Nkechi Taifa’s Convener’s Corner,
March 25, 2017
As founder and convener of the Justice Roundtable, I am thrilled with the announcement of Vanita Gupta as President and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the Leadership Conference Education Fund. I smile when I think of Vanita as a new young lawyer at the very first meeting of the Justice Roundtable coalition in October 2002. She had received a Soros Justice Fellowship to work with the NAACP-Legal Defense and Educational Fund and was deployed by them to investigate allegations of law enforcement misconduct in the little town of Tulia, Texas.
It was Vanita who exposed the abuses of the system that allowed 15% of the African-American adult population of that little Texas town to be arrested, convicted and imprisoned on bogus drug trafficking charges. It was Vanita who unmasked glitches with the uncorroborated testimonies of the white undercover officer who was part of a federally-funded drug task force. It was Vanita who brought to light his racist background coupled with a ludicrous modus operandi of recording purported drug buys on his arms and legs. And it was Vanita who galvanized mega law firms and negotiated a hefty financial settlement on behalf of the town’s victims and their release from years of unjust imprisonment.
The Justice Roundtable’s Law Enforcement Reform Working Group worked with Vanita Gupta in challenging the abuses of federally funded drug task forces, brought Tulia family members to Washington to testify, and promoted legislation to prevent future abuses of law enforcement overreach. Vanita went on to be Assistant Counsel at the NAACP-Legal Defense and Educational Fund and Deputy Legal Director of the ACLU, before serving as the country’s top civil rights litigator and advocate in the Department of Justice.
As we congratulate Vanita on this outstanding appointment and wish her all the best, the Justice Roundtable extends its heartfelt honor and praise to outgoing President and CEO Wade Henderson, for his exceptionally pivotal leadership which catapulted the Leadership Conference as the premier civil and human rights organization in the country. We thank you Wade, and applaud Vanita, as we seek to collectively protect the gains of the past 50 years and resist the threats to the future.
Nkechi Taifa is the convener of the Justice Roundtable. An expert in the field of criminal justice, she is the Advocacy Director for Criminal Justice for the Open Society Foundations and Open Society Policy Center.