The Community Justice Unit was founded to help provide essential legal services to members of “Cure Violence” Programs, New York City’s approach to curbing gun violence. Originally intended to provide legal services to help New Yorkers deemed at-risk of becoming victims of gun violence, CJU has grown considerably in the last several years. As part of the “Cure Violence” movement, where gun violence is viewed as a public safety issue, CJU has offered proactive outreach and robust legal services to under served communities. As organizations within the movement continue to protect communities from gun violence, CJU has played an active role in supporting this important mission.
CJU’s proactive outreach offers a wide variety of legal and support services to communities that, as Anthony notes, have been “over-policed and are on the brink of poverty; places where the government has not set foot in a very long time, or if they have, it’s been only as a police response.” As a result, the 10 staff members of CJU focus much of their efforts facilitating positive interactions between local community members and our city’s justice system. In addition to providing Know Your Rights events for immigrants, CJU helps New Yorkers with a seemingly endless list of legal tasks: educating youth groups on the school-to-prison pipeline, helping clients surrender themselves into police custody, advocating against NYPD’s secretive gang database, partnering with other units within the Society to seal clients’ conviction records, and everything in between. “There’s really no one area,” said Anthony with a laugh. “It’s all over the place.”
And while the list will continue to grow for Anthony and the CJU team, there is no lack of inspiration. As Anthony sees it, CJU is just one facet of the incredible work happening every day at The Legal Aid Society. While other units and programs across the city are making important strides on pressing issues and working “on the cutting edge of law reform,” CJU puts itself in the middle so that they can successfully “pull in all the other units of Legal Aid” to offer clients the essential services they need.