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  • Writer's pictureJamaal Lockings

Jamaal Lockings Explores His Passion for Civil Rights Work as a TCRP Law Clerk

The most pivotal advice I received from my mother happened after moving into my dorm at the University of Central Arkansas, she told me that as a homosexual Black male, I already had two strikes against me. She then said, “Three, if you count the system.” These words resonated deeply, but it wasn't until the tragic murder of George Floyd that the true weight of their meaning became apparent.

The death of George Floyd was a turning point, not only for me but for millions around the world. Witnessing the outrage and pain it sparked brought to light the pervasive pattern of injustice inflicted on Black men and women, both in the present day and throughout history. It was an awakening that ignited a passion within me to delve deeper into the roots of this issue and commit myself to civil rights work in the context of criminal injustice.

Inspired to understand the origins of these systemic problems, I embarked on a journey to explore history with a critical lens. I delved into the historical roots of our criminal justice institutions, recognizing that many were established with inherent bias. From the era of slavery to the Jim Crow laws and beyond, the foundations of these institutions were steeped in racism and discrimination. Understanding this history was crucial to unraveling the complexities of the present-day challenges faced by marginalized communities, particularly Black Americans. Learning about the deliberate creation of these unjust systems left me with a profound sense of urgency to make a difference.

Jamal Lockings with a classmate at the University of Texas School of Law.

Working at the Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP) has been a deeply meaningful and transformative experience. At the start of the summer we worked with an incarcerated individual who was being mistreated and facing severe health challenges. Oftentimes incarcerated individuals are forgotten about or deemed unworthy of care or empathy. Our task, helping them to ensure they received proper medical treatment, was about the dignity of the individual. This required us to comb through hundreds of pages of medical records, follow-up with medical personnel, and file grievance paperwork. However, these tasks were very small in comparison to the impact they were able to have on the individual and how it has helped ensure they receive the medication and treatment they need.

A critical issue we've tackled at TCRP is the criminalization of poverty, which disproportionately affects Black Americans. It is disheartening to witness how being poor can turn into a crime for unhoused individuals, who are already struggling to meet their basic needs. By addressing this systemic injustice, we aimed to challenge the policies and practices that disproportionately target and penalize people for their economic status. These policies include the one we are actively challenging in Dallas which seeks to infringe on unhoused individuals' protected speech as they solicit donations in dreadful conditions so that they may secure themselves a meal, shelter, or clothing.

As we fight for the rights of unhoused individuals, we also delve into the constitutionality of practices that strip them of their belongings, often termed “encampment sweeps.” For many unhoused individuals, their possessions are all they have, and seizing and destroying them only exacerbates their vulnerability and perpetuates the cycle of poverty. I have been working on research throughout the summer to gather information so that we may effectively challenge these policies in Court.

Another critical area of focus at TCRP is preparing to fight the criminalization of LGBTQ+ individuals. This issue holds immense personal significance. The LGBTQ+ community has long faced discrimination, prejudice, and violence, often intersecting with other forms of marginalization, such as racial and economic disparities. TCRP's dedication to challenging the unjust treatment of LGBTQ+ individuals reflects the organization's commitment to securing equal rights for all.

As a member of the Black and LGBTQ+ communities, it has been incredibly rewarding to be part of an organization that fights for the rights of marginalized groups, recognizing the interconnectedness of these struggles. I hope to continue this kind of work post-graduation and am grateful for the experience TCRP has given me this summer.

You can contribute here so that TCRP can continue to provide opportunities like these to rising law students.


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