Supporting The Justice Committee’s work with victims of police violence

killed in 2012 by the NYPD
Constance Malcolm, the mother of Ramarley Graham

Supporting The Justice Committee’s work with victims of police violence

September 14, 2016

Issues related to police violence and community-police relations have received national attention in recent years due to events in places like Staten Island, Cleveland and Ferguson, Missouri. However, nonprofit organizations like the Justice Committee (Comite de Justicia), which has been working since the 1980s to help support families affected by police brutality and racial violence, know the challenge of these issues has been with us for a long time. 

The Justice Committee is a small grassroots organization of three employees whose primary goal is helping families who have lost loved ones to police violence. They believe that family members can be the most effective agents for making an impact and fighting for change. The group’s ultimate goal is to end police violence in New York City.

In January 2015, The Justice Committee received $60,000 in general program funding from the New York Women’s Foundation (NYWF). Yul-San Liem, co-director of the Justice Committee, recognizes the significance of their support.

“The New York Women’s Foundation is making a choice. Their decision to support progressive grassroots organizations and give them general support and multi-year funding is huge,” said Liem. “Not a lot of foundations are willing to do that, and from our perspective, it’s really putting money where it’s needed to create real change.”

The Justice Committee was founded as a committee of the National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights in the 1980s and became an independent entity in 2000. It has an overall budget of a little over $210,000. Each year, the group holds around 30 to 35 workshops to help individuals affected by police brutality. 

The NYWF grant was renewed in April of this year, and has helped the committee cover materials and staffing costs as well as support projects, such as one that seeks to include police brutality cases among those for which the New York state attorney general can serve as special prosecutor. Currently that increased level of scrutiny is only in place for police killings.

Last year, the NYWF grant helped support Justice Committee projects, such as one to organize families who have lost loved ones to the police to lead a campaign to create a Special Prosecutor for police killings through gubernatorial executive order,” said Liem. "Thanks to the leadership of the families and efforts from wide range of allies in the multi-sector coalition Communities United for Police Reform, on July 8, 2015 this campaign was victories. This year, along with supporting other projects, the NYWF's renewal grant will help the Justice Committee build on this victory continuing to develop the families' as leaders and by preparing to institutionalize the win through legislation."

A large part of the grant is used to benefit the family members of those killed by police. In the last year, the Justice Committee has worked on five new police killing cases. They assist family members in developing strategies to win justice and train them to carry out activities such as press conferences and actions. They also secure attorneys, help gain media attention for cases and mobilize community members to come out to protests and engage in court monitoring.

“The kind of support we offer can be as minimal as advising the family in the early stages and as involved as launching full campaigns around the case,” said Liem.

They also serve survivors of police violence. According to Liem, they help around 20 survivors every year. This assistance includes referrals, advocacy, advice, and support. They are working closely with the family of Ramarley Graham on the #FireNYPD campaign, which calls for the firing of four New York City Street Narcotics Enforcement Unit officers who entered the 18-year-old’s home in 2012 without a warrant and killed Graham with his grandmother and 6-year-old brother present.

“We’re trying to make sure that families who have lost someone have support to get some of their needs met in the aftermath of a killing, but also develop their ability to lead the movement and be organizers themselves,” said Liem. “They should be able to uplift their stories and their experiences because we feel like anybody who cares about these issues really should be hearing from them.”

NYWF appreciates the Justice Committee’s ability to empower these family members. 

They fund programs that focus on organizations empowering girls and women of color and have supported early-stage organizations for up to five years to help them build capacity.

“In the stories in the media that are about police violence, the narrative only focuses on the victims, who are largely men,” said NYWF Senior Program Officer Amy Chou, who works directly with the Justice Committee. “Even though women of color are victims of police violence, their voices are usually completely shut out as victims and as family members. The Justice Committee is taking this on by shifting the narrative to include the families –  particularly the mothers, daughters, wives and girlfriends.”

According to Chou, NYWF values communities and community organizations because they exist at the place where both challenges and solutions are created. They believe the Justice Committee has developed a strong awareness and sensitivity to the needs of individuals affected by police violence.

“We funded them because they had a strong gender lens,” said Chou. “They show how women and girls are affected by systemic police violence, too.”

As citizen journalists and social media have helped to increase the number of people involved in criminal justice reform, the Justice Committee has adjusted its programming and seen an increase in the number of fellow providers tackling the issue.

“Over the years, (the Justice Committee) has grown, and has developed additional programming specifically to address police violence and systemic racism,” said Liem. “It is certainly true that in the last several years, both in New York and nationally, there is a lot more attention on a lot of the issues that we address. It is not new for us, but we definitely have more ally groups now.”

Going forward, the Justice Committee hopes for continuing support from The New York Women’s Foundation and is creating an individual donor program to increase its sustainability.


Editor's note: This post has been updated to clarify some points, including the agency's budget and its role in the special prosecutor campaign.

Emily Demirjian