Third-year Loyola University New Orleans College of Law student Alison McCrary has been selected as a 2010 Soros Justice Advocacy Fellow. The fellowship funds lawyers, advocates and organizers who initiate litigation, public education, grassroots organizing and advocacy projects that will have a measurable impact on a host of criminal justice issues. McCrary is one of 18 fellows to be selected nationwide this year.
The Soros Justice Advocacy Fellowship is awarded each year by The Open Society Institute, a private operating and grant making foundation created and funded by George Soros, one of the world’s richest men and most successful investors. He is the founder and chairman of Soros Fund Management, LLC.
McCrary intends to use the two-year fellowship to create a program called the “Decriminalization of Culture Campaign,” to monitor and challenge law enforcement practices that threaten the traditions of New Orleans’ Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs and Mardi Gras Indian tribes.
New Orleans has about 40 Mardi Gras Indian tribes and 90 Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs that perform in the streets of New Orleans almost weekly. More than 99 percent of their members are African-American. According to McCrary, tensions have arisen in recent years among these community groups and the New Orleans Police Department. The groups have launched complaints to city officials about police practices at second lines and group functions, parade permitting requirements and other issues.
“I want to create an avenue to challenge and improve law enforcement practices that criminalize these groups. These centuries-old cultural groups, which number almost 150 citywide, are persistent victims of racial profiling, police abuse, harassment, illegal arrests and intimidation,” says McCrary.
The campaign seeks to empower grassroots movements within the existing organizations with the legal tools they need to protect their neighborhoods and cultural traditions and improve the groups’ relations with police. McCrary hopes to inspire a greater respect for and protection of cultural bearers and spaces and recognition of centuries-long traditions. She also hopes to develop a model for defending the criminalization of cultural minorities that can be replicated around the country.
McCrary will draft manuals to inform group members of their rights when practicing their traditions on the streets of New Orleans and how community members can observe and document police behavior. She also plans to create trainer’s handbooks, facilitate “know your rights” and observer trainings for members, host cultural sensitivity trainings, advocate for policy reform of discriminatory ordinances and practices and possibly bring litigation to enforce rights violations.
McCrary came to Loyola after working with the men and women on Louisiana’s death row. As a law student, she has served as president of the college’s Public Interest Law Group; as an Ella Baker Fellow at the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York; as a United States delegate at the International Association of Democratic Lawyers Convention in Vietnam; and as an advocate in the slums of Brazil where she researched and documented the suppression of Afro-Brazilian cultural traditions, rituals and religious practices. In 2009, she received the Louisiana State Bar Association’s 2009 Pro Bono Publico Law Student Award.
The Open Society Institute’s U.S. programs aim to address threats to an open society in America, which it defines as “increasingly punitive national security, criminal justice and immigration policies; decreasing transparency and accountability in government; entrenched structural racism; enduring inequality; massive and growing rates of incarceration; and the eroding image of the U.S. in the world."
Since 1997, the Open Society Institute has awarded more than $15 million to Soros Justice Fellows as part of a broader effort to curb mass incarceration and ensure a fair and equitable system of justice in the U.S.