Che Johnson-Long (J.D. ’21) first saw law school sort of like a research project. For nearly 13 years, she’s been doing community organizing work. Johnson-Long recalls while working on a campaign with the Racial Justice Action Center to close the Atlanta City Detention Center there was a lot that she needed to understand about property law. Questions over who owned the land that the jail was on and who could go on and off the land kept coming up, so she felt like attending law school would give her the information she needed to be able to best serve the campaign.
Choosing Georgia State Law allowed Johnson-Long to continue her work in Atlanta while getting the opportunity to learn from several faculty members who are also doing important abolitionist legal work. Mixed with its affordability and commitment to diversity, Johnson-Long says Georgia State Law felt like a perfect fit.
How have you been able to attend GSU Law while continuing your community organizing work?
A lot of that is because of the College of Law’s part time program. I didn’t come in part time, but I am now, and I just don’t know what I would have done without that option. A lot of my work around policing and safety in communities just got completely up ended in the uprising of last summer. I also had COVID in May, so to then go right into protest mode and supporting a lot of organizations on the ground, it was a difficult time to be in law school to say the least.
I am lucky to have found a bubble inside of the school with part time students. I think that a lot of us are juggling careers, jugging families, juggling a mortgage, juggling just a lot of normal pressures on top of these unprecedented times, so it’s nice to be able to lean on each other.
What are some of the ways you were involved during the protests?
One of my jobs has been working with the Racial Justice Action Center. The other job is supporting organizations nationally around safety and security threats. I do a great deal of support and online trainings for groups that are taking to the streets that either want a general ‘know your rights’ training or training on building safety teams. Normally, my organization gets about 20 requests per month from organizations. In June, we got about 150. So, part of the challenge has been trying to meet a huge need because so many people have been in the streets mobilizing and it’s really exciting.
Then I think as a law student, I also try to encourage and excite other law students to become legal observers. I think that’s the best thing that a law student can do who is maybe worried about getting arrested but wants to support direct action. It’s a good way to understand the law as it’s being enforced.
How has your opinion of law school changed since being a student?
I came in because I had these very specific questions, but it’s not a research project for me anymore. Now I’m interested in continuing to close prisons and jails, but I’m also interested in public policy that helps to make that work faster. Part of being in law school is understanding the legal system in a more intricate way and then part of it is just understanding where there are gaps and where there are opportunities for solutions as an organizer. I had one lens of that previously, and now as a law student, I have a different view of it. I’m excited to keep doing this work.
Interview by Mara Thompson