• Urban Law Bulletin

The Urban Law Bulletin: Focus on Racial Justice June 16, 2020

The Urban Law Bulletin is a bi-weekly e-newsletter highlighting significant news and legal developments in urban law. Below is a selection of critical insights into the urban-legal dimensions of the current movement for racial justice.


Statement on Cities, Law and Racial Justice

For days after the senseless torture and killing of George Floyd, we at the Urban Law Center have found ourselves overwhelmed by this loss, and also so moved by the courageous women and men across the United States protesting police brutality and racism in America’s cities. Senseless is not the correct word, though, for the injustice inflicted on George Floyd and on so many other black lives. In its least harmful meaning, senseless means stupid or foolish, or at most lacking perception. The brutality against Black Americans we have witnessed are none of these; instead they are products of institutionalized and internalized racism, discrimination, and inequality, which we are all obligated to confront.

As the Urban Law Center’s mission is to seek ways to build better cities through interdisciplinary collaboration and research, we call on local governments to do the hard work necessary to be places of trust and support in a moment of crisis. As an academic center, it is our responsibility to provide the research, programming, and mentorship to help, in our own small way, chart paths to overcome the devastation and injustices we are experiencing in these dark times. Cities are not only governmental entities or the buildings and parks we use; they are the people and their hearts, minds, fears, and dreams. Cities, our legal system, and our whole society must recognize, as we have never truly done, that the lives of our most marginalized must be at the center of the work to make cities places of justice, and we commit ourselves to that task.

Professor Nestor M. Davidson Geeta Tewari

Faculty Director, Urban Law Center Director, Urban Law Center


Urban Planning and Space #planning

Protests are Bringing Down Confederate Monuments Around the South

“New attention from people protesting police brutality and racial injustice is changing the way cities and campuses in the American South regard symbols of white supremacy.” Birmingham, Alabama “dismantled a massive obelisk dedicated to Confederate soldiers and sailors in a downtown park” in violation of a state law. Mobile, Alabama removed a “statue of a Confederate naval officer,” Federicksburg, Virginia removed a slave auction block, and there are plans to remove a “huge statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee” in Richmond, Virginia.

Steve Helber / AP


Law and Justice #justice

LAPD, FBI to Arrest Looters in Future with Videos, Photos

“The Los Angeles Police Department has been collecting [mostly video] evidence throughout the protests . . . over the death of George Floyd . . . that could be used to identify individuals and bring charges against them in the future.” The LAPD said that the focus would likely be “on major crimes that caused extensive damage or injuries and on individuals who committed multiple crimes.” Similarly, the FBI recently “put out nationwide call for pictures and videos that could help identify people ‘actively instigating violence.’”

Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times


Urban Planning and Space #planning

America’s Cities Were Designed to Oppress

“[The] Design Justice [movement] seeks to dismantle the privilege and power structures that use architecture as a tool of oppression and sees it as an opportunity to envision radically just spaces centered on the liberation of disinherited communities. That built-in oppression takes many forms [including] ‘urban renewal’ schemes . . . [and] the proliferation of public spaces that often fail to let certain cultural communities congregate without fear of harassment.”

Oliver Douliery / AFP via Getty Images


Police Reform #reform

Democrats Unveil Sweeping Bill Targeting Police Misconduct and Racial Bias

“Democrats in Congress on Monday unveiled sweeping legislation aimed at combating excessive use of force and racial discrimination by the police and making it easier to identify, track and prosecute misconduct . . . The legislation [amends] the federal criminal code to make it easier to prosecute police officers for misconduct. Prosecutors now must prove that an officer ‘willfully’ violated an individual’s constitutional rights; the bill would lower that standard, to actions undertaken with ‘reckless disregard’ for the individual’s rights.”

Moneymaker / The New York Times


Police Reform #reform

Minneapolis May End its Police Department. Will Other Cities Follow Suit?

