Nashville Takes on Movement Lawyering

Last Saturday, February 23rd, Law for Black Lives had an amazing evening with organizers, law students, and lawyers from the Nashville region. We convened movement organizations and the lawyers they collaborate with to discuss their wins, challenges, lessons and along with the role lawyers can play in ongoing organizing efforts.

Organizers from Community Oversight Now  spoke about last November’s victory and the role lawyers played in writing the amendment to create Nashville's Community Oversight Board. The amendment that voter's in Nashville overwhelmingly voted for in last November's election. They went on to discuss ways that lawyers and other organizers could get involved in their fight to prevent the Tennessee State Legislature from stripping away the Community Oversight Board's subpoena powers. We also heard from organizers from Free Hearts who discussed their participatory defense program and how criminal defense attorneys can support their efforts to work with people who are facing charges and the people who support them to build power and impact the outcome of their case. Finally, BLM Nashville organizers discussed their relationship with the law and lawyers and how it impacts their work. The ended their discussion by sharing the challenges they faced and lessons they learned in their successful fight for clemency for Cyntoia Brown.

Lawyers who worked with Community Oversight Now, Free Hearts, and Southerners on New Ground discussed what it means for them to be movement lawyers who collaborate with these organizations. For them, it takes innovation, trust, a willingness to take risks, and real relationships to collaborate with lawyers and obtain meaningful victories. Law students from Vanderbilt Law School and Belmont University College of Law shared talked about their law school experience and how it has shaped their ideas about their role in movement and went on to ask for opportunities to use their skills to serve local movement.

We concluded our evening with an invitation from organizers to join them in their work to both fight against these destructive systems and collaborate with them to create institutions and alternatives that align with their vision.

Community Oversight for Nashville: Lessons from the Field by DJ Hudson

On November 6, 2018, the city of Nashville voted to implement its first Community Oversight Board (COB). The fight to win those votes started almost two years ago. The COB itself was constructed from the efforts of a broad coalition that was Black led and committed to a grassroots strategy; we intentionally relied on the power of everyday Black and working class folk to win, eschewing political gatekeepers and trusting our folks to see us through. And our faith was duly rewarded.

In the Fall of 2016, local organization Gideon's Army released a report on the racial profiling of Black communities by Metro Nashville Police Department (MNPD) called the Driving While Black Report. Even though Nashville's city leadership prides itself on its progressive politics, action on the report's damning findings was slow, and MNPD was unrepentant, with Police Chief Steve Anderson calling the creators of the report "morally disingenuous" and accusing them of driving a wedge between police and Black communities.Then, on February 10, 2017, Jocques Clemmons, a devoted Black father and beloved son, was chased down and shot during a "routine" traffic stop. Within days, activists and organizations rallied around Jocques' mother Sheila Clemmons Lee, who had vowed that her son's life would not be taken in vain. One of our first actions was taking over the city council meeting days after Jocques' death, and issuing six demands. A COB was one of those demands.

We made sure to insist from the start that it be organized by the people, recognized by Metropolitan government, and granted subpoena power, lest we be given a toothless COB that was unable (or unwilling) to change the status quo. We would have to build the COB we wanted from scratch, from legislative proposal to implementation strategy. And even with the crisis that Jocques' death created in  our community, we faced one obstacle after another. Our initial attempt via city council vote failed when would-be allies balked dropped their support, and resistance to the idea mounted amongst liberal leadership.

In October 2017, we carefully considered our next best option: installing a COB through referendum vote. It would require us to collect thousands of signatures to just to make it onto the ballot, and then to run a successful political campaign in order to win. We did so, joining the wave of movements that year who wielded electoral politics in innovate ways, experimenting out of necessity instead of relying on the politics that have failed our communities for so long. We prevailed and won our city's support, but we're clear that that is only because we first had faith in our people, and built our campaign around that trust.

