lawyers and law students—many of them Guild members—spoke out in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement in a day of action coordinated by the NLG Massachusetts Chapter. The statewide day of action held outside courthouses across Massachusetts was a show of solidarity in response to the Black youth-led movement that emerged following the police murder of Mike Brown last August in Ferguson, Missouri.

Across our Commonwealth, from Springfield, to Lowell, to Somerville, to Roxbury, to Worcester, to Fall River to the Brooke courthouse in Boston, NLG members—especially law students—played a key role in the day’s success. Students from Suffolk and Northeastern came to demonstrate at the District Court in Roxbury. Tifanei Nikol Ressl-Moyer, a student at New England School of Law, where she is reviving the NLG student chapter, brought a large contingent to the Boston event. NLG law students Tasha Marshall and Tyler Ingraham organized a large group of law students from Western New England University School of Law, who demonstrated in front of the Hampden County Courthouses in Springfield.

Legal workers, law students, and attorneys outside the Edward Brooke Courthouse in Boston. (Photo: Carlton Williams)

The Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law and the Black Law Students Association at Northeastern University both endorsed the event. The demonstrations also gave us an opportunity to work with other progressive legal organizations in our state. The ACLU of Massachusetts and the Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders also endorsed.

That day, the Guild was uniquely positioned to take a leading role.

The oldest racially integrated national bar association in the country, the NLG has stood firm against racism and white supremacy when other legal professionals were less visible. We recognize that the notion that “Black lives matter” contradicts a founding assumption of the U.S. empire—that Black lives don’t matter, and that the aspirations and even the identities of African people are inconsequential.

When the American Bar Association was still segregated, Guild lawyers were opposing lynching. Guild lawyers fought racial discrimination in cases such as Hansberry v. Lee. And it was the Guild’s work in the post-WWII movement for civil rights that helped to revive the Guild after the Red Scares and repression of the 1950s. In the 1960s, the Guild set up offices in the South and organized thousands of volunteer lawyers and law students to support the civil rights movement long before the federal government or other bar associations became involved. Guild members challenged the seating of the all-white Mississippi delegation at the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City. The Guild represented many Black and New Afrikan activists targeted by COINTELPRO, and today we continue to advocate for political prisoners like Sundiata Acoli, Mutulu Shakur and Janine Africa.

A unique organization, the NLG welcomes members representing diverse swaths of the legal profession—including not just attorneys, but also law students, legal workers, and jailhouse lawyers. We are well positioned and in a sense, responsible, to organize those who work with the law in solidarity with progressive struggles.

Another reason we were successful is that we were able to organize lawyers, law students and legal workers not just in Boston, but also beyond Route 128, in the Pioneer Valley and the South Coast and throughout Massachusetts.

Hopefully we can build on these same strengths throughout the northeast region, and across North America. Let’s continue to fight racism! Let’s continue moving forward! ■

Featured Image: The American Friends Service Committee of Western Mass. turn out in Springfield on Feb. 25.