We write this statement as community and advocacy organizations focused on social justice, civil liberties, and the fight against structural Islamophobia, anti-Muslim and anti-Black racism to express our concerns over the prosecution and pre-trial incarceration of Urooj Rahman and Colinford (“Colin”) Mattis. Urooj and Colin joined demonstrations in New York against the murder of George Floyd and the brutalization of Black people by police. They now face politically and racially-motivated federal charges that may result in a minimum of 45 years to lifetimes of incarceration, and have been denied bail to return home to their community. These excessive charges targeting Colin and Urooj set a dangerous precedent, and function to instill fear and stifle protest by Black, South Asian, and Muslim protesters at a moment where millions take to the streets worldwide to demand justice. This prosecution is also rooted in a longstanding history of anti-Black racism and structural Islamophobia in the United States.
It is no mistake that Urooj and Colin, accomplished attorneys and advocates from immigrant households in New York, are being targeted by the state for their solidarity with those murdered by state violence. Despite being charged with a crime amounting to property destruction, with no intent to harm anyone, the government has pushed not only for the maximum sentencing through federal charges, it has taken the extraordinary step of appealing their bail before the Federal Appellate Court to ensure Urooj and Colin remain incarcerated in the midst of a pandemic ravaging prisons and jails.1
Urooj and Colin are attorneys with a record of supporting their communities, and for this reason, the state seeks a maximum punishment. Urooj immigrated to the United States as a child, is a beloved member of her community, and is an attorney with Bronx Legal Services where she represents low-income tenants fighting wrongful evictions. She cares for her mother in Brooklyn, and is a sister, aunt and friend. Colin Mattis sits on a community board for housing and has been recognized for his pro-bono work on behalf of low-income women.2 He cares for three foster 2 children at the request of his late mother.3 By denying them bail, the court has punished the 3 families and communities that depend on Urooj and Colin.
Legal scholars and attorneys note that the government’s insistence that they remain incarcerated pretrial is unprecedented–former prosecutors filed an amicus brief against the appeal of their release as it upends bail guidelines.4 Over 1,400 Fordham and NYU Law students, 4 student organizations, faculty, staff and alumni have signed letters in support of Urooj and Colin and demand that federal prosecutors drop the politically-motivated charges against them and release them from pre-trial incarceration.
Though the state has attempted to isolate Urooj and Colin, we are in solidarity against the politically-motivated prosecution against them and all those who rise up against state violence. This case lays bare the violence inflicted upon individuals incarcerated before their trial, and how the practice is weaponized against defendants by separating them from their lawyers and support networks. We know that if this test-case continues unopposed, it will be weaponized against others who protest state violence, particularly those from Black and brown communities.
We the undersigned demand the charges be withdrawn and that Colin and Urooj be freed from all federal incarceration and surveillance immediately.
American Muslim Bar Association (AMBA)
Believers Bail Out
Justice For Muslims Collective
Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus
American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee
Arab Resource & Organizing Center (AROC)
Asian American Advocacy Fund Asian/Pacific Islander Domestic Violence Resource Project
Center for Constitutional Rights
Coalition for Civil Freedoms
Defending Rights and Dissent
Desis Rising Up and Moving
Fight Back Bay Ridge
Food Empowerment Project
HEART ICNA Council for Social Justice
Jews Against Anti-Muslim Racism
Just Futures Law
Long Beach Immigrant Rights Coalition
Media Alliance Bay Area
Muslim Women For
Muslim Women’s Organization
National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild
Palestinian Youth Movement
South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)
South Asia Labor Watch
Support Ho(s)e Collective
Survived and Punished
Turning Point for Women and Families
1Jerry Ianelli, “Legal Experts Question Use of Federal Law to Prosecute Torching of Empty NYPD Patrol Car During Protests,” The Appeal (Jun. 23, 2020), https://theappeal.org/federal-prosecution-nypd-car/.
2Leena Widdi, “An open letter from the Fordham Law Community in Support of Urooj Rahman’ 15 and Colinford Mattis” (Jun. 19, 2020), https://medium.com/@leenawiddi/an-open-letter-from-the-fordham-law-community-in-support-of-urooj-rahman-15- and-colinford-mattis-57133d9a16e; Meghna Phillip, “NYU Law Community Letter in Support of Colinford Mattis ’16 and Urooj Rahman,” (Jun. 17, 2020) https://medium.com/@meghnaaa_55245/nyu-law-community-letter-in-support-of-colinford-mattis-16-and-urooj-rah man-16dbc609f29a.
3Nicole Hong and William K. Rashbaum, “The 2 Lawyers, the Anti-Police Protests and the Molotov Cocktail Attack,” The New York Times (Jun. 7, 2020), https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/07/nyregion/molotov-cocktail-lawyers-nyc.html
4Murtaza Hussain, “Two Brooklyn Lawyers Accused Of Throwing Molotov Cocktails Are The Public Face of Trump Administration’s Crackdown on Dissent,” The Intercept, (Jun. 19, 2020), http://theintercept.com/2020/06/19/brooklyn-lawyers-molotov-cocktails-trump/.