Mission Week Speakers Encourage Deep Efforts to Learn About Others

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The relationship between Sharon Morgan and Thomas DeWolf did not get off to a good start. They met at a conference in Virginia. She was a black woman from Chicago, a successful communications writer with a strong interest in genealogy. The descendant of people deeply involved in the slave trade, he was a white man who was the executive director of a West Coast-based nonprofit that focused on the continuing impact of slavery in America.

She was put off by him. He was not sure how to deal with her. But step by step, they got to know each other and had break-through conversations about their backgrounds.

During an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program at Marquette Law School on Tuesday, DeWolf said, “What we got to was revealing ourselves to each other in ways that we were taking off the masks. . . . The masks, if you’re willing, can come off.” Continue reading “Mission Week Speakers Encourage Deep Efforts to Learn About Others”

On Overstating the Case for Confederate Monuments

Posted on Categories Civil Rights, First Amendment, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, Race & Law, UncategorizedLeave a comment» on On Overstating the Case for Confederate Monuments
Statue of Confederate Army General Robert E. Lee sitting astride a horse.
The Robert Edward Lee statue in Emancipation Park

It is that values question we should really be asking. As far as I can tell, those who object to the removal of the statutes seem to be saying that those Confederate generals who defended slavery, secession, and white supremacy represent the values of a twenty-first century America that is becoming more egalitarian and diverse.

It is overstatement to say that by removing monuments to Confederate generals one is erasing all history. Commentators have wondered aloud whether this will become a long-term movement towards total eradication of history of the South. The president even suggested this by asking when this will stop. He called the removal of Confederate monuments the destruction of culture. These claims incorrectly conflate crafting historical memory with the fact that honorific statuary in public places signals the values of the modern-day community.Memory of the Civil War and its aftermath will not suddenly be completely erased forever because statues are torn down, street names changed, buildings renamed, and the like. Culture will not be destroyed. (And as an aside, one should ask, “Who’s culture is being protected by protecting these monuments?”) The consequences of the Civil War, for good and ill, linger. Moreover, history’s memory is a lot longer than the beginning and ending of a statue, and history will continue to be useful as long as scholars, schools, and society have open and honest conversations about the past.

History is dynamic. Honorary statues are not. Communities change and values evolve and those who are honored yesterday may be disfavored tomorrow. Think about it this way–when the American Revolution concluded, as my friend and Marquette colleague Edward Fallone points out, no one objected that the history of British rule over the colonies would be erased forever when the statues of George III were torn down. Two hundred forty one years later, we literally still sing songs to sold-out audiences about the American Revolution. And Hamilton the Musical! still gets the facts right.

The communal choice of determining who is and who is not to be honored in the present day is a completely different conversation than one about the state of history. We shouldn’t confuse the two. Continue reading “On Overstating the Case for Confederate Monuments”

“Diversity” in the Law: Savvy Business, Self-Motivation, or Both?

Posted on Categories Legal Practice, Legal Profession, Public, Race & LawLeave a comment» on “Diversity” in the Law: Savvy Business, Self-Motivation, or Both?

“Diversity” is a term to qualify something diverse, which the American Heritage dictionary defines as “made up of distinct characteristics, qualities, or elements.” Diversity in the work environment of law firms, agencies, in-house counsels, and non-profits usually relates to the genetic makeup of the employees’ gender, race, national origin, and sexual orientation, but for purposes of brevity and, frankly, your time, this post focuses solely on race.

In 2007, per the ABA National Lawyer Population Survey, the racial demographic of the attorney population consisted of 77.6% Caucasian/White, 3.2% African American, 3.1% Hispanic and even lower numbers for the other categories of races and ethnicities. Not surprisingly, this disparity has not made much progress in the past decade which is displayed in the 2017 percentages that show attorneys consisting of 66.8% Caucasian/White, 4.1% African American, and 3.9% Hispanic. Accordingly, these statistics create more questions than answers, such as: Why is there such a low presence of minorities in the law? Is this disparity due to a systemic problem in the American education system or attributed to employers’ implicit bias? Do schools/employers care about these statistics? If not, should they? Continue reading ““Diversity” in the Law: Savvy Business, Self-Motivation, or Both?”

