“A lawyer who torched an NYPD patrol car during the George Floyd riots is begging for a reduced sentence — whining that she was drunk and dealing with “unprocessed trauma” at the time, according to court documents.

Urooj Rahman, 33, who pleaded guilty last year to tossing a Molotov cocktail at an empty police van in Brooklyn and is facing 18 months to two years behind bars, is pushing to have her sentence commuted to time served.”

The New York Post, November 11, 2022



            They threw the book at them. In a case that should have been handled by the State of New York, the Department of Justice intervened and argued that Urooj Rahman and Colin Mattis deserved a minimum sentence of forty-five years: scarcely less than, if not all of, the remainder of their lives behind bars. To the former top EDNY attorney Richard Donoghue, Rahman and Mattis were not “rational” actors, but “criminals… [who] will be treated as such.” House detention was insufficient; after the pair posted bail, AUSA Ian Richardson argued that it was not “the time to be releasing a bomb-thrower” into the community. The 2nd Circuit court sent them back to jail, and the government prosecution requested that they remain there until trial, as they “have less to lose now.” Never mind that fifty-six former federal prosecutors filed an amicus brief in support of pretrial release; never mind that Rahman cares for her widowed mother and Mattis has three foster children. In the prosecution’s words, “preexisting familiar relationships should give the court little comfort that the defendants will not engage in further criminal activity.” The pair would spend a total of twenty-eight days behind bars before a three-judge panel ruled in favor of their release.

            In June 2022, the parties reached a plea agreement that shrank Rahman and Mattis’s potential maximum sentence to five years, with AUSA Richardson recommending eighteen to twenty-four months. Whether this substantial reduction is the result of a change in policy under a new president’s DOJ or the indication of a broader prosecutorial strategy—one that begins aggressively to gain eventual capitulations—it is clear that the government would like to present itself as magnanimous and conciliatory while simultaneously defending itself as a ‘law and order’ administration. Such a position demands incarceration as a superficial ‘solution’ while ignoring the facts of the case and backgrounds and characters of the defendants; compared with the forty-five to life sentence initially sought in the summer of 2020, two years might seem appropriate to prosecutors and the free citizen observer, but it is still two years in brutal confinement. The recommended sentencing also fails to account for the weeks Rahman and Mattis already spent in jail, as well as the mental and emotional toll of the two and a half years both have spent anticipating the trial’s conclusion, unable to work as lawyers and targeted by dehumanizing media coverage.

It was surely with this in mind that Rahman’s lawyers submitted a memorandum arguing for no additional incarceration beyond time served, which included in its appendices a psychological report, attestation of her faithful attendance of weekly therapy sessions, and letters from friends, family members, and coworkers, as well as other individuals who know Rahman personally or professionally. The September 9th letter contextualizes Rahman’s actions during the 2020 protests better than any journalistic effort to date, tracing the first-generation immigrant’s life from her birth in Karachi, Pakistan, through her childhood in post-9/11 Brooklyn and matriculation at Fordham Law, where she was selected to be a Tolan Fellow in International Human Rights. The “steadfast, determined, and caring person” described in these documents makes a stark contrast with the portrait of Rahman painted by the prosecutors and the press.

Indeed, it suffices to say that New York and national media have done Rahman and Mattis a gross disservice, either willfully misrepresenting the defendants or ignoring them altogether (early exceptions include The Intercept’s Murtaza Hussein, The Daily Beast’s Kali Holloway, and New York’s Lisa Miller). Once feverishly discussed in the papers of record, coverage of Rahman and Mattis’s impending sentencings has evidently been left to the New York Post and the UK’s Daily Mail, who jointly describe the September 9th letter as “begging” and lean heavily on statements made by police union leader Patrick Lynch. The Post’s Matthew Sedacca quotes Lynch, who infamously contested the firing of Eric Garner’s murderer, as supporting “the heaviest sentence the law allows” for Rahman, and the Daily Mail’s Stephen Lapore has him lamenting that “these dangerous criminals have been allowed to sit at home for the past two years.”

The vacuum left by any vaguely reputable news source—the Times, for one, has not published an article about Rahman or Mattis since October of last year—burdens the defendants and their communities with contesting the narrative created by the government and tabloids alone. That narrative does not include the kind words from a retiree whom Rahman “successfully” represented in eviction court, nor does it mention her fellow lawyer and friend who calls her “the big sister I always wished I had.” There is scant recollection of Rahman’s humanitarian work abroad in Egypt, Greece, and Turkey, and her service closer to home—at the Harlem Community Justice Center and with the EPA on tribal land upstate—were seemingly not worth mentioning in New York newspapers.

The purveyors of this narrative know that the casual observer will not have a PACER account; they will not read the court documents meticulously assembled and submitted by Rahman’s defense counsel. They will not see Arjumand Rahman’s letter to Judge Brian M. Cogan, in which she details how her youngest child “takes care of all [her] daily needs” and expresses how “grateful” she is that her “sweet daughter chose to stay with me and help me in my old age.” They will not learn about Shagufta Rahman’s daughter, who “adores her ‘Aunt Uroojie,’” nor will they read her professor’s recollection of being “touched, though not surprised” at how Rahman sought the contact information of a deceased classmate’s family in order to send condolences. They will not comprehend the psychological toll of her legal work in New York and beyond; they will not learn that her eldest sibling passed away while she awaited her trial.

In a narrative stripped of humanity, Rahman and Mattis are irrational “terrorists” deserving of the strictest punishment. That the reduced sentencing sought by the government has sparked outcry from the reactionary right should surprise no one; indeed, one can easily imagine the Post’s blustering response to any leniency shown by Judge Cogan. Clamoring over “leniency,” however, obfuscates the point: the carceral state is insatiable, and any sentencing handed down in the coming weeks will be too harsh; harsh is that there was any federal trial at all. Urooj Rahman and Colinford Mattis deserve to walk free, and we all deserve a media that represents its constituents more faithfully and holistically than it has for them.