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Matthew Clair writes about the limits of public defense and the need to transform the legal system in The Nation

Photo of Matt Clair
Jan 6 2021

Unequal Before the Law

How did we end up with our current system of public defenders?

This spring, graphic images of a white police officer digging his knee into George Floyd’s neck served as a catalyst to renew the mass social movement against police violence and racism that has come to be known as Black Lives Matter. After the highly publicized police killings of Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and Rayshard Brooks, protests continued into the summer and fall. These protests have been large in size and radical in their demands. Just a few years ago, in the wake of Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Mo., modest calls to reform the police and implement federal consent decrees seemed almost revolutionary to many Americans and were the primary aim of many marching in the streets. Today, calls to defund the police have become the central demand. For so many, there is no fixing today’s system of policing. It needs to be abolished.

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