Lawyers Get No Bail In Property Damage Case, Face 45 Years In Prison

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Above photo: Urooj Rahman and Colinford Mattis. Photos by Hyder Kazmi, left and Meghna Philip, right.

Letter from Civil and Human Rights Organizations, Legal Associations, and Policy Institutes in Support of Colin Mattis and Urooj Rahman

On June 22, 2020, the Center for Constitutional Rights—along with a coalition of other civil rights organizations—released an open letter demanding that Colin Mattis and Urooj Rahman be released immediately and that the excessive and politically motivated charges against them be dropped.

The Center for Constitutional Rights and a coalition of other civil rights organizations are calling on federal prosecutors to release on bail two New York attorneys who are accused of throwing Molotov cocktails into an empty New York police car during protests in Brooklyn on May 30. The lawyers — Colinford Mattis and Urooj Rahman — are facing a minimum of 45 years in prison if convicted on the federal charges. The two were initially released on bail, but then the federal government challenged the bail conditions, sending them back to pretrial detention — a move that shocked many in the legal community since neither Mattis nor Rahman have a criminal history. A group of over 50 former federal prosecutors has also signed a letter opposing the government’s handling of the case.

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The undersigned civil and human rights organizations, legal associations, and policy institutes condemn the excessive and politically-motivated charges that the federal government is leveling against two members of our community, Colin Mattis and Urooj Rahman, and its aggressive effort to keep them imprisoned and separated from their families pending trial. In its attempt to use the courts and a case of alleged property damage to stifle a historic popular mobilization against systemic anti-Black racism, the United States Attorney’s Office only further exposes the injustices that gave rise to and sustain the mass protests.

George Floyd’s murder by a Minneapolis police officer on May 25th has led to a critical moment of national reckoning with the institutionalized legacy of racial violence and white supremacy in the United States. Structural violence pervades the criminal legal system: from law enforcement, to prosecution, to sentencing, to incarceration. This is the system that killed George Floyd and threatens Black lives, while protecting police officers from accountability.

The Trump Administration is wielding the punitive force of this system against Colin and Urooj, who are Black and South Asian, respectively, in order to chill popular protest against the unjust status quo. On May 30th, Colin and Urooj, both attorneys committed to social justice, joined tens of thousands of demonstrators in New York City in defense of Black lives. That night, they were arrested and charged by the federal government with allegedly attempting to burn an abandoned police car and charring the interior. For this alleged property damage–a routine state law crime–they are facing federal charges carrying a mandatory minimum of 45 years in prison. These are the types of charges that generally accompany incidents with mass casualties. If convicted, our colleagues, who are both in their early 30s, would be imprisoned for most, if not all, of the rest of their lives.

Coupled with the outrageous charges designed to stifle dissent, federal prosecutors are insisting that the young lawyers remain in permanent pre-trial detention in the Metropolitan Detention Complex (MDC) in Brooklyn. MDC is a federal jail infamous for its human rights abuses and inhumane conditions, where health risks are only exacerbated due to COVID-19. Two federal judges decided Colin and Urooj could safely be released on bail, which they were, until the government made the highly unusual move to appeal the decision. Now the Second Circuit Court of Appeals will decide their fate. Meanwhile, the police officer who is charged with murdering George Floyd is currently out on bail. The perverse system that treats two protesters of color demanding racial justice more punitively for an alleged property crime than it treats a white police officer charged with the murder of a Black man is precisely the injustice animating the calls of the Movement for Black Lives and protestors for fundamental change. In our current system, Black defendants are far more likely to face charges that carry mandatory minimums than white defendants, and Black and brown defendants are far more likely to be held in pre-trial detention than white defendants.

As legal, advocacy and policy organizations with long histories of supporting movements for justice, we are well aware that, particularly at the tipping points of social transformation, the state will deploy maximum force to undermine momentum. The federal government’s cruel and unnecessary effort to keep Colin and Urooj in prison pre-trial, and potentially for the rest of their natural lives, is an approach guided by a political agenda rather than by law. It reflects the Trump Administration’s animosity towards the powerful and growing Movement for Black Lives. Such political prosecutions mirror historic attempts to undermine racial justice movements in this country and in authoritarian regimes throughout the world. We cannot allow the federal government to use this case to distract from or suppress the underlying demands for justice that has brought many thousands of people in every state in the nation to the streets. We call for the immediate release of Colin and Urooj on bail and for the federal government to drop these excessive charges. Our community will be made safer upon their return home to their families, and when the state ceases to prioritize property over human life and our collective well-being.

Center for Constitutional Rights
Center on Race, Inequality, and the Law – New York University School of Law
CLEAR – CUNY School of Law
Defending Rights & Dissent
Demand Progress
International Association of Democratic Lawyers
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
Make the Road New York
Metropolitan Black Bar Association
Muslim Bar Association of New York
National Lawyers Guild
Prison Policy Initiative


  • The only real criminals are are people making the case and the cops. They are in charge, in power and in contempt of everyone human.

  • Jeff

    Don’t forget the corrupt, dishonest, immoral judges who rule on these matters, most of whom are former prosecutors.

  • Jeff

    Assuming, only for the sake of argument, that whatColin Mattis and Urooj Rahman did what they are accused of doing: If you believe that we are at war against, among other things, the police, then there’s nothing wrong with what they are alleged to have done. However, by law — and I don’t consider the legal system to be legitimate, but this is the world we live in, not the one we want — doing anything like destroying police property with even a minute chance that a cop might be injured or killed will bring harsh retribution from the state. This is what’s going on here. And make no mistake about it, the court system, including judges, is a major part of the state.

  • Bill Rood

    Occupying an embassy building with the permission of its vacating staff to protect it from the representatives of an attempted coup that even the US government admits has no real legitimate power within the foreign country is a peaceful act that should not even be charged. Even impeding traffic, as long as drivers are not threatened or assaulted, is peaceful. I support all such acts and would use my right of jury nullification to protect the perpetrators of the above.

    Throwing a Molotov cocktail at anything, let alone a police car even if “abandoned,” is a violent act and, more importantly, is an act likely calculated to inspire others to similar acts or worse. I have no sympathy for the perpetrators of such crimes, no matter what grievances they are attempting to redress. Given the incitement provided by the perpetrators, I do not see the charges as excessive. Largely black communities across the nation are being destroyed by rioters. This is not justice for George Floyd, but it is injustice for the residents of those communities who will now often live in food or other types of deserts.

    Certainly, these two suspects are innocent until proven guilty. If they have no priors, as claimed in the article, the original judge did right to release them on bail, assuming the bail was reasonably set and given their ties to the community, but I also can’t fault the US Attorney for appealing. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals will sort it all out.

    Certainly, the listed organizations have a right to their say, and readers have a right to give or deny their support.