National Conference of Black Lawyers has for many years provided leadership in the African-American community in the fight for Civil Rights and Human Rights. NCBL is prepared to support resistance to oppression; NCBL stands ready to organized resistance when required.
In 1995, NCBL lawyers led a coalition to secure justice for Joseph Gould, a homeless man, who had been shot to death by a white – off duty Chicago police officer. As a result of this mobilization, officer George Becker was prosecuted, convicted, and sent to prison.
Also during 1995, NCBL organized a coalition called “African–Americans to free Mumia Abu-Jamal”, a political prisoner on Pennsylvania’s death row who had been scheduled for execution in August 1995. NCBL mobilized support for Mumia in the African – American community. NCBL organized and led a demonstration of over 1000 protesters demanding Mumia’s freedom. Pressure from groups around the world saved Mumia’s life in 1995. NCBL – Chicago continues to support the freedom of Mumia.
During 1996-98, NCBL organized and led the resistance to police violence against Black women in Riverdale, Illinois, a suburb south of Chicago. NCBL was instrumental in organizing the “Riverdale Eight”, a group of eight African – American women who had been brutalized by white Riverdale police officers.
NCBL led the organizing effort, and, at one point, had 1/3 of Riverdale’s full-time police force named as defendants in federal civil rights litigation. NCBL also led a demonstration of several hundred Riverdale residents and supporters through the Mayor’s neighborhood and to the Riverdale police station where a mass-rally was held.
From 1989 to present, NCBL helped build a coalition to secure justice in a case involving police torture. From 1972 to 1991, over 100 African American men were tortured by former Police Commander Jon Burge and detectives under his command at Area 2 and 3 Police Headquarters in Chicago, Illinois.
No less than seven independent investigations and numerous courts have concluded that the detectives under Burge’s command committed acts of torture, which included electrically shocking men’s genitals, ears and lips with a cattle prod or an electric shock box, referred to as “the n***r box”, suffocating individuals with plastic bags, mock executions, and beatings with telephone books and rubber hoses to extract confessions.
Yet not a single officer had ever been prosecuted for these acts, which violate criminal laws, the victims’ Constitutional rights, and international treaties banning the use of torture. Meanwhile, at least 24 Black men continue to languish behind bars based on confessions beaten and tortured out of them. Many more have served long sentences and continue to suffer the lasting effects of the torture, including post-traumatic stress disorder.
After several years of struggle, with very little organized support within the Black community, in the spring of 2006, NCBL began to organize support within the community. After convening several town-hall meetings around the Burge Torture cases, during the summer of 2006, “Black People Against Police Torture” (BPAPT) was organized to lead the resistance within the African American Community. Since its inception BPAPT led the coalition on several fronts. During the Fall, 2006 it led 200-300 demonstrators in a Silent March through downtown Chicago to announce the Black Community’s organized involvement in this struggle. A few months later, BPAPT announced its opposition to the 2016 Olympic being held in the USA/Chicago, the torture capital of the world (Olympian John Carlos joined BPAPT in a press-conference during Dec. 2006).
During the Spring, 2007, BPAPT organized a campaign to deny the retention of circuit court judges who had had some involvement in the torture cases. NCBL has earlier joined other activists by injecting the torture cases into the international Human Rights arena. BPAPT has also proposed a legislative remedy to free our 25 torture victims who are still in prison. We drafted and sponsored the “Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission” bill in the Illinois General Assembly. In April, 2008, the Torture Bill passed the Illinois House. BPAPT will be mobilizing support to get the Bill passed in the Senate this Fall. This law will allow the 25 torture victims an extra-judicial procedure to free themselves. Also in early 2008, BPAPT began to organize support for the “Chicago Reparations Ordinance for Burge Torture Victims and Their Families.” This ordinance will create a Center for the torture victims and their families where they will have a supportive environment for their “repair” and reentry into the community and calls for other reparative measures including free education for those tortured and their families, therapeutic services to treat the trauma and more.
International – Human Rights
During August, 2001, NCBL members were part of a delegation who attended the United Nations Conference on Racism in Durban, South Africa.
In April, 2005, NCBL sent a Fact Finding delegation to Zimbabwe.
In September, 2005, NCBL and other coalition members introduced evidence of police torture before the OAS’s Inter-American Committee on Human Rights.
In May, 2006, the United Nations Committee Against Torture sharply criticized the US for failing to bring the officers responsible for torture in Chicago to justice.
In February, 2008, NCBL/BPAPT introduced evidence of torture and racial discrimination in the administration of justice regarding the Chicago Torture cases and regarding the San Francisco Eight case – before the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination “CERD”.
In June, 2008, NCBL/BPAPT was one of the host-groups for Doudou Diene, the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, zenophobia and related intolerance. After testimony by NCBL Chicago chapter chair Attorney Stan Willis before the UN in Geneva, Switzerland, the international human rights pressure finally resulted in the indictment, prosecution and ultimate conviction of Burge in the Chicago Police Torture conspiracy. A partial victory but a significant one in keeping with NCBL’s mission to be the legal arm of the movement for Black liberation.
Finally, NCBL/BPAPT recognizes international human rights laws as an important yet underutilized tool of struggle. NCBL is part of a growing movement to introduce an international human rights framework to domestic rights advocacy. We strive to ensure that the U.S. government complies with universal human rights principles in addition to the U.S. constitutional.
NCBL/BPAPT is developing a program to conduct human rights education and training sessions to teach members of the community how to engage in advocacy before international bodies including the United Nations and regional human rights mechanisms, such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
NCBL has lawyers with extensive experience in Civil Rights Litigation. Presently, NCBL lawyers are engaged in impact litigation against the City of Chicago. One such case involves the City’s failure to train its police officers on how to properly arrest or detain mentally ill persons. This case arose after Chicago Police were called by a mother to assist her with her bi-polar son who had barricaded himself in his bedroom. Untrained police were dispatched to the home, and shortly after arriving, shot and killed the mentally-ill young man.
NCBL lawyers have also filed a potentially high impact lawsuit against the City of Chicago for the improper use of a Taser weapon, without justification or provocation, on a Black man causing him severe neurological injuries.