Join Us for NLG-NYC Spring Fling 2015!

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Honoree Bios

Soffiyah Elijah is the Executive Director of the Correctional Association of New York. She is the first woman and the first person of color to lead this extraordinary organization in its mission to create a fairer and more humane criminal justice system. Under her leadership, we now celebrate our 170th anniversary.  Ms. Elijah has dedicated her life to human rights and social activism, and is a frequent presenter at national and international forums on criminal justice policy and human rights issues.  An accomplished advocate, attorney, scholar, and educator, Ms. Elijah has practiced criminal and family law for more than 30 years.   Prior to leading the Correctional Association, Ms. Elijah served as Deputy Director and Clinical Instructor at the Criminal Justice Institute at Harvard Law School. Before moving to Harvard, she was a member of the faculty and Director and Supervising Attorney of the Defender Clinic at the City University of New York School of Law.  Ms. Elijah has also worked as a Supervising Attorney at the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, a Staff Attorney at the Juvenile Rights Division of the Legal Aid Society, and in private practice.

Michelle Lewin is a 2L at CUNY School of Law. Born and raised in Atlanta, Michelle has been active in prison abolition and racial justice work since 2005. Prior to law school, Michelle worked for the Fortune Society in their Alternatives to Incarceration program, and in 2013, she co-founded the Parole Preparation Project of the NLG’s Mass Incarceration Committee. She has been part of the Project’s Coordinating Committee ever since, training volunteers and working alongside incarcerated folks in New York State in their struggle for parole release. She has also organized workshops on facilitation, group process and alternative decision-making skills and is active in her Brooklyn women’s group. Michelle believes strongly in movements for collective liberation that prioritize collaboration, grassroots leadership and love.

Daniel L. Meyers, a 1966 graduate of Brooklyn Law School, recently retired after serving  on the Criminal Justice Act panels of the Eastern and Southern Districts of New York for 37 years.  While in law school, he interned with the President’s Task Force War on Poverty under Sargent Shriver, which lead to the creation of the Office of Economic Opportunity’s Legal Services (known by its acronym, “OEO Legal Services.”)  Danny was an original member of the Guild’s Mass Defense Committee in 1968, under the leadership of Mary Kaufman.

Awarded a “Reggie” fellowship, Danny began work at South Brooklyn Legal Services  in 1968.  In his long career, he represented members of the Black Panthers, the Young Lords and other political prisoners.  In 2000, he and five other Guild lawyers, Dennis Cunningham, Michael Deutsch, Elizabeth Fink, Joseph Heath and Ellen Yacknin were given the Lawyer of the Year Award by the Trial Lawyers for Justice for their 26-year battle to secure justice for the prisoner victims of Attica.  The prisoner’s 1971 uprising against brutality and racism was violently suppressed by Governor Rockefeller who ordered state troopers to retake the prison, killing 29 unarmed prisoners and torturing and brutalizing scores more.  The state finally settled in 2000, paying out $12 million for civil rights violations.  This was after the Second Circuit nullified their trial victories, including a $4 million jury verdict awarded to Frank BB Smith in 1997.

As Chapter President  from 2006 – 2009, Danny facilitated intergenerational participation and leadership.

Michael Steven Smith is a New York City attorney and author. For the last 10 years he has been a co-host with Michael Ratner and Heidi Boghosian of the radio show Law and Disorder which is heard on WBAI and 71 stations across the country. Smith is the author or editor of a number of books including most recently with Michael Ratner “Who Killed Che: How the CIA Got Away With Murder” and with Frances Goldin and Debby Smith  “Imagine:  Living in a Socialist USA”.   The Cuban publishing house Ciencias Sociales translated and published his book on Che, which was featured at the 2015 Havana International Book Fair, where it was presented at the University of Havana Lae School by Ricardo Alarcon, the former President of the Cuban National Assembly, who also contributed the introduction.  The book is dedicated to his friend Len Weinglass, the main attorney for the Cuban Five, for whose release Smith worked.  Smith also wrote “Notebook of a Sixties Lawyer:  An Unrepentant Memoir” and a book about Guild lawyers called “Lawyers You’ll Like”.

