Brian Lewinstein Youth Justice Fellowship tackles the School-to-Prison Pipeline

In News by david.landis

PolkBy Zoë Polk

The East Bay Community Law Center (EBCLC) is deeply honored to partner with Equal Justice America to honor Brian Lewinstein, an astounding advocate for transitional age youth. Because of the Brian Lewinstein Youth Justice Fellowship, EBCLC is able to provide robust, holistic legal counsel and education to youth of color targeted by the school-to-prison pipeline.  This work is in furtherance of our goal to end structural racism.

The school to prison pipeline refers to the historic and current events of public and private institutions working together to dehumanize African American and Latinx youth. Throughout history, Black and Latinx youth have been subject to institutional oppression that would take away their rights and exploit their labor. When schools were integrated as a result of the 1963 ruling in Brown v Board of Education, politicians and school administrators came up with strategies to push Black youth out of schools. And by partnering with school resource officers and local police departments, they were able to keep them out.


Because of the Brian Lewinstein Youth Justice Fellowship, EBCLC is able to provide robust, holistic legal counsel and education to youth of color targeted by the school-to-prison pipeline.


I witnessed this firsthand as an attorney fresh out of law school. I moved to California to practice civil rights law and began litigating federal police misconduct cases. I represented Black youth who had moved with their families from Oakland to the bay area suburbs, Antioch, Brentwood and Oakley. These predominantly white cities did not like the influx of black residents. I represented clients who were arrested for resisting arrest while the reports stated no underlying grounds for the detention. The police officers provided these unsubstantiated police reports to school administrators who then expelled my clients. In addition, the police reports were provided to the local housing authority as grounds to revoke the families’ section 8 voucher. With the organized denial of their liberty, education and housing, my young clients were plunged into the conditions that lead most people to incarceration. Lawsuits against the school district, police department and city were our clients’ only mechanism for justice. The financial compensation they received helped but offered little to disrupt the systemic racism in these cities.

As the Executive Director of EBCLC, I am so grateful to be in the position to work with partners like the Lewinstein family and Equal Justice America to address the root causes of structural racism. We are empowering young people similarly situated to my former clients by providing them with the tools to identify legal issues that come up in their communities. We are also directly engaging young people on criminal justice legislative policy and community education. This critical work will lead to our collective liberation.


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