Updated: 5:36 pm, Mon Feb 23, 2015

Controversial Video Bites Bronx Defenders’ Head

By Mark Toor

PATRICK J. LYNCH: Harvard smartens up.  

Bronx Defenders executive director Robin Steinberg last week was denied an award by Harvard University Law School because of negative publicity about her role in approving the filming of a rap video at the organization’s offices that encourages the murder of police officers.

Ms. Steinberg is serving a 60-day unpaid suspension from Bronx Defenders following a Department of Investigation report released Jan. 29 that concluded she did not exercise proper diligence in investigating the rappers and the lyrics, made misleading statements about what her organization knew and failed to discipline two of her organization’s attorneys who encouraged and appeared in the video. The two attorneys resigned under pressure.

‘Start Killing Coppers’

The video, “Hands Up,” shows the rappers who made it, Uncle Murda and Maino, holding guns to the head of a white actor dressed as a police officer. The piece called for vengeance for unarmed black men who were killed in encounters with police. The lyrics include, “Fo’ Mike Brown and Sean Bell a cop gotta get killed...Time to start killing these coppers.”

Police unions, principally the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, criticized Bronx Defenders for its involvement in the video. PBA President Patrick J. Lynch called for the city to re-examine its funding for Bronx Defenders. Ms. Steinberg’s 60-day suspension was part of an agreement worked out between the organization and Mayor de Blasio’s office.

Meanwhile, the law school had announced that Ms. Steinberg’s portrait would be featured among those of 50 influential women lawyers and policy-makers for the second annual International Women’s Day.

The organizations sponsoring the event, Harvard Women’s Law Association and the Law and International Development Society, sought nominations from the law-school community of women “who strive for impact and excellence in the legal field.” The portraits will be exhibited March 1-14.

Abrupt Change of Heart

But after the New York Post reported that she was among those being honored, the two groups announced Feb. 16 that Ms. Steinberg’s portrait would not be exhibited because of the “Hands Up” controversy.

“The International Women’s Day exhibit is designed to recognize lawyers whom our members aspire to emulate, across disciplines and in diverse practice areas,” they said in an announcement. “As the founder of Bronx Defenders and a pioneer in holistic and client-centered criminal defense, Robin Steinberg was nominated by students to be one of our honorees.

“Nevertheless, in view of the questions that have been raised and the controversy that has unfolded, we have decided to refrain from including Ms. Steinberg in this year’s exhibit, because of the investigation into her response to the actions of defenders in her office. 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.”

The groups said that if further inquiries in New York City vindicate Ms. Steinberg, they will consider her for a future International Women’s Day honor.

PBA: A ‘Wise’ Removal

Mr. Lynch said, “Harvard University made a wise decision by removing Robin Steinberg from the list of honorees. It is good that they recognize the need to support police officers and, even more importantly, the need to denounce violence against police officers.”

Ms. Steinberg did not respond to a phone call seeking comment. A message that has been posted on the Bronx Defenders website since the DOI released its report said, “The Bronx Defenders abhors the use of violence against the police under any circumstance. We have always been an organization that is committed to preserving life, dignity and respect for all people.The Bronx Defenders never approved the music video ‘Hands Up,’ and never saw it before it went online. We deeply regret any involvement with this video.”