Julia Yoo landed a plum concert at a pretty busy time.
The San Diego civil rights attorney has just been tapped to run a national organization of lawyers focused on stopping and preventing the abuse of authority.
Yoo was sworn in last month as president of the National Accountability in Policing Project, whose mission it is to protect people’s rights in encounters with law enforcement officers and prison workers.
“Our ultimate goal is to bring justice and justice to our communities, especially our color communities,” Yoo said in an interview last month.
It intervenes as protests against racial injustice and calls for police reforms in response to the shootings of black men and women in encounters with law enforcement agencies including George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor continue across the country.
“It’s a remarkable moment,” said Yoo. “I have never seen such sustained advocacy and demand for justice in 22 years of practice. … It is remarkable. “
Yoo was in line to head the organization – she was first asked two years ago if she would like to take the job – long before the protests swelled.
“It’s an exciting moment and we want to hold onto it,” she said. “Failure is not an option. We will have reforms. What are we going to say – ‘We tried, but well?’ ”
Originally from South Korea, Yoo is the first woman and black person to lead the nonprofit volunteer organization, which Yoo says has 600 lawyers and an additional 115,000 supporters.
Rachel Pickens, the executive director of the National Police Accountability Project, pointed out these initial points and said they would help Yoo “create critical insight and awareness as NPAP continues to fight for these and other identities that are disproportionately harmed by police suffer. ”
Pickens said she was excited to have Yoo at the helm of the organization. “With racial justice and police accountability at the forefront of the national conversation, it is more important than ever that organizations like NPAP are led by individuals who prioritize racial justice.”
The National Police Accountability Project does not take on individual clients. Rather, it provides assistance to lawyers, focuses on politics and issues, and talks to executives and lawmakers about police reform.
The organization played a role in implementing a recently passed law in California to decertify officials dismissed for misconduct or convicted of certain crimes. The idea was to prevent her from getting a law enforcement job anywhere else in the state.
The SB 731 bill withered at the end of the legislative period. It’s a failure, “was a slap in the face,” said Yoo. She plans to press for his return.
In her own practice with Attorney Eugene Iredale, Yoo has taken on cases suing law enforcement in the area. Part of their work is done pro bono.
She wants to provide a megaphone for the voiceless, and her clients in civil rights cases have included inmates – including women who were raped in prison – and families of people who died behind bars.
“My heart really is with the rights of people in custody,” she said of people in prison and jail.
As a lawyer, Yoo has worked on several high-profile cases, including representing a man who was shot with a taser in an encounter with a Coronado police officer in 2005. The Bryon v MacPherson case reached the US 9th Court of Appeals, which ruled that the use of the device could be viewed as an excessive use of force – a precedent finding.
In 2011, Yoo also represented Daniel Chong, a UC San Diego student who was forgotten by DEA agents and left him in a room with no food or water for five days in 2012.
When Yoo was a law student, she didn’t want to become a civil rights attorney. Law school was a stopgap as she figured out what to do with her life. She thought of becoming a community organizer.
Then the volunteer came to a women’s prison where they saw inmates who had nothing to sacrifice to one another and even gave up a coveted place to meet with a pro bono lawyer. The experience there, she said, “changed my life.”
“Everything I have learned about a decent human being,” she said, “I learned from my parents and the women in Denver Women’s Prison.”