Theresa Zhen & Vinuta Naik

A Clean Slate Case Study of Community Lawyering

The United States has a long history of appropriation, forced movement, and penalization of indigenous people, minorities, and anyone perceived as “other.” From the colonization of the Americas, slavery, and forced movement of Africans to the “post-slavery” era that deprives civil rights and incarcerates people of color and indigent communities, this repression continues. Indeed, the most recent systemic iteration of controlling and policing these communities is through the legal “justice” systems that Michelle Alexander has aptly coined the “New Jim Crow.” As advocates in the Clean Slate Practice (Clean Slate) at the East Bay Community Law Center (EBCLC) in Berkeley, California, we witness firsthand the cascading consequences of criminalization that result from a simple traffic stop: that “simple” stop turns into an arrest, which then results in a criminal or traffic conviction—and with the flick of a wrist, a person’s life, economic stability, housing, and personal value are summarily ravaged. Many generations of Clean Slate attorneys, staff, and law students have worked tirelessly to fight against the last twelve years of expansion (and redesign) of mass incarceration. In the process, we have successfully improved the lives of those who exit the system and kept individuals outside of its grasp in the first place.

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