Georgia Justice Project (GJP) stands in solidarity with those who are lifting their voices to decry the recent incidents of racially-motivated violence against people of color. We stand with the families and communities of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and countless others who have lost their lives or who have been traumatized by a criminal legal system that is infected with racism at every level. For nearly 35 years, GJP has represented individuals who are facing criminal charges and helped people clean up their criminal record. We know based on our experience that the protests we are witnessing across the country, and in our very own community, reflect the accumulated anguish, pain and frustration not only with these recent cases, but with the daily injustice of that criminal legal system – a system that disproportionately polices black people, that charges black people more harshly, that is more likely to convict you if you are black, and that is more likely to mark black people with a permanent criminal record that denies access to opportunity.
Our hearts are heavy and we are struggling. At times like this it becomes apparent just how little progress we have made. We have been fortunate to stand with our clients over the years and see the difference that zealous advocacy and support can make in an individual’s life, but the lack of systemic improvement seems overwhelming. In spite of some improvements, Georgia continues to stand out for the wrong reasons. For example, as a state we have the highest rate of correctional control in the nation. 1 in 18 Georgians is either in prison, in jail, on probation, or on parole at any given time – a rate that is double the national average. The state’s probation sentences are about three times longer than the national average. Systemic change is needed here at home, as it is nationwide, and we look forward to working with allies to demand that change.
In the current moment, GJP is showing up in the way we always have to advocate for individuals. We recognize the rights of protestors to collectively raise their voice against instances of police brutality and, by extension, the brutality of the criminal justice system. We are working with partners to ensure that arrested protesters receive the representation they are entitled to.
Starting this week GJP has,
- Mobilized all staff attorneys to represent protestors at their first court appearance outside of our normal client review process. Atlanta City Public Defenders pulled out of first appearance representation in March due to lack of proper safety measures as a result of COVID-19 and individuals have been left without attorneys.
- After initial hearings, we will consider full representation (we have already taken on several clients who were arrested through the protests) and extend record restriction and social work services, if the individual is interested.
- Partner with established and newly-created community groups to identify individuals needing assistance.
- Show up during future demonstrations to act as legal observers that monitor, record, and report on any unlawful or improper behavior against demonstrators.
- Continue to work with impacted communities and partners to advocate for systemic policy change.
We are living through unprecedented times that challenge our views on justice, equity and fairness and we are grateful for your support of our holistic approach and for your continuing engagement.