Scholars, Officers and Activists Convene at Police/State Symposium

November 23, 2015 —

“Ferguson is not mainly about ‘bad apple’ cops; Ferguson is an example of the system working the way it’s supposed to,” said Professor Paul Butler, speaking at Georgetown Law on November 20. “The most important problem is not illegal police misconduct. The most important problem is legal police conduct.”  

“Police/State: Race, Power and Control”  — the Volume 104 Symposium of the Georgetown Law Journal — examined the excessive reliance on criminal law throughout American society and how it disproportionately affects African Americans. The symposium brought together scholars, police officers, judges, practitioners and activists.

“When we witness a police officer in a school throw a child to the ground, flip her body over and drag her across the floor, we must ask why,” said Professor Allegra McLeod. Police violence, McLeod noted, is one result of a “vast overreliance on criminal law” to address problems including mental illness, addiction, education, and poverty. More people are incarcerated per capita here than anywhere on earth, she said.

As Butler asserted in his keynote address, if the law is structuring race relations so that some win and some lose, reform is not necessarily going to fix the problem. “The police need to stop arresting so many people of color. Prosecutors need to stop prosecuting so many people of color. Police need to stop using so much violence against people of color,” he said. “That’s why I’m so encouraged by this Black Lives Matter Movement. …. [And] I’m encouraged by many of the people in this room, because I know you’re involved in this movement for racial justice. … You are the people who have the potential to make this country live up to its promise. … Because of your work, I think we’re going to be all right.”

Other participants at the daylong symposium included Georgetown Law Professors Anthony Cook and David Cole and Adjunct Professor Arjun Sethi, who led panels exploring institutional racism; technology and police accountability and intersectionality in the police state. Professors Jeffrey Fagan and Elliott Ash of Columbia University; Professors Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic of the University of Alabama Law School; Professor Devon Carbado of UCLA School of Law; and Professor Jocelyn Simonson of Brooklyn Law School also took part. 

 More than 15 student groups, the Georgetown Journal of Law & Critical Race Perspectives and the Georgetown Journal of Poverty Law and Policy contributed to the symposium, which was organized by Noah Gimbel (F’10, L’16), Georgetown Law Journal editor-in-chief, and symposium editor Daniel Emam (L’16). 

For a full list of participants, click here. A webcast will be available here.

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