Bill Cosby and American Popular Culture

Posted on Categories Criminal Law & Process, Media & Journalism, Popular Culture & Law, Public, Race & LawLeave a comment» on Bill Cosby and American Popular Culture

Bill Cosby and Keisha Knight Pullman walk together outside of the courtroom where he faced trial on charges of rape.Bill Cosby has made two distinctly different splashes in American popular culture.  He starred in “The Cosby Show” (1984-92), a sitcom that was America’s most highly rated television show for five consecutive years.  Then, his trial for sexual assault in the spring of 2017 became the most recent “trial of the century.”  Ironically, the immense success of the former prevented the latter from attracting the attention many had predicted.

As for “The Cosby Show,” it featured the Huxtables, a fictional upper middle-class African American family living in a brownstone in Brooklyn Heights.  Cliff Huxtable, played by Cosby, was a jolly obstetrician, while his wife Clair Huxtable was a successful attorney.  The Huxtables has four daughters and one son, and although each episode had its tender tensions, they always dissipated by the end of the hour.  “The Cosby Show” was about a happy, loving ideal family, and Cliff Huxtable became the nation’s fantasy father.  When TV Guide ranked the 50 greatest dads in television history, the magazine named Cliff Huxtable “The All-Time Greatest Dad.”

While the show rarely addressed race directly, it was what the show left unsaid that was important.  Cosby and the show’s producers consciously set out to “recode blackness.”  They turned stereotypes upside-down by presenting a tightly-knit African American family that was affluent, had friends and neighbors of different races, and was headed by a married couple, with each member belonging to a learned profession.  In the midst of the Reagan-Bush years, Americans took to the portrayal, and it, if only for a moment, obfuscated the nation’s shoddy racist inequality.

When twenty-five years later in time two dozen women claimed Cosby had drugged, sexually assaulted, and raped them, America was shocked.  When Cosby went on trial in the spring of 2017 for sexually assaulting Andrea Constand, many thought the public would be obsessed with the proceedings.  Coverage of the trial seemed likely to equal that for celebrities such as O.J. Simpson in 1994 and Michael Jackson in 2005.  Trials of the rich and famous, after all, have been pop cultural delights since the days of the penny dailies in the early nineteenth century. Continue reading “Bill Cosby and American Popular Culture”

Race and Risk Assessment

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Risk-assessment has become all the rage in American criminal justice. In jurisdictions across the country, criminal-justice officials are utilizing increasingly sophisticated risk-assessment tools, which can be used to predict a given offender’s likelihood to reoffend based on his criminal history and a number of other variables. These predictive evaluations can be brought to bear at several important decisional points in the criminal process: pretrial release, diversion into treatment, sentencing, and others.

Although risk assessment has been widely applauded for its potential to support increased efficiency in the use of scarce criminal-justice resources, a recurring criticism has been that leading risk-assessment tools have built-in racial biases. A particular concern has been the heavy reliance on criminal history; to the extent that criminal history reflects biased actions by police or others in the past, then predictions based on that history may tend to overestimate the relative risk posed by minority defendants. Thus, for instance, a black defendant and a white defendant whose actual risk levels are identical could potentially receive quite different risk scores, leading to quite different bail or sentencing decisions.

Such concerns find some support in the empirical research.

A new study, however, reaches more reassuring conclusions, at least with respect to one risk-assessment tool used in federal court.  Continue reading “Race and Risk Assessment”

Israel Reflections 2017–Race and Diversity

Posted on Categories Human Rights, Marquette Law School, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, Race & LawLeave a comment» on Israel Reflections 2017–Race and Diversity

Close up photo of Ethiopian member of the Israel Defense Forces kissing the Western Wall in Israel.Another new meeting this year was with Oshra Friedman of Tebeka legal services, an organization that provides specialized legal services for the Ethiopian immigrants to Israel.  As we learned on our last trip, Israel has welcomed thousands of immigrants from Ethiopia of Jewish heritage and assimilation into the modern society of Israel can be very challenging.   As we also saw last time, these challenges can remind us and cause us to reflect on the challenges of race here in Milwaukee.  From Student Sheila Thobani:

Before we even discussed paper topics prior to departing for Israel, thoughts about the conflict were already flooding my mind. Not the cliché thoughts of the obvious conflict, the talked about every day in the media conflict, but one that I had a more personal association with: identity. I believe that is why Oshra Friedman’s narrative engaged my curiosity.

With the constant comments in public about my physical characteristics, one-second longer than comfortable gazes, and second-guess pseudo interrogations by people of authority—I was waiting at the edge of my chair to see how someone who looked different than every other person on the streets of Israel dealt with her diversity. An immigrant from Ethiopia, whose parents refused to assimilate, who jumped forward too far because her community was too backwards, who didn’t succumb to gender norms, who married an Ashkenazi Israeli