By Tony Thompson, Professor of Clinical Law, NYU School of Law
The killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor at the hands of the police have catalyzed a movement. That movement started with vehement calls for fundamental reform of policing in this country. This painful moment of loss offers us a chance to make the deaths of these three people count as well as acknowledging the countless others whose names we may never know who lost their lives in a racialized system of justice enforcement that this country has tolerated and enabled.
But the public protests have also sparked something that extends beyond criminal justice reform: a relentless insistence that we acknowledge the stark reality that racism infects every system in this country. We as lawyers, as law teachers, as people who care about justice must actively work toward a genuine reckoning on race and racism in this country.
That reckoning involves understanding both what has brought us to this point and what we need to do to engage in the real transformative work that historically has been stunted. That begins with a process of self-reflection and honesty about what this moment means and what this moment demands of each of us. It means being honest about the harms that racism causes at every turn in this country. Acknowledging those ongoing harms requires that we really listen – perhaps for the first time – to a range of voices that can offer insights into the effects of this moment, the potential for change, the imperative for radical rethinking.
To that end, we have invited some individuals to share their voices and perspective as they grapple with – and try to make sense of – these events. As importantly, we hope that their ideas, experiences and expectations will encourage you to do the same. Let me introduce you to the individuals who have agreed to share their perspectives in this issue. We hear from Erwin Chemerinsky, one of the preeminent law school deans in America, who is serving as the Dean of University of California (Berkeley). We hear from, Kim Taylor-Thompson, a law professor who served as the CEO of Duke Corporate Education, the leading Global Executive Education Company and as the Director of Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia before becoming a Professor of Law at NYU School of Law. We hear from William Snowden, the Executive Director of the New Orleans office of the VERA Institute of Justice. Lara Bazelon, a rising national voice on criminal justice and a talented law professor at the University of San Francisco adds her perspectives and experiences. We also hear from one of the key voices in philanthropy, Candice Jones, the Executive Director of the Public Welfare Foundation, a lawyer, a former State Commissioner of Juvenile Justice for the State of Illinois and a former White House Fellow. Candice submitted a creative take on the issue of race and leadership sending a letter in the future to one of her relatives. This edition also welcomes the views of a young man, Reuben Kadushin, who may someday become a lawyer, but for now sits at the dawn of his career. He is heading to college soon and shares his personal reactions and observations as a young man of color. David Gibbs, who is one of the editors of newsletter, began his career taking time off from law school to work for the United Farm Workers and joined academia after practicing as a corporate lawyer and mediator, wanted to write about the importance of these issues to all Americans. And, I add my voice. I have spent 25 years on the NYU law faculty, where I teach and write about race and leadership. I also served as the founding Faculty Director of the Center on Race, Inequality and the Law. We hope that these articles will prompt you to reflect, discuss and take action.