Metcalfe Fellow Calls for Renewed Pursuit of Martin Luther King’s Goals

A grim assessment of current realities in central cities and some optimism about how things can and ultimately will get better.

That is what Sheryll Cashin, a professor of law at Georgetown University and Marquette University’s 2016 Ralph Metcalfe Fellow, offered in a talk last Thursday in the Appellate Courtroom of Eckstein Hall. The session was part of Marquette’s observance of Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday.

“The thing I liked about Dr. King is that he always appealed to our betters angels. I believe there are a lot of better angels out there,” Cashin said in response to a pessimistic question from an audience member.

“Change is inevitable,” she said. “Nothing is permanent.”  She urged people not to limit their imagination of a better future for the nation and for those whose lives now are shaped by “a nasty othering” at the hands of those with power and wealth.

Cashin, a former law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, focused on a set of lectures that Dr. King delivered in 1967 on Canadian public radio. She compared what King said then to circumstances now, saying little has improved in central cities, and some things have gotten worse. (more…)

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Urban Poverty Conference Offers Insights and Some Bits of Hope

“Urban Men in Poverty: Problems and Solutions” – that was the name of a morning-long conference at Eckstein Hall on Friday. Not surprisingly, the content of the gathering, which featured presentations from five professors from four universities, shed more light on the problems than the solutions. The problems are large and urgent, and good research illuminates them. The solutions are much more difficult to identify and implement.

That gave the conference a lot of content but a sobering tone. On the other hand, hope was present too.

For one thing, the fact that such a gathering occurred was a promising sign, Marquette University President Mike Lovell told the audience of more than 200. This was the first collaboration between the University of Wisconsin-Madison La Follette School of Public Affairs and Marquette Law School. Lovell suggested this was an example of the kind of partnerships that are needed to create change.

“The only way we’re going to face and overcome the problems of urban men in poverty is by working together,” Lovell said. He said there are no easy answers. The problems related to urban men in poverty are rooted in events of decades. Solutions will not come quickly.  But, he said, he was excited so many people with serious interest gathered to show commitment to pursing solutions. (more…)

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MULS Conference to Consider Human Trafficking and Restorative Justice

On Thursday and Friday, Marquette Law School will host an important conference, "Restorative Justice and Human Trafficking -- From Wisconsin to the World."  As the title suggests, human trafficking -- for sex or labor -- is a both a global human rights problem and a significant issue locally.  Hundreds of cases have been reported in Wisconsin, mostly in the Milwaukee area.  The conference is designed to raise awareness about trafficking and to help concerned citizens get involved in efforts to…

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Mercenary Justice?

Earlier this week, the United States Department of Justice released a scathing report on police and court practices in Ferguson, Missouri. Figuring prominently in the DOJ’s criticisms, Ferguson criminal-justice officials were said to be overly concerned with extracting money from defendants. For instance, the DOJ charges:

Ferguson has allowed its focus on revenue generation to fundamentally compromise the role of Ferguson’s municipal court. The municipal court does not act as a neutral arbiter of the law or a check on unlawful police conduct. Instead, the court primarily uses its judicial authority as the means to compel the payment of fines and fees that advance the City’s financial interests. This has led to court practices that violate the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process and equal protection requirements. The court’s practices also impose unnecessary harm, overwhelmingly on African-American individuals, and run counter to public safety. (3)

I don’t know how fair these particular criticisms are, but they echo numerous other criticisms made in recent years about the increasing tendency of the American criminal-justice system to rely financially on a burgeoning array of surcharges, fees, forfeitures, and the like.

Professors Wayne Logan and Ron Wright have a fine recent article on this subject, appropriately entitled “Mercenary Criminal Justice” (2014 Ill. L. Rev. 1175).   (more…)

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Violence in the Heartland, Part VI: Cities Within the City

My most recent posts in this series have compared violent crime data from different cities. However, focusing on a single crime-rate number from a city may mask wide neighborhood-to-neighborhood variations within the city.

Consider Milwaukee. A helpful on-line data tool permits interesting comparisons among the city’s seven police districts. The data reveal that rates of violent crime vary within the city by about as much as they do across cities. Here, for instance, are the homicides per 100,000 district residents since 2010:

district homicide

District 5, encompassing the north-central portion of the city, has easily had the highest homicide rate each year, while Districts 1 (downtown and northeast) and 6 (far south) have easily had the lowest. (District boundaries are described in more detail here.)

Robbery rates reflect a similar pattern:   (more…)

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