He has been a member of the National Lawyers Guild since the 60s when he started a movement law firm in Detroit. Before going into private practice in New York City representing seriously injured persons he worked at Harlem Legal Services, Queens Legal Services, and directed Seafarers Legal Services.

Smith was educated at the University of Wisconsin.  He lives in New York City with his wife Debby and talking parrot Charlie Parker.




NLG-NYC Mass Defense Committee Rejects New NYPD Protest Unit

NLG-NYC Mass Defense Committee Condemns NYPD Proposal to Create a Special Operations Unit to Handle Demonstrations, Urges City Council to Reject Additional Funding.

For Immediate Release

March 9, 2015 – New York – In response to the Black Lives Matter protests in NYC, Police Commissioner Bratton announced the proposed formation of a massive new Strategic Response Group (SRG) that would handle future demonstrations or “civil disorders”. The plain intent of such a surge in police resources is to suffocate political dissent, especially among those New Yorkers already most susceptible to police attention. The National Lawyers Guild-NYC Mass Defense Committee condemns such a proposal, and urges the City Council to reject additional funding for the SRG.

By way of comparison, the size (and additional cost) of this new 550-officer force would be several times the number of officers budgeted for the entire Community Affairs Bureau (182 officers in 2014); larger than the entire current Counterterrorism Division (budgeted for 482 officers in 2014) and likewise larger than the entire Intelligence Division. Over the next five years the cumulative expense for this surge would certainly cost New Yorkers hundreds of millions of dollars. This will not increase the safety of New York City’s communities, and will drain financial resources from those communities already most in need.

The character of this proposed unit is also alarming. Deploying large-scale, paramilitary-style, “tactical” forces from the Special Operations Division in New York’s neighborhoods would contradict a community-based approach that draws on the officers of the neighborhoods’ Precincts and Boroughs – an approach that, until now, has often been proudly cited by NYPD’s own leadership as a distinctive character of policing in New York. Indeed, the proposal would adopt the very same discredited Special Operations approach taken in Ferguson, Missouri, widely criticized as contributing to the escalation of violence and destruction.

These are not the reforms the NYPD needs, or that New Yorkers have been demanding. Rather, this targeting of demonstrators threatens to chill protest at a time when a new generation of young black and brown leadership is sounding its voice, along with the wide spectrum of New Yorkers seen in the streets during the December 13 Black Lives Matter march. The SRG, rather, sends the message “Black-led civil rights struggles must be quelled, by any means necessary.”

NYPD has said that they would make these new tactical forces available to Precincts and Borough commands on occasions when the SRG is not otherwise on call or carrying out the necessary continuous training. However, even for these uses, NYPD’s experience with other tactical forces, such as the tragedies of the Street Crimes Unit, have proven that highly tactical forces, trained and equipped for confrontation, are not easily integrated into the day-to-day needs of the Precinct Commanders or the neighborhoods they serve.

In summary, the Strategic Response Group proposal is unjustifiably massive, dangerous in its approach, and wasteful. Ferguson should not be the model for policing protest in New York City. To amplify the voices of New Yorkers and support safe communities, the City Council must reject the Strategic Response Group proposal.

The Mass Defense Committee of the New York City chapter of the National Lawyers Guild was created in the spring of 1968 in response to Vietnam war protests and arrests at Columbia University. Over the intervening decades, the MDC has provided Legal Observers at thousands of demonstrations and appeared in court for thousands arrested as they marched and rallied for civil rights, immigration rights, economic justice, reproductive rights, or against police misconduct and war. For more information on the Committee, click here.




Elena Cohen, Esq.
National Lawyers Guild – NYC Chapter (“NLG-NYC”) President

Gideon Oliver, Esq.
NLG-NYC President Emeritus

Mark Taylor, Esq.
NLG-NYC Vice-President

Attorneys associated with the New York City Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild ( representing several people injured late last week when NYPD officers deployed a Long Range Acoustic Device (“LRAD”) in Midtown Manhattan delivered a letter to New York Police Commissioner William Bratton today demanding that the NYPD refrain from using the LRAD for crowd control purposes without first conducting thorough, independent testing, and developing appropriate written and public guidelines for training, use, reporting, and oversight requirements regarding the LRAD.

