Juan Cartagena, Esq. - Newark Public Library

Juan Cartagena, Esq.

Juan Cartagena, Esq.,
President and General Counsel,
LatinoJustice, PRLDEF

Juan Cartagena, Esq.

Juan Cartagena, a native New Jerseyan of Puerto Rican descent, is a constitutional and civil rights attorney. Mr. Cartagena, a graduate of Dartmouth College and Columbia University School of Law, was admitted to the Bar in 1981. Currently the President and General Counsel for LatinoJustice PRLDEF, Mr. Cartagena previously served as a municipal court judge in Hoboken, New Jersey, and as the General Counsel for the Hispanic Bar Association of New Jersey. Mr. Cartagena has worked tirelessly over the course of his career litigating on behalf of minority communities in such varied areas as housing, education, voting rights and employee discrimination. He also dedicated his expertise to the protests which halted the U.S. Navy’s use of Vieques, Puerto Rico as a bombing range. In addition to his legal work, Mr. Cartagena is involved in the preservation of the traditional Puerto Rican percussion and dance styles of bomba and plena with his music and dance group Segunda Quimbamba.

Prepared by Elizabeth Parker, Associate Archivist.


Hear Juan Cartagena discuss the far reaching consequences of arrests and convictions, specifically on minority communities, and his own experience of being subject to an unfounded stop by the police:

“We do punishment very well in America; we punish very, very well. So people who leave prisons, therefore, now have their criminal record that makes it almost impossible for them to secure work, and we allow employers to discriminate against people because of [these records]. In New Jersey, you’re permitted to ask an applicant on a job whether or not they have been arrested; it’s outrageous. Do you know how many arrests result in no conviction? How many people get arrested for no reason at all? In the streets of [New] Jersey? For no reason.

I’ve been picked up for no reason, literally picked up off the streets of Jersey City, just walking with a basketball under my arm in gym shorts and a t-shirt; picked up off the streets, like most Latinos and blacks in the city of Jersey City. Picked up, taken to a precinct, spent about four hours in a precinct, then finally let go when they realized that I was who I was. When I told them who I am, you know, [I said], “I am not a druggy, I am just—.” I was four blocks from my house. I was walking to a basketball court with my nephew, of all things… I didn’t have I.D., porque [because] who goes to–¿quién tiene una cartera? [who carries a wallet] when they go to play basketball, right? So… they insisted that I send somebody. So I had to call my house and had to ask one of my [older] nephews… to bring my I.D. So he finally came with an I.D.; they finally let me go. And our community sees a lot of this happen daily; in New York City, some of this happens multiple times to the same person.”

Text edited for clarity. For a full verbatim transcript of the quote, please see p. 39 of the complete interview transcript.

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