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Continuing the Conversation About Ferguson

April 2, 2015 —

Nearly seven months after the fatal shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., law scholars, government officials and community organizers gathered to discuss racial injustice in the American criminal justice system.

Georgetown Law Dean William M. Treanor introduced the program by acknowledging the importance of student engagement in creating change within the legal system. “This is an opportunity to really make a difference,” he said.

Professor Sheryll Cashin began the conversation by discussing the Black Lives Matter movement, a grassroots response to the aggressive policing found in segregated, high-poverty black neighborhoods. The movement “has attracted a youthful generation of civil rights leaders that are organizing and articulating demands mainly to hold police and American society accountable,” Cashin said.

The Black Lives Matter movement, along with the Department of Justice report detailing police misconduct and racial biases in the Missouri community, has the power to create “a saner, multiracial politics for justice in law enforcement and other critical realms like housing and education,” Cashin said.

Professor Allegra McLeod spoke about the negative effects of over-criminalization in the United States. “The problem of radicalized violence in the U.S. criminal process is by no means limited to fatal encounters with police. Instead, racial disparities pervade every stage of the criminal process,” she said. McLeod explored two possible responses: law reform through citizen intervention and “shifting resources and intellectual attention towards abolishing the staggering overreliance on over-policing and over- incarceration in the United States.”

Donnell Turner, deputy state’s attorney for Prince George’s County, Md., explained his work as a prosecutor and his efforts to alleviate racially driven offenses within the justice system. “We have to continue to strive so that we eliminate all the human errors made by police departments that cause us to arrive at the Michael Brown or the Eric Garner cases,” he said.

Eugene Puryear, a Washington, D.C.-based activist, discussed his campaign to encourage community accountability in reporting police violence, including the development of a secure “repository for people to send… [police brutality] videos.”

Following the panel, Professor Naomi Mezey and Adjunct Professor Carmia Caesar led breakout sessions on hosting conversations regarding race. The event was sponsored by the Office of Public Interest and Community Service, the Coalition and the National Lawyers Guild.

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