Their clients were participating in, observing, or documenting anti-police brutality protests in the wake of the Staten Island grand jury’s failure to indict NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo in connection with the death of Eric Garner when officers from the Department’s Disorder Control Unit (“DCU”) deployed the LRAD.

According to the DCU, the LRAD can be used for communication or as an “area denial” tool, emitting a piercing sound ranging from a maximum of between 136 to 162 decibels, depending on the model. Under National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health guidelines, exposures to sounds at levels greater than 85 decibels may cause hearing loss. According to DCU documents themselves, in the “dangerous range (above 120 decibels), the device can cause damage to someone’s hearing and may be painful.”

The NYPD has had LRADs since 2004. A 2011 Freedom of Information Law request has shown that as of September 2012 the NYPD had not implemented any training standards or guidelines for use of the LRAD.

Attorneys Gideon Oliver, Elena L. Cohen, and Mark C. Taylor contend that officers utilized the LRAD unconstitutionally and dangerously, without having first conducted appropriate studies, created appropriate policies and oversight mechanisms relating to safety and appropriate use of force, and trained officers in them.

Copies of the letter and other related documents are available upon request.

NLG-NYC Condemns Failure to Indict NYPD Officer for Murder of Eric Garner

National Lawyers Guild – New York City Chapter (NLG-NYC) Condemns Failure to Indict NYPD Officer for Murder of Eric Garner

For Immediate Release

December 3, 2014 – New York – The National Lawyers Guild – New York City Chapter (NLG-NYC) condemns the failure of a New York grand jury to indict NYPD officer Danny Pantaleo for the murder of Staten Island father and husband Eric Garner. Though Officer Pantaleo was caught on tape using a chokehold on Mr. Garner -a dangerous technique that the NYPD banned in 1993 after numerous people were killed in police custody-  the grand jury found that there was no probable cause to charge Pantaleo.

“As a former NYS Supreme Court Judge it is disheartening to know that in our system of justice a man can be strangled in the street and there are no consequences to the perpetrators,” said retired New York judge and NLG-NYC board member Emily Jane Goodman.

The police accosted Mr. Garner because they claimed that he was selling loose cigarettes. Mr. Garner’s death is yet another tragedy that evidences the failure of the neoconservative “broken windows” theory. New York Police Commissioner William Bratton embraces that theory, though it has only resulted in the over-policing of Black and Latino communities, and the incarceration of people in these communities for relatively minor infractions. The Chapter expresses its deepest condolences to the family of Mr. Garner.

The killing of Mr. Garner is no anomaly. The NYPD and police departments around the country routinely terrorize communities of color. The announcement by the grand jury in this case comes only a week after the grand jury decision in the Michael Brown case, which sparked protests around the country and around the world. This passionate response is not merely in response to one man murdered, but to a legacy of extrajudicial killing of Black men and women in the United States. In 2012 the advocacy group Malcolm X Grassroots Movement published a report titled Every 28 Hours which documents the almost daily extrajudicial killing of Black people by police, security guards and vigilantes in the United States.

The NLG-NYC calls on the Department of Justice to bring charges against Officer Pantaleo. Further, the NLG-NYC demands that the NYPD respect the rights of people to protest.

The National Lawyers Guild, founded in 1937, is the oldest and largest public interest/human rights bar organization in the United States.



Animal Rights Action Committee Social Justice Cookbook Now On Sale!

Purchase a copy of the ARAC Social Justice Cookbook today!

In the 1970’s, the National Lawyers Guild compiled members’ favorite recipes and published the Guild’s first-ever Social Justice Cookbook.  The last copy was sold at the 2013 Spring Fling.  Now, the NYC Chapter of the NLG Animal Rights Activism Committee is thrilled to announce the completion of an updated edition of this radical cookbook, highlighting how today’s struggles against oppression and inequality are directly related to what we eat.

The personal is political. Each time we sit down to eat, we make not solely a personal choice, but also a political one.  This second edition of the Social Justice Cookbook, which includes recipes from NLG members as well as former and current political prisoners, addresses a variety of food justice issues, including environmental issues, sustainability, affordable access to healthy food as a right and not a privilege, and animal liberation.

As with other food justice and social justice issues, eating animals is no more a personal choice than oppressing other humans is a personal “choice”.  This cookbook aims to show animals as living, loving, and loved individuals, rather than as meals.  On a broader scale, we hope this cookbook begins to make long-overdue connections between the radical Left and animal liberation.  If we are truly an anti-oppression movement, then we stand in solidarity with all beings subjected to violence and oppression worldwide: the undocumented, the incarcerated, communities of color, the occupied, political dissidents, and those whose bodies are treated merely as reproductive machines, fabric, entertainment, food, and for scientific torture/experimentation. We hope that, next time you sit down to eat, you make compassionate choices–and we hope that this cookbook helps you do that.


Social Justice Cookbook

NLG-NYC and CCR Call on New York Assembly to Oppose Anti-Boycott Bill

NLG-NYC and CCR Appeal to New York Assembly to Oppose Anti-Boycott Bill

Advocates Argue Bill Violates First Amendment

January 31, 2014, New York – The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the National Lawyers Guild- New York City Chapter (NLG-NYC) sent New York Assembly Members a letter urging them to oppose pending legislation that would deny state funding to colleges and universities that fund membership and activities in organizations supporting boycotts of a list of countries, including Israel.  According to the legislation’s sponsors, the bills S.6438 (passed in the state Senate on January 28) and A.8392 (on the agenda of the Assembly’s Higher Education Committee February 4th) were drafted in response to the American Studies Association’s recent resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions.

“The New York legislature’s anti-boycott bills are unconstitutional, a threat to academic freedom, and a disgrace,” said Maria LaHood, Senior Staff Attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights.  “The bills’ sponsors have not even tried to veil their intent to stop concerned citizens from using a nonviolent and historical tool for social change, because it’s aimed at Israel’s policies.”

The CCR and NLG-NYC letter urges lawmakers to recognize that denying state aid based on such protected speech violates the First Amendment and threatens academic freedom.  It stresses that boycotts to bring about political, social and economic change are protected speech under the First Amendment, and warns that legislation to deny public funding in response to the assertion of unpopular views would likely face Constitutional challenges.  The letter also notes that legislation to punish boycotts of the South African apartheid regime “would have been an unacceptable outcome then, and it is an unacceptable outcome now.”

“Regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with a cause that a boycott is addressing, or whether a boycott is an appropriate way to address that cause, the First Amendment right to engage in a boycott aimed at bringing about political and social change must be upheld and protected,” said Elena Cohen, President of the NLG-NYC.

The American Studies Association endorsed a resolution in December, 2013 to boycott Israeli institutions in protest of the Israeli occupation and Israel’s discriminatory laws and policies towards Palestinian students and scholars in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and inside Israel.  The ASA resolution calling for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions is available here, and an explanation of the resolution is available here.

See the full letter to Assembly Members.

See CCR’s statement on the bill’s passage in the New York state senate.

For more information on the legality of academic boycott, please see Palestinian Solidarity Legal Support’s frequently asked questions.


NLG-NYC Announces Historic Settlement in RNC 2004 Civil Cases

On January 15, 20014, RNC 04 civil plaintiffs, their attorneys, and members of the legal support team, including NLG Legal Observers, held a press conference on the steps of City Hall to announce the settlement in the 2004 RNC civil cases.  The settlement is the largest in U.S. history arising from the mass arrests of protesters.  Read the full Statement by Attorneys for the Plaintiffs here.  Former Chapter President, Martin R. Stolar, pictured, spoke on behalf on the NLG-NYC. Read his remarks here. The press release by the NLG-NYC can be read here.