One of the important responsibilities of a law school dean is to speak out at critical junctures on matters relating to the rule of law and the administration of justice. Today, I feel compelled to share with you my thoughts about the brutal killing of George Floyd.
The videotape of a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on Mr. Floyd’s neck while he gasped for breath and bystanders pleaded for his life made me angry and disgusted. I am deeply outraged by this brazen example of state-sponsored violence. Even as we call for the perpetrators of this despicable act to be held legally accountable, we know it was not an isolated incident.
In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, let us recognize that there is a longstanding epidemic of police brutality in America impacting African-Americans and other people of color. I stand in solidarity with UB law students, faculty and staff and all who condemn such wrongdoing and racism in its many forms.
At moments like this, I reflect on the role of our law school in bringing about needed change. We have a responsibility to educate our students about the legal context in which atrocities such as the killing of George Floyd take place, so that the next generation of lawyers and civic leaders are equipped to fight for reform.
As a public law school, we have a duty to educate the wider community as well. UB Law faculty members are engaged in vital advocacy and public discourse to advance the rule of law, and will continue to do so at this critical moment. Even if we cannot gather in person, we will seek opportunities to learn from each other about these critical legal issues.
Meanwhile our law clinics and centers continue their commitment to serving vulnerable populations and pursuing systemic approaches to advance social justice. We can and should work to strengthen the police reform process in Baltimore City, where a federal court is overseeing much-needed improvements in the Baltimore Police Department’s training, recruitment and use-of-force policies.
As we come through the trauma of this moment, student involvement will be critical. Last night I had the opportunity to speak with the Student Bar Association’s newly constituted Diversity Council, and asked them to help the law school determine how best to meet the current challenge and help students through the recent tragic events.
I know many students are frustrated, angry and deeply impacted by recent events. The Student Assistance Program is available to all UB students for free, confidential support during these challenging times. Tony Dulaney, the University’s Clinical Case Manager, is also available to provide confidential assessment, assist with any emergencies, and connect you with the appropriate resources. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We should also partner with others in our university and neighboring universities in support of systemic change. I was impressed by the powerful statement on the killing of George Floyd issued last Friday by the presidents of every university within the University System of Maryland, including UB President Kurt Schmoke.
I understand that some members of our community intend to “take a knee” for nine minutes at noon tomorrow wherever they are. I wish we could be together to share a moment of solidarity, but I believe it is meaningful to act together, even as we are separated due to public health conditions.
This is a difficult moment in the life of our country. I encourage all members of the UB School of Law community to remain attentive and involved, and to engage in peaceful advocacy for justice. Former Senator Ted Kennedy, for whom I once worked, declared that civil rights is the “unfinished business of America.” It is a business to which we should all dedicate ourselves.