People, Politics & society, Profiles, Research

Why NYC: Taking the train and pursuing justice

Human Rights Fellow Kony Kim, posting for the NewsCenter's "Student Journal" series, reports from the field on her experience as a summer legal intern for the Bronx Defenders, a legal-aid organization in New York City.

NEW YORK CITY — I love the New York subway system — for the spontaneous adventures it fosters, the rich array of faces it packs together, and the intricate web of connections it is. Twice daily on the 5 Express, I rub shoulders with a cross-section of the world: masses of people seeking divergent endpoints, briefly sharing seats, entering/exiting at intervals, trading transitory glances. In the mundane diversity of its hustle and bustle, the subway represents what I love about the city itself.

Student Journal: Summer dispatches from the fieldEach year the UC Berkeley-based Human Rights Center awards summer fellowships to students from University of California campuses, to enable them to work with human-rights organizations in the U.S. and abroad. Several current Human Rights Fellows, including law student Kony Kim, have agreed to share their experiences this summer, with regular updates from the field to be published on the NewsCenter.

Kony KimKony Kim on justice alternatives in the South Bronx

  1. Why NYC: Taking the train and pursuing justice
  2. Teamwork and tangible gestures: Holistic defense at BxD
  3. Defense vs. dialogue: Restorative justice at BxD?
  4. Community intake: bite-sized empathy at BxD
  5. Drawn to a career softer and subtler than law, but driven to deal with injustice in the world
  6. Quality time vs. constant crisis: Artwork and legal work as two prongs of human rights practice
Also reporting:

Since my first visit in 2007, I’ve felt magnetically drawn to this subway-driven city, and each year I’ve found an excuse to return. My current visit is justified by two excellent “excuses”: (1) a legal internship, and (2) a research fellowship through the Human Rights Center, which creates a space for ethical and scholarly reflection on my internship.

This summer, I’m one of about 30 legal interns at the Bronx Defenders (BxD), a legal aid non-profit serving the South Bronx. I’m lucky to be here; BxD is not only a flagship office for public defenders, but a pioneer in holistic advocacy. That is, the BxD staff fights hard for clients in criminal court, while also providing civil legal aid, social service referrals, and community development initiatives. I first learned of BxD in summer 2008 when I heard Robin Steinberg, its executive director, explain the organization’s holistic mission with such pith and passion that I immediately wanted to be a part of it. Two years later, here I am.

As a Human Rights Fellow, I have the privilege to frame, assess, and share my BxD experience in a disciplined, human rights-focused way. My research goal is to examine how BxD’s incorporates key elements of restorative justice in its advocacy practices. My primary research method is participant observation (my intern status puts me in a great position for this). I may also conduct interviews with advocates and clients to supplement my findings.

Restorative justice is a nuanced and contested idea best understood through concrete examples and — better yet — experiences. So instead of starting with an elaborate definition, I’ll dive into descriptions of life at BxD, weaving in reflections that illuminate what “restorative justice” means, what it entails, and why it matters. After all, my verbal snapshots of passengers in train cars have, hopefully, given you a more vivid sense of my commute than if I had spelled out every street turn and station stop.

Thank you, readers, for your interest. I look forward to sharing my adventures with you!

About Kony Kim

Kony Kim

A J.D. and PhD. student at Berkeley Law, Kony Kim aspires to pursue her passions for art and storytelling to become what she calls a “writer-artist-advocate.” The daughter of a Presbyterian minister, she received her B.A. in philosophy from Yale (2003) and her M.A. in theological studies at Westminster Seminary (2006). While completing coursework in Berkeley Law’s Jurisprudence & Social Policy program, she was inspired by her volunteer work with asylum seekers to focus on refugee rights advocacy, and by her interactions with prison inmates to investigate alternative justice models.

Kim will spend the summer as a legal intern for the Bronx Defenders, which provides legal advocacy and services in one of the country’s poorest neighborhoods. Through participant observation, she will research how the organization makes use of “restorative justice,” an approach to crime that seeks to involve all affected parties in repairing the harms done.