Omavi Shukur is a Practitioner-in-Residence at the Columbia Center for Contemporary Critical Thought’s Initiative for a Just Society. He also holds an appointment as an Associate Research Scholar at Columbia Law. Omavi conducts research at the intersection of criminal law, criminal procedure, critical race theory, and critical legal studies. His forthcoming Boston University Law Review article, The Criminalization of Black Resistance, examines how laws that criminalize resisting arrest harden white social dominance and deepen black racial subordination. His article also discusses the need for transformative, nonpunitive interventions that eradicate the harms animating black resistance to policing.
At Columbia, Omavi has co-taught the Abolition Practicum, a course that both introduces students to key concepts regarding ongoing abolitionist movements and provides opportunities for students to engage in real-world applications of abolitionist principles. He supervised a team of law students who worked in conjunction with Law 4 Black Lives and Interrupting Criminalization to provide legal resources to abolitionist practitioners.
Omavi also litigates civil rights and criminal cases that implicate a myriad of pressing social justice issues, most notably the harms caused by the criminal legal system. He was co-lead counsel in Walls v. Starks, which challenged a police officer’s unlawful killing of Bradley Blackshire, a black father of five children, and the municipal indiscretions that precipitated this tragic loss of life. This case settled for monetary and non-monetary relief.
As an Assistant Counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Omavi represented victims of racialized police violence in federal civil rights cases. He also co-led the development of the litigation team’s strategy for protecting protesters from police violence and undue prosecutorial persecution during and after the Summer 2020 Racial Justice Protests. Prior to joining LDF, Omavi represented victims of wrongful criminal convictions in federal civil rights cases at a national law firm.
Omavi has also litigated civil rights and criminal defense matters in his hometown, Little Rock, Arkansas. In Covington v. Key, Omavi negotiated a settlement on behalf of black students who challenged the Little Rock School District’s racially discriminatory allocation of high-quality educational resources and top-end facilities after obtaining favorable rulings denying the school district’s dispositive motions.
Also while in Little Rock, Omavi founded Seeds of Liberation, a nonprofit organization that engaged with marginalized communities in a collective effort to help eradicate the unique harms faced by formerly incarcerated people in Arkansas. In this capacity, Omavi worked alongside formerly incarcerated Arkansans to successfully bring an end to the ban on people with felony drug convictions receiving food stamps and welfare benefits in Arkansas.
Before returning to Little Rock, Omavi was a public defender in New Orleans, where he witnessed firsthand the despair of people jailed because of their inability to post bail and the vindictiveness of a criminal legal system designed in large part to exclude and control impoverished black lives. Omavi’s years as a public defender continue to inform his research and advocacy.
His work in the South also includes a summer clerkship at the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama. He is currently a director of the Little Rock Freedom Fund.
Omavi has taught Critical Race Theory as an adjunct professor at the William H. Bowen School of Law and trial advocacy as an instructor at Harvard Law School.
His is a member of the Arkansas, Louisiana and New York state bars, and is admitted to various federal district and appellate courts.
Omavi received his J.D. from Harvard Law School and B.A. in Political Science from Columbia University.