Following George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police officers, the Minneapolis City Council members announced their intent to disband the Minneapolis Police Department and invest in community-led public safety. “Minneapolis isn't the only city to inch toward police reform and disinvestment amid the protests . . . In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio pledged . . . to divert an undisclosed amount from the city's police department budget . . . to social services.”

Dan Gaken


Police Reform #reform

Rocked by Protests, De Blasio Finally Announces Slate of NYPD Reforms

“Mayor de Blasio announced several police reforms including: “[g]etting the NYPD out of enforcement of street vending,” hiring “community ambassadors,” and possibly cutting $1 billion of the NYPD’s budget. In addition to the proposed reforms, Governor Cuomo passed legislation to fully repeal Section 50-a, which made private the personnel records of police officers, firefighters and correction officers.

Gersh Kuntzman


Housing and Development #housing

A Look at Housing Inequality and Racism In The U.S.

“In the first quarter of 2020, the Census Bureau reported that black households had the lowest homeownership rate at 44%, nearly 30 percentage points behind white households.” Additionally, “[i]n a report published this month, the Urban Institute cites multiple prior studies that show that if homeownership were racially equalized, the racial wealth gap would diminish.”

Getty Images


Law and Justice #justice

How Police Unions Became Such Powerful Opponents to Reform Efforts

Bargaining agreements allow unions to be so “effective at defending their members that cops with a pattern of abuse can be left untouched, with fatal consequences . . . [H]igher membership rates among police unions give them resources they can spend on campaigns and litigation to block reform.”

Elizabeth Flores / Star Tribune via Associated Press


Scholarship Corner #scholarship

“While America’s car-centrism originated upstream from law in a mix of policy and popular preferences, law has played an unlikely and, in some cases, unintended role in cementing it. There exists a vast system of legal rules that offer indirect yet extravagant subsidies to driving, artificially lowering its price by offloading its costs onto nondrivers and society at large. Rules embedded across nearly every field of law privilege the motorist and, collectively, build a discriminatory legal structure with no name . . . It is constructed by diverse bodies of law including traffic regulation, land use law, criminal law, torts, insurance law, environmental law, vehicle safety rules, and even tax law, all of which provide incentives to cooperate with the dominant transport mode and punishment for those who defect.”

Gregory H. Shill, Should Law Subsidize Driving?, 95 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 498, 502 (2020).


Law and the New Urban Agenda (Nestor M. Davidson & Geeta Tewari eds., Routledge 1st ed. 2020). #international

Given the impact of racial justice on cities globally, it is more important than ever to highlight the significance of urban law and policy for students. Law and the New Urban Agenda examines the legal dimensions of the United Nations' New Urban Agenda (NUA), a globally shared understanding of the vital link between urbanization and a sustainable future.

Law and the New Urban Agenda underscores the value of urban law as a discipline in supporting the healthy development of inclusive cities for all. This timely volume sheds light on the many complex challenges that urban growth poses for legal systems around the globe, and I commend this eclectic group of scholars for their engagement with the New Urban Agenda.

Maimunah Mohd Sharif, Executive Director, UN-Habitat

This book is available from Routledge here.


We thank the Urban Law Center’s Urban Law Research Fellows for assisting in preparation of The Bulletin, which provides news in major areas of urban law, and categorizes the stories as follows:

· City Administration and Urban Governance #administration

· City-State Relations and Preemption #preemption

· Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion #equality

· Environment and Sustainability #sustainability

· Housing and Development #housing

· International/Global Urban Law #international

· Law and Justice #justice

· Public Health #health

· Technology #technology

· Transportation and Infrastructure #transportation

· Urban Mobility #mobility

· Urban Planning and Space #planning

If you have an article, legal decision, or commentary that you would like to share in an upcoming Bulletin, please email it to urbanlaw@fordham.edu.

Subscribe to The Urban Law Bulletin here.

The Urban Law Center at Fordham University School of Law

Nestor M. Davidson

Faculty Director, Urban Law Center

Geeta Tewari

Director, Urban Law Center

Urban Law Student Fellow Contributors

Quinn D’Isa

Justin Meshulam

Daniela Weinstein

Haleigh Zillges