Robin Steinberg, executive director of the Bronx Defenders, is widely recognized as being extraordinarily good at her job—which is providing criminal defense to those who can't afford it in New York City's poorest borough. But if you're not a criminal justice wonk or civil rights activist, you likely know her chiefly because of a controversial music video in which two of her employees appeared recently. Harvard Law School planned to recognize Steinberg at an event honoring dozens of notable women lawyers next month, but backed out this week after a hit piece about the video in the New York Post.
The music video in question—for Uncle Murda and Maino's "Hands Up"—features a scene in which the two rappers point guns at the head of an actor dressed as an NYPD officer, and the song's lyrics also make reference to killing cops. Two Bronx Defenders attorneys who have since resigned appeared in the video, as did the law firm's office. According to an inquiry from the city's Department of Investigation, Steinberg knew about and signed off on the video before it hit YouTube, but in a statement on the organization's website, Bronx Defenders claims it "never approved the music video 'Hands Up,' and never saw it before it went online."
It is possible to recognize Steinberg's accomplishments without endorsing the "Hands Up" video; Steinberg, after all, had no role in producing it. Clearly, that is what Harvard Law intended to do, as it's hard to imagine the event's organizers being unaware of the controversy until this week. But then they got called out by New York's worst newspaper, and they crumbled immediately.
As the Post's editorial board gloats, Harvard's Women's Law Association and Law and International Development Society announced that they would be dropping Steinberg from the event the same day the original Post article was published.
Just hours after this newspaper reported on plans by two Harvard Law student groups to honor a New York City lawyer whose office was involved in a video extolling cop-killing, the university backed down...
A public statement issued Monday put it this way: "We did not intend for her nomination to suggest in any way that it is acceptable to harm police officers or incite others to do so.
"As lawyers who aspire to build a more effective criminal justice system, we believe that advocating violence against police in any form is reprehensible."
Harvard is allowing itself to be bullied, and the parties that are most loudly decrying the video—the Post and the NYPD officers' union—are far from politically neutral, a point several Harvard Law students made in a strident op-ed in support of Steinberg for the Harvard Crimson:
Robin Steinberg has spent her entire career helping to build a more effective and more just criminal justice system. The attacks on her and on The Bronx Defenders are part of a divisive campaign by the New York police union and its allies aimed at dismantling an organization that routinely challenges police officers and police practices in court. We are deeply disappointed that the WLA and LIDS, groups that claim to support women and other marginalized populations, would cave to these exploitative attacks.