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St. John’s Law Hosts Student-Faculty Dialogue on Race, Justice, and the Law

Thursday, January 22, 2015

And maybe that’s our challenge...

Maybe that’s the reason for the struggle we’re now in—as a city, as a nation...
Maybe it’s because we’ve ALL come to see only what we represent, instead of who we are.

We don’t SEE each other.


If we can learn to SEE each other, then WHEN we see each other, we’ll heal.

New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton shared this message as a call to common understanding and concerted action during his eulogy for slain NYPD Office Rafael Ramos. It was a message that over 130 program participants reflected on during the opening of last night’s student-faculty dialogue on race, justice, and the law. “We have a role to play in this healing, and we can do that best when we talk to each other, when we listen to each other, when we see each other,” Dean Michael A. Simons said in welcoming the attendees. 

The deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Wenjian Liu, and Rafael Ramos have brought issues of race and the law to global attention and national debate. As members of a profession committed to defining, examining, and upholding justice, lawyers are among those taking the lead in fostering the public’s understanding of, and conversation about, these critical issues.

There are legal questions to explore, including the definition of self-defense; the role of the grand jury and the public prosecutor; and the constitutional underpinnings of police-citizen interactions. “We do and we will study these issues in class,” Dean Simons said, adding, “But it also means something for us as a community—a community of teachers and students, of lawyers and future lawyers, of colleagues and friends. The question for us is what do these killings mean for us as lawyers and as a law school community?”

Hosted by the Ronald H. Brown Center for Civil Rights and Economic Development, the St. John’s Law program was planned by a diverse group of students in close collaboration with the center’s directors—Professors Elaine M. Chiu and Rosa Castello—with the aim of facilitating an open exchange of views. After gathering for introductory remarks in the Belson Moot Court Room—that included the recitation of “ground rules” designed to create a “safe space and judgment-free zone” —participants broke into small groups for conversations facilitated by faculty and students.

"Sometimes, to move forward and to bring about change, we need to confront the uncomfortable,” said Leah Winfield ’17, who helped organize the program. “This event allowed St. John’s Law students and faculty to take those first few steps and move towards expanding our understanding in a safe, open forum. It reaffirmed that our voices do matter. As President Obama said, ‘Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. [ ] We are the change that we seek.'"

 Following the breakout sessions, everyone returned to the Mattone Family Atrium for fellowship and refreshments. “There was no political agenda here,” Dean Simons noted. “Our goal was to reflect on how we’ve all been affected by the events of the past several months —the killings, the grand jury decisions, the protests, the reactions. We explored what these events mean for us as individuals, for us as lawyers and law students, and for us as a law school community.” 

“This important community dialogue is ongoing, with students taking the lead on planning more events and outreach activities to engage with the Law School community, and with the greater University and New York City communities,” Professor Chiu said. “The faculty, staff, and administration look forward to working with our students to continue the conversation."