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Welcoming Quentin Williams '91 Home to Alma Mater, St. John’s Law Continues Its Conversation on Race and the Law

Thursday, April 9, 2015

At the start of the spring semester, St. John’s Law presented a student-faculty dialogue on race, justice, and the law. Hosted by the Ronald H. Brown Center for Civil Rights and Economic Development, the 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 together for introductory remarks, participants broke into small groups for conversations facilitated by faculty and students.

These important discussions spurred the formation of a new student group at the Law School, the Coalition for Social Justice, dedicated to exploring the intersection of race and the law. In late March, the group—together with the RHB Center and the American Constitution Society— presented “An Evening with Quentin Williams: The Conversation Continues.” The program featured M. Quentin B.L. Williams ’91, who discussed his new book, A Survival Guide: How Not to Get Killed by the Police, Part I.

A former FBI agent and former federal prosecutor who has also held positions as an executive with the NFL and NBA, Williams currently is the chairman and chief executive officer of The Butler Lappert Williams Firm PC and of the Williams Media and Marketing Group, L.L.C. He represents the legal and business interests of companies and individuals in the sports, entertainment, fashion, media, law enforcement, and education industries, among others. In addition to speaking widely on his new book, he addresses current issues in race and criminal justice through his nonprofit organization, Dedication To Community, which co-sponsored the St. John’s Law event.

Drawing on his personal experiences over the years, Williams told the audience that he was compelled to reflect on the meaning and impact of difference. “We as a nation have so much potential,” he said. That potential derives from a bounty of “different views, outlooks, and perspectives” that our citizens embrace. “Those different perspectives,” he continued, “can bring us to a place where we’re superior if we’re working together. But if we’re not—and if we’re telling people that being different isn’t good—we end up at some point having a light shone on that flawed outlook.” With this understanding, Williams shared that he wrote his book to give people a tool for “making it home safely” if they’re ever approached by the police.

View the Event Video

After Williams offered his perspective on navigating interactions with law enforcement, the program continued with a dynamic panel discussion moderated by Professor Chiu and featuring Williams, Dean Michael A. Simons, Professor John Q. Barrett, and Gene Dirks ‘17, a current St. John’s Law student who served in the US military and in the New York City Police Department. Fielding a range of questions, the panelists explored and exchanged ideas about race and the law and about policy measures that, in the aggregate, can strengthen the relationship between law enforcement personnel and citizens of the communities they serve.

"Quentin Williams is a master storyteller,” said Professor Chiu. “His unique range of personal and professional experience gives him invaluable insight into the national crisis involving race in our criminal justice system. He also has a keen sense of the people in his audience and, with great respect and clear compassion, he challenged the St. John’s Law program attendees to voice their opinions and to consider the issues from diverse perspectives. Our students, alumni, and faculty raved about Quentin and can’t wait to continue this vital conversation with him."