Talia will work with Brooklyn Defender Services to represent Brooklyn residents whose phones and other technological devices have been seized by the NYPD, advocate for the reform of the property seizure process, and use impact litigation to advance the data privacy rights of New Yorkers while their phones remain in NYPD custody.
In 2021, 40% of phones seized by the NYPD were not returned to their owners. The process to reobtain property following an arrest or police investigation is incredibly burdensome on New Yorkers. For low-income New Yorkers who can’t replace their phones, the indefinite retention of cell phones leaves them unable to access technology required to maintain employment, recertify income-stabilizing and nutritional benefits, and other essentials of life.
Additionally, due to the ever-expanding technological capacities of the NYPD, phones that remain in custody represent a serious threat to people’s data privacy. Data taken from phones is used to populate some of the NYPD’s most notoriously discriminatory policing tools, such as the NYPD gang database and predictive policing technology. New Yorkers need more comprehensive regulation of the property seizure and return process and rules to limit police access to phone data in their custody.
During Talia’s Fellowship, Talia will represent low-income Brooklyn residents who have had their phones seized by the police to ensure people quickly regain access to their essential technology. Talia will engage with community organizations to develop trainings so community members can assist each other in getting their property back. Finally Talia will develop a policy proposal to better regulate the property seizure process and use impact litigation to limit the NYPD’s access to civilian data from devices in custody.
After years of community organizing around issues of policing and surveillance in New York communities of color, I pursued law to dedicate my career to fighting alongside movements for police accountability. I am honored to begin my movement law work through my Equal Justice Works Fellowship.
Talia Kamran /
2023 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Lydia will work with residents and community organizers in Opa-locka, Florida to challenge criminalization of poverty by combatting civil forfeiture and building grassroots socioeconomic power.
In 2018, the federal and state governments collectively earned $3 billion through civil forfeiture seizures. A common understanding of civil forfeiture is that it is utilized to seize drugs or money from large white collar crimes; however, it commonly funds municipal budgets. In a recent survey of 21 states, more than 60% of municipal and county law enforcement agencies reported that forfeiture profits were a necessary part of their budget. Civil forfeiture seizures disproportionately target low-income Black and Hispanic individuals.
Isssues of civil forfeiture are exacerbated in Florida (the state that generates the most revenue from civil forfeiture) and in Opa-locka, a low-income city in Miami-Dade County with predominantly Black and Hispanic residents. There is no right to counsel in civil forfeiture hearings, and the burden of proof in these hearings falls on the individuals whose property has been stolen (in other words, individuals are presumed guilty until they prove otherwise).
Opa-locka residents need direct representation in civil forfeiture hearings, systemic change to civil forfeiture laws in Florida, and empowerment through community organizing.
Lydia’s lived experience motivates her to combat civil forfeiture and build grassroots socioeconomic power in Opa-locka, a community primarily composed of immigrants of color.
During her Fellowship, Lydia will provide direct representation to Opa-locka residents in civil forfeiture hearings, work on litigation and policy advocacy that aims to systematically reform civil forfeiture in Florida, and organize Opa-locka residents with the Community Justice Project’s community organizers to identify and implement community-led solutions to civil forfeiture abuses.
I grew up in a low-income household with parents who had recently immigrated to the United States and witnessed how policing for profit trapped poor people of color and immigrants in my community in a cycle of poverty. I feel lucky to have escaped this cycle and want to empower low-income communities of color to do the same.
Lydia Ghuman /
2023 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Meena’s (she/her/hers) project focuses on documenting and challenging the discriminatory effects of precision policing tactics on Long Island, New York.
“Precision policing” presumes that police can predict and prevent crimes before they happen by concentrating investigations and surveillance on so-called “hot spot” neighborhoods or particular social networks. Although touted as a solution to biased policing, these forms of data and surveillance driven proactive policing tend to exacerbate racial disparities in policing and subject impacted communities to increased police presence and surveillance.
Meena’s motivation for challenging discriminatory policing tactics and the consequences of disparate police harassment is driven by her personal experience growing up in an intentionally segregated midwestern city to a first-generation, Latina mother, paired with her extended family’s own experience with deportation.
Fellowship Highlights to Date
In the first year of the Fellowship, Meena has:
- Compiled a diverse range of data on Long Island precision policing tactics
- Challenged Long Island law enforcement agencies’ lack of transparency by appealing their adverse Freedom of Information Law determinations via Article 78 petitions in New York Supreme Court
- Met regularly with coalitions of community partners and service providers to advocate for much needed criminal legal systems reforms
- Participated in litigation to challenge racial profiling by police in Suffolk County
In the next few months, Meena plans to:
- Engage in community education about precision policing and identify shared reform goals
- Continue holding law enforcement agencies accountable for violating New York open records laws
- Publish investigative reports about the privacy, equity, and civil liberties implications of Long Island and statewide precision policing programs
- Work with community groups to monitor and report on the Suffolk County Police Department’s efforts to reduce racial profiling