Criminal Law and Justice

Black Liberation and Justice in Detroit

July 7, 2021  • Criminal Justice Reform Initiative

What would it take to make Detroit a “just city” – an actual sanctuary of justice for its residents? Amanda Alexander, founder and Executive Director of the Detroit Justice Center is working on exactly that. Based on a wide range of experiences – from learning alongside ACT UP AIDS activists, to spending time in newly post-apartheid South Africa, to the Movement for Black Lives – Alexander combines her background as a historian and an attorney to reimagine safety and justice in Detroit.

In this episode of Shades of Freedom, Alexander weaves together her own experiences, and the long history of global civil rights movements, to discuss what’s going on right now in Detroit, including innovative supports for community members that prevent contact with the legal system in the first place, shifting funds from a focus on policing to prevention, and supporting communities to define and create their own safety.

Guest Biography

Amanda AlexanderAmanda Alexander, founding Executive Director of the Detroit Justice Center, is a racial justice lawyer and historian who works alongside community-based movements to end mass incarceration and build thriving and inclusive cities. Originally from Michigan, Amanda has worked at the intersection of racial justice and community development in Detroit, New York, and South Africa for more than 15 years.

Amanda is a Senior Research Scholar at University of Michigan Law School, where she has taught Law & Social Movements and was an attorney in the Child Advocacy Law Clinic. She was a 2015-2018 member of the Michigan Society of Fellows with appointments in Law and Afro-American & African Studies. As a Soros Justice Fellow, Amanda launched the Prison & Family Justice Project at University of Michigan Law School to provide legal representation to incarcerated parents and advocate for families divided by the prison and foster care systems.

Amanda serves on the Michigan Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration, appointed by Governor Gretchen Whitmer to develop ambitious and innovative strategies to reduce Michigan’s jail population. She has served on the national steering committee of Law for Black Lives, and is a board member of the Center for Constitutional Rights and the James and Grace Lee Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership.

Amanda’s advocacy and research have won the support of an Echoing Green Fellowship, Law for Black Lives/Movement Law Lab Legal Innovator Fellowship, Social Science Research Council Fellowship, Ford Foundation Doctoral Fellowship, and other fellowships and grants. She is the recipient of the NAACP-Detroit’s Great Expectations Award, the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative’s Racial Justice Cultivator Award, and the A. Philip Randolph Institute’s Community Builder Award.

Amanda received her JD from Yale Law School, her PhD in international history from Columbia University, and her BA from Harvard College. Previously she has worked with the Detroit Center for Family Advocacy, the Bronx Defenders, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and the Centre for Civil Society in Durban, South Africa. Her writing has been published in The Globe & Mail, Detroit Free Press, Michigan Journal of Race & Law, Harvard Journal of African-American Public Policy, Michigan Child Welfare Law Journal, Journal of Asian and African Studies, Review of African Political Economy, and other publications.

About Shades of Freedom

Shades of Freedom is a podcast from the Aspen Institute’s Criminal Justice Reform Initiative. Our podcast amplifies and uplifts promising efforts aimed at reducing mass incarceration, and examines the ecosystem of related inequalities that surrounds and perpetuates it.

The podcast can be found on all the major platforms, including Apple, Google, and Spotify. You can also listen to individual episodes here.

The Shades of Freedom podcast, hosted by Dr. Douglas E. Wood, Director of the Criminal Justice Reform Initiative, is named after and inspired by the book Shades of Freedom: Racial Politics and Presumptions of the American Legal Process, by Judge A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr.