COMPLETED VIDEO: 169th CityLaw Breakfast with Annette Gordon-Reed, Carl M. Loeb University Professor at Harvard Law School

Image Credit: CityLand

On October 2, 2020, Annette Gordon-Reed, the Carl M. Loeb University Professor at Harvard Law School, spoke at the 169th CityLaw Breakfast. Professor Gordon-Reed spoke on “Policing in America: Writing a New Chapter?” Professor Ross Sandler, Director of the Center for New York City Law gave opening remarks and Dean Anthony W. Crowell provided closing remarks. This Breakfast was sponsored by ConEdison, Greenberg Traurig, and Verizon. This was the third virtual CityLaw Breakfast as in-person events are not feasible at this time due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Professor Gordon-Reed began by discussing how she taught her criminal procedure classes while she was a professor at New York Law School, highlighting how race impacts the criminal justice system. and how important it was to be able to speak with students who both had experiences with law enforcement or were members of law enforcement themselves. Professor Gordon-Reed then discussed how race was tied into the history of policing in the United States, starting with slave patrols created to capture escaped slaves which evolved into law enforcement bodies who reinforced Jim Crow laws designed to terrorize African Americans. She discussed how the evolution of our legal system and racism have helped shape and enforce the narrative of black people as “the other” in our society.

Professor Gordon-Reed then talked about the rise in video and its importance in changing society’s perspective on police. Video has allowed more people not only to see the negative or dangerous interactions that black people can have with police but also how that contrasts with interactions white people have with police. Professor Gordon-Reed then discussed the peculiarity of the response to the video of the death of George Floyd, which launched protests nationwide this past spring and summer. Professor Gordon-Reed believes there are many factors that make George Floyd’s death and the resulting response different to past incidents, including the symbolism of the “knee on the neck” in the context of an already tense society. Professor Gordon-Reed then commented on the perceptions of Black Lives Matter and the surrounding protests, including that people can separate the concept of “black lives matter too” without necessarily supporting every action that the formal Black Lives Matter organization or other protestors may take. She then discussed the differences within the “Defund the Police” movement and how there are ways that we can advocate for reforms that change what police are responsible for handling in a meaningful way.

Professor Gordon-Reed pointed out that the Second Amendment and resulting prevalence in guns in America makes it challenging to compare policing in America to other countries, but that there is also a race issue in how Second Amendment rights can be exercised. Professor Gordon-Reed continued by saying that police reform or training alone are not going to completely resolve these issues, as racism is a society-wide problem we all have to work to address.

Professor Gordon-Reed recommended that students who want to get more involved volunteer with local racial justice or criminal justice and police reform organizations; vote for candidates who support reforms; and even run for office to enact the changes they want to see. She also pointed out that lawyers have been at the forefront of reforms and should find ways to continue to advocate. She encouraged everyone to stay active and continue to hold our elected officials accountable for the changes we want to see.

At the end of the discussion, Dean Crowell and Associate Dean William P. LaPiana discussed how the events of the past several months – between the COVID-19 pandemic and the protests against police brutality – have affected how law schools teach their students. Professor Gordon-Reed highlighted the importance of teaching history as part of teaching the law so students can understand how we have gotten to where we are today.

To view the breakfast, click here, or watch the video below.







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