Opening a Community Bail Fund: Reflections from Chanelle Helm

When I began this work, of liberating folks, I did so from the mindset of only believing that I had the skills to support those that were close to freedom. The folks that aren’t restrained or living in limited legal capacity. It was hard then, as it is now, to help those locked up to find paths to freedom. However, if I am to commit myself to the struggle of liberation, I can do that with my people- wherever they are.

Everyday I meet folks from various parts of the liberation spectrum. From those that have it all figured out and are ready to complete a role in our fight for liberation to those that don’t understand what we would need to be any more free than what we are. My biggest struggle is for those community members that are asking for my help that are legally tied up. How do we make sure that the carceral state doesn’t condition us to accept our community’s faults as only punishable by incarceration?

That is the hardest. When we decided to open a community bail fund, we knew we wanted it to be the space to hold our work and help folks once they left jail/prison, but we also knew it would be a space that we want to free people and prevent people from going to jail/prison. To make sure our community members are supported, make sure volunteers from various backgrounds support our bail out fam by driving, checking on the family, support organizers, fundraise and admin. All these things are super supportive for a bail out member. We’ve supported roughly 10 to 13 folks- give or take their opinion on what support is lol. We’ve paid peoples fines, found them lawyers, bailed 3 people out, and put our bodies in the way of folks being arrested. Our Louisville Community Bail Fund supports our bail out community with food, jobs, and counseling.

This is why we knew it was the right thing to fight for wanting to raise bail for Da’Arria Hayden. Da’Airra is a 16 yo who is charged with first-degree murder for murdering her 53-year-old male aggressor at 14 years old.

Da’Arria attended Western Middle School, a visual and performing arts magnet, and was a successful student. Even during her incarceration, Da’Arria has managed to continue to excel in her schoolwork and studies. In addition to her good academic standing, she comes from a supportive household where both parents and siblings act as a continued source of encouragement and stability.

Although Da’Arria and her family find themselves in a uniquely challenging situation, this is not their first time having to support the teen youth through difficulties. Da’Arria is a type one diabetic and has a history of depression, increasing her needs in an already tumultuous period, as a teenager. It is during this time that she has endured 2 years of jail time at the Louisville Metro Youth Detention Services. And her endurance can mostly be accredited to the support network of her family, who continues to uplift her through these immensely challenging times, particularly in the beginning of her incarceration when healthcare services were absent and she was held in solitary confinement]. Unfortunately, the circumstances of Da’Arria’s mistreatment is very common in Louisville, KY, even for the young and vulnerable.

If you would like to donate to the LCBF, please read over our manifesto and click here

Cuba: A Reflection by our Operations Director, Kimberly Gonzalez

I had the opportunity to travel to Cuba on July 5th for an 11 day trip centered around criminal justice organizing on the ground. The trip was organized by Soffiyah Elijah from Alliance of Families for Justice. As a Cuban-American from an anti-Castro, anti-revolution household, I knew this trip would be intense. Over the years, it took a lot of hard work to move past my family's biases and try to understand the material conditions that existed on the island which resulted in calls for revolution. It was especially difficult because of how deeply polarizing Cuba is. Cuba is either demonized or romanticized. I decided to walk into the experience with an open heart and mind to learn everything that I could. Writing about every learning would take a century, so instead I am focusing on my key take aways from our time there. 

One of the most successful outcomes that people learn about the revolution was it's campaign to eradicate illiteracy. The island was able to take a country that was 80% illiterate and turn it to a 99% literate rate. My biggest shock was to learn that the effort was lead by over 200,000 teachers that mobilized throughout the island from it's most rural areas to it's densest cities. The majority of those 200,000 people were youth ages 18 and younger. The youngest teacher that was a part of the literacy campaign was 8 years old! All of that information lead me to think about two things: what it means to lead a movement that was so deeply responsive to what people needed that they were able to mobilize that many people and what it really means to say that our movements are being led by youth. I started to think about the ways we think about youth and what the youngest among us are capable of if they were given the right amount of support and guidance instead of being told what and how things should be done. It made me think about how I interact with children and what expectations I hold of them (or don't) because of how often we are fed by society that children don't have the capacity to do high level things without an adult taking control. It was a beautiful process of envisioning what the US could look like, and be, if we all moved aside and allowed our own children to not just envision a different world but really run and lead the movement to make it a reality. Learning about the literacy campaign, it's difficulties and the danger posed to these children, left me with a commitment to challenge the spaces we are creating here and in who's name we are creating them. 

