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New commission in three major cities targets past misconduct within criminal justice systems

Andrew Cuomo

A civil rights advocacy group is teaming up with district attorneys in three major US cities to launch commissions that they say will listen to victims of past misconduct within the criminal justice system and try to right the wrongs.

The Grassroots Law Project on Wednesday announced that it is partnering with district attorneys from Philadelphia, San Francisco and Boston to form what they are calling local “Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commissions.”

The first three local commissions, which will begin as pilot projects, “will address the serious trauma inflicted by a legal system that has gone largely unchecked for generations,” the organization said in its news release.

The goal, the group said, is to help “create a process for District Attorneys and their communities to hear from victims of police and prosecutor misconduct and find ways for those victims to heal.”

The announcement comes after the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police and nationwide protests demanding reform.

Civil rights attorney Lee Merritt and activist Shaun King, cofounders of the advocacy group, said these commissions are designed to uncover past instances of racial and ethnic injustice and help create strategies to resolve conflict and bring healing to victims of harm.

“This system is not broken,” King said in a statement. “It’s functioning exactly the way those who designed and built it intended it to function. It was not built to give marginalized communities justice. It was built to oppress them. And moving forward, we must build brand new pathways for truth, justice, and reconciliation. The old ones will never get us there.”

Merritt, one of the attorneys for the families of Floyd, echoed King’s sentiment.

“Creating new institutions to address historic atrocities and modern inequities embedded in the fabric of society is essential if we are ever going to turn the page on America’s bloody legacy,” he said in a statement.

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin and Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins will all establish commissions over the next several months to get community feedback on policing and prosecution to reform current policy.

“Each Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission will develop processes and plans to allow persons who have experienced current and former instances of harm at the hands of law enforcement to raise concerns, share experiences and achieve justice in a process that will be built with marginalized and oppressed groups at the center,” Rollins said in a statement.

The commissions in each city are expected to announce next steps in the fall for impacted individuals and families to formally submit cases to be considered, according to the commission website, which The Grassroots Law Project said will be updated as the project develops research and policies around this critical issue.

“As a civil rights lawyer, I watched how this community suffered from law enforcement and prosecutorial overreach, and I know that these harms went unaddressed for many, if not for most,” Krasner said in a statement. “We cannot go back to fix that, but we can give a voice to those who experienced injustice for years.”

Merritt and King are also working with district attorneys in more than 10 other states, and plan to continue to expand the program across the county, King told reporters during a press call Wednesday.

They want to try the pilot programs in these cities first and “get it right,” King said.

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