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Western New England Law Review Presents "Perspectives on Racial Justice in the Era of #BlackLivesMatter"

Law Review Symposium 2017

On Friday, October 20, 2017, over 130 students, faculty, and community members gathered in the Commons of the Blake Law Center for a day long Symposium focused on promoting awareness of racial justice and equal opportunity. "Perspectives on Racial Justice in the Era of #BlackLivesMatter," presented by the Western New England Law Review, included discussions of race in the context of the criminal justice system, health care, voting rights, and the LGBTQ community, and was specifically designed to bring individuals together to discuss charting the way forward for racial justice and empowerment.

Attorneys Terry Nagel and Edward Pikula and Dr. Bridgette Baldwin spoke on the thirtieth anniversary of the Supreme Court case, Kibbe v. City of Springfield. Attorneys Nagel and Pikula reflected on their participation in the case and how the case shaped § 1983 litigation and the discussion of police brutality in Springfield. Dr. Baldwin contributed to the discussion by speaking on the national epidemic of police brutality and how racism and police militarization contribute to the deaths of unarmed civilians in the United States.

Nicole Austin-Hillery, Director and Counsel of The Brennan Center’s Washington, D.C. office, explained how voter disenfranchisement disproportionately targets people of color in the United States, pointing to examples in a variety of states where laws are making voting more difficult, not easier, for people of color. Attorney Austin-Hillery also pointed to the problems formerly incarcerated people have in voting and challenged the audience to think critically about problems of racism and voting within the United States as being a current problem, not just one from the first Civil Rights Movement.

Mr. John Wambere, Ugandan gay rights activist and co-founder of Spectrum Uganda Initiatives, discussed his experience as an African refugee acclimating to life in the United States. He shared his and his family’s personal stories, and provided an outsider’s perspective on racial inequalities within the United States.

Dr. Raja Staggers-Hakim, Director of Equity, Inclusion, & Civic Engagement at Yale Divinity School, focused on the intersectionality between racism and healthcare. Dr. Staggers-Hakim pointed to several examples of health problems disproportionately affecting people of color and how our healthcare system does not adequately confront the disparities between class, race, and gender.

Attorney Carl Williams, staff attorney with the ACLU of Massachusetts, spoke on the recent drug lab scandals in Massachusetts that have culminated in the erasure of over 20,000 drug convictions. Further, Attorney Williams began an invigorating discussion on how the criminal justice system disproportionately affects people of color, ranging from incarceration to the system of cash bail jailing people simply for being poor.

The atmosphere during the event was upbeat and inspiring! Individuals from various corners of the East Coast with a shared commitment to and passion for making a difference came together to discuss one of the most prominent legal matters affecting our times. The discussions went on long after the official presentations ended and many of us walked away with new colleagues and connections with whom we can begin to discuss how to make real changes in the area of racial justice.