On a personal note, the greatest take away for me after spending almost two weeks in Cuba was how close I felt to my mother. Throughout the entire trip I couldn't help but think about what it might be like to experience her country with her. We are politically distant when it comes to Cuba, but there was something about returning to her homeland that made me miss her presence. In turn, that longing made me realize that our mother's are our first homes, and there is an undeniable connection between motherhood and motherlands. There was something about experiencing the land that my mother once walked through that inevitably made me feel more connected to her than I have ever been. Being able to come "home" (and understanding the privilege of being able to come back to my roots) affirmed my love of land and it's role and importance in our humanity in a way that I was not expecting coming into this experience.

I am eternally grateful for the chance to have been on this trip. There are so many things left to process, think through collectively and debate. What I am 100% sure of is that another world is possible, even though Cuba may not have all the answers or be the answer. I am more sure today of what our lived experience and humanity could be, whether I see it in my lifetime or not, and I can't wait.

Global Movement Lawyering: L4BL in Nepal

Law for Black Lives was honored to attend the “Equal Access to Justice for All: Using Law to Dismantle Caste Based Discrimination in South Asia” in Kathmandu, Nepal on August 13th - August 15th, 2018. The conference was an opportunity for Law for Black Lives to build with organizers and lawyers from across the global who are committed to ending systemic oppression and transforming cultural, legal and social practices in ways that honor the dignity of all people.

Marbre Stahly-Butts, Partnership Director at Law for Black Lives, participated in a panel entitled, “Legal Empowerment and Advancing Equality: Making Law Work for Marginalized Communities.” She presented alongside organizers working with Roma communities in Romania, stateless communities in Bangladesh and Dalit communities in Nepal.

The conference was focused on the lasting legacy of caste-based discrimination, which impacts more than 260 million people worldwide, in South Asia, Africa and Europe. Much like racism, caste-based discrimination leads to poverty, violence, slavery, and economic and social exclusion. The conference was focused on the reality that while legal provisions exist in most countries that prohibit discrimination based on race, caste, ethnicity and gender, discrimination continues in multiple forms. The conference was grounded in an intersectional analysis and led by Dalit women organizers, who understand gender, class and caste as overlapping oppressions, which must be collectively addressed.

Much like the work in the United States to fight white-supremacy and patriarchy, the leadership of women and those from marginalized communities is inspiring and essential. Our time in Nepal allowed us to sharpen our political analysis and to build with organizers and lawyers from across the world.

If you have stories you want to share about how global struggles connect with your anti-oppression work in the United States please email us at We would love to share your reflections! 

Revolutionizing Law Schools: 2018 Clinic Cohort Reflections

This month Law for Black Lives completed the first semester of our clinical cohort. We worked with over 10 law school clinics to create resources for movement organizations and train law students in the tenants of movement lawyering. Based on requests from our movement partners, we focused on three topics: bail, land cooperatives, and reparations.



Based on the needs of the 15 members of the National Bail Out Collective, law clinics researched current bail laws, jail populations, and sheriff’s budgets in Memphis, TN, and Dallas, TX. Clinical  Students researched and created a report about the impact pre-trial detention has on women. Organizations within the National Bail Out Collective, have gone on to use the research to support the Mamas Bail Out Day and ongoing campaigns to End Money Bail.


