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Headshot of Lydia Ghuman

Lydia Ghuman

  • Hosted by Community Justice Project
  • Sponsored by Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP
  • Service location Miami, Florida
  • Law school Harvard Law School
  • Issue area Police/Government Misconduct, Racial Justice
  • Fellowship class year 2023
  • Program Design-Your-Own Fellowship

The Project

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.

Fellowship Plans

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

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