Key Takeaways from the June 2020 Young Leaders Forum
Read the most critical lessons from legal experts and our student organizers.

In response to the rapidly evolving debate over the future of policing in America sparked by the murder of yet another unarmed Black person at the hands of police, RFK Young Leaders hosted a series of discussions in June about the violence and upheaval gripping the nation.

During the two-day forum, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights President Kerry Kennedy, members of the organization’s Criminal Justice Reform Team, and New York public defenders, local community organizers from Nashville, TN, and student organizers from NYU educated participants about the movement to defund the police, best practices for safely monitoring police interaction, safe protesting practices, and how to channel our collective outrage to bring about lasting change. 

Here are five key takeaways:

We each have a role to play in dismantling white supremacy. 

Whether it’s marching in protests, holding local leaders accountable, supporting the #BlackLivesMatter and #DefundThePolice movements through donations, or decrying racism whenever it’s encountered, forum attendees learned that everyone can find a way to participate.

Protest safely and strategically.

Attendees learned practical tips for taking part in protests—such as bringing a buddy, packing protective eyewear, preparing for potential arrests, and maintaining spatial awareness. New organizers learned that while permits are generally required for marches or parades that don’t stay on the sidewalk, under the First Amendment a permit usually isn’t needed if the rally is in response to unforeseeable events or circumstances. Protests are often most effective when participants take on a variety of roles, such as handing out water, snacks, and masks along the perimeter of the march; serving as street medics; and acting as legal observers of the police to make sure protestors’ rights are being protected. 

Young people are leading the movement. 

In New York City, the NYPD has been caught on camera militarizing recent peaceful protests, inciting violence, and blaming its victims. Police have been a catalyst for stoking violence in a city that many college students and alumni call home. Kate Storey-Fisher and Zoe Vongtau, student representatives from the Graduate Student Organizing Committee and the Incarceration to Education Coalition at NYU, are leading a coalition of student groups seeking to remove the NYPD from all NYU campuses. Learn more about their work and the catalyst behind the movement here.

Power in participation.

Earlier this month, the People’s Budget Coalition stormed Nashville City Hall to demand lawmakers adopt a reduced policing budget. So many people showed up to speak that the meeting lasted until dawn. “True public safety is built on people having access to and control of the public and social goods—housing, health care, transportation, jobs, libraries, community centers—that truly foster healthy communities,” Dawn Harrington, CEO of the Nashville-based nonprofit Free Hearts, told forum participants. Harrington broke down the concept of participatory budgeting and shared best practices for advocates looking to leverage the process to push for reform.

The work continues. 

Dismantling white supremacy will take time. It will require a collective effort with intentional actions from each and every one of us. “It’s a scary time, but it’s a time of great opportunity,” Kerry Kennedy said. “This is our moment. We can’t let this pass us by. We can’t sit back passively—we have to get involved, and that’s who you guys are. You’re the ones in the front lines, you’re the ones who are organizing others, and you’re the ones who are getting engaged.”