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Lawyers Stage Protest, Demand Changes to Criminal Justice System

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Lawyers perform a die-in on the steps of the Stanley Mosk Courthouse in downtown Los Angeles. | Photo: Courtesy Josh Kamensky
Lawyers perform a die-in on the steps of the Stanley Mosk Courthouse in downtown Los Angeles. | Photo: Courtesy Josh Kamensky

There's nothing new about die-ins, in which protesters lie on the ground and pretend to be dead, but this may be a first with this kind of theme: professional lawyers strewn across the steps of a courthouse in downtown Los Angeles -- all while rain drizzled from above.

It was the latest in recent Los Angeles protests reacting to grand jury decisions not to charge police officers over the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, and Eric Garner in New York City. Organizers estimate over 250 participated in the event at the Stanley Mosk Courthouse.

And it wasn't just a die-in to show support and solidarity. It came with demands.

Lawyers protesting at the Stanley Mosk Courthouse. | Photo: Courtesy Helen Yum/Lawyers for Black Lives

"As legal actors, we are sworn to uphold and enforce the law, so we have a responsibility to condemn the racist criminal justice system of which we are a part," said Loyola Law School Professor and event co-organizer Priscilla Ocen in a statement. "Today we must challenge this structure and take a stand against it."

Among the demands is the creation of citizen review boards that could meaningfully oversee law enforcement agencies and conduct investigations. Meaningful as in more than advancing recommendations to elected officials, but having the authority to discipline officers after public hearings about use of force cases. One such board could soon be overseeing the L.A. County Sheriff's Department as it was created earlier this month. Its powers on such matters, however, have yet to be determined.

Another demand is to formalize data on fatal use of force incidents at the local, state, and federal levels, with data points separated for race, age, and gender. A comprehensive reporting system does not currently exist, yet it's likely to become a reality as Congress reauthorized the Death in Custody Reporting Act last week. It now awaits a signature from President Obama.

Today's die-in was the first event organized by Lawyers for Black Lives, a group formed by friends who graduated from UCLA's law school. "We see this legal system where time and time again, these horrible racist tragedies are upheld as legal or found to be legal over and over," said co-organizer Carmina Ocampo. "We couldn't stand idly by and just watch this all happening."

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