Those Clinics focused on Land cooperatives, provided research for Picture the Homeless and members organizations within the National Alliance of Black Farmers, to research eminent domain in New York and community land trust policies and procedures across the country.

Lastly, in the area of reparations, we worked with law clinics to provide research support to the Movement for Black Lives Policy Table for the development of a reparations popular education toolkit. Law students evaluated existing reparation victories in the national and international context, including reparations given for the internment of Japanese Americans during War World II, the Chicago police torture regime, and to descendants of slaves sold by Georgetown University. Students also explored possible legal mechanisms to obtain reparations in the national and international context.

Next semester we will continue our research on bail, land co-opts, fees and fines, as well as local and state budgets.

We are currently recruiting clinics for the Fall semester. If you are a clinical professor or a clinical student and are interested in our clinical cohort please sign-up at

In Solidarity, 


Crew Love

The key to the Law for Black Lives mission is leveraging the power of lawyers and legal workers to support organizers in their efforts for liberation. This year we had a powerful opportunity to support the work of the National Bail Out Collective and enlisted the support of the Law for Black Lives membership in meeting the needs of local organizers.

Thanks to your support we were able to connect lawyers with local organizers in a number of locations, provide templates for lawyers seeking to reduce bail and provide some contractoral support for organizations trying to ensure that bail money was returned to them. We also are working with the over fifty lawyers and legal workers who signed up to provide some long term research for groups interested in challenging the fees and fines often attached to bail, challenging premature failure to appear decisions and mapping the laws around bail locally.

The L4BL Bailout Crews have been a powerful space for Law for Black Lives members to build with each other as well as to support local organizers. While the Mama’s Day Bail Outs are over for the year the work across the country to end pretrial detention continues and we need your help! If you are interested in joining the L4BL Bailout Crews please sign up here! Our next call will be Wednesday, June 6th at 6est.


In Solidarity, 


Black Love, Reflections from the Mama's Day Bailouts

For the second year in a row the National Bail Out Collective bailed out Mamas and caregivers, in all their varieties, to bring attention to the true costs of money bail and mass incarceration, and to get our people free! In the tradition of literally buying our people’s freedom, we are setting Black women and femmes free from the jaws of incarceration in time for Mother’s Day. This year nearly 6,5000 individuals gave over $440,000 allowing us to bail out more than 140 mothers!

National Mama’s Bail Out Day is a coordinated effort by the National Bail Out Collective, a formation of Black organizers, communicators and lawyers, who are committed to building a community based movement to end pretrial detention and ultimately mass incarceration. The collective consists of nearly two dozen local and regional base-building groups as well as four national organizations with specialties in  communication, digital organizing, cultural change and policy reform. Law for Black Lives serves as one of the co-coordinators of the formation and provides legal and technical assistance.

In addition to supporting bail outs the collective is working to advance critical policy changes and transform the systems that put our people in cages because they are poor, Black, unwell or in crisis. Over the last year the collective created the Transformative Bail Curriculum, a popular education training that roots our current bail reform efforts in a long history of abolition and the continued fight against mass criminalization. We collectively wrote “Until Freedom Comes: A comprehensive Bail Out Toolkit” that provides step by step instructions on how to plan and execute a bail out and bridge bail out actions to larger advocacy efforts. We also hosted a six-part webinar series about bail and bail reform.


The impact of money bail on Black families cannot be understated. Tonight tens of thousands of women will sleep in a cage, simply because they could not afford to pay bail. At least 80 percent of them are mothers and most of them are only guilty of being poor, unable to access health care, or being survivors. In fact, over 86% of incarcerated women have survived physical or sexual abuse and many will experience additional abuse while imprisoned in our local jails.

As a partner and co-coordinator of the National Bail Out Collective Law for Black Lives is honored to work with groups across the country who are opening cages and changing policies! If you want to learn more about the bailouts or support these important efforts follow national bail outs on facebook and Twitter and check out the website To join a local legal crew and support local efforts fill out our survey!

in Power,