Projects, Units & Initiatives
The Community Justice Unit (CJU) was established in 2011 as part of the New York City Council’s Task Force to Combat Gun Violence. Recognizing the critical need to support community-based organizations whose work is to view gun violence as a public health crisis, the CJU follows the Cure Violence model: advocate for communities with legal wrap-around services to develop proactive strategies to reduce violence, especially involving young people. We partner with New York City’s Crisis Management System, a citywide network of community-based organizations, to create healthier, safer communities. Every day, in every borough, CJU brings equal justice to underserved communities, helping all New Yorkers effectively access legal services.
There are currently 30 CMS/CV sites in New York City and growing. Each of these CV sites represents a safe space/location in the neighborhood where community members can meet; receive training on a variety of topics including mediation, conflict resolution, legal trainings, such as know your rights on police encounters, gang policing, and family law; participate in civic engagement by preparing community members to speak at local government meetings; and avail themselves of wrap-around services like after school programming, tutoring and literacy classes, job readiness programs including resume building, job fairs, interviewing workshops, and OSHA training, financial empowerment, mental health and legal representation.
The Community Justice Unit offers a number of essential legal services to New Yorkers across our city. In the past year, we’ve taken on more than 1,940 cases as part of our work with Cure Violence partners, including helping individuals obtain their rap sheets and seal their criminal records, offering legal advice, assisting New Yorkers with housing issues, and running a 24/7 hotline for legal emergencies. In addition, CJU staff and attorneys held 132 different community events across all five boroughs, including Know Your Rights events, rallies, and educational clinics.
The team held a tabling event with our community partner, SOS Bronx during their safety resource fair Neighbors Helping Neighbors at the Patterson Houses.
The CJU team and other LAS staff attended the Human Justice March, an annual march calling for equity in mental health services, food justice, immigration rights, education, gender, an end to mass incarceration and calls for climate change and an end to gun violence.
CJU supported the grand opening of a new site location for Man Up! Inc, one of CJU’s Crisis Management System (CMS) partners.
CJU partners with community organizations and elected officials for its ongoing Know Your Rights Ambassador Training series, which educates students about the New York City Police Department’s (NYPD) gang database, police encounters and youth organizing. Upon completion of the training, participants become youth ambassadors who will continue to facilitate Know Your Rights workshops around these critical topics.
The training curriculum focuses on the rights that New Yorkers have to protect themselves from illegal police searches and other acts of misconduct. Attendees learn about the NYPD’s gang raid tactics, and ways to fight the Department’s overinclusive gang labeling. Youth ambassadors also learn how to become skillful and knowledgeable presenters to conduct workshops around this issue with their peers.
The Legal Aid Society launched its FOIL yourself website in 2018 in order to streamline the process for New Yorkers to submit a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request to determine if they have been labeled by the New York City Police Department (NYPD) as a gang affiliate. Like the stop and frisk strategies that the NYPD relied upon in the recent past, the databases are likely to be over-inclusive and inaccurate. Unlike the stop and frisk records, the databases are secret, do not require even a suspicion of criminality, and are not subject to Fourth Amendment protection and judicial review.
Watch video from a CJU workshop below and read more about the team’s work in our annual report.
To request a Know Your Rights workshop or training about how to assert your constitutional rights during police encounters email CJU@legal-aid.org.
Last Updated: 1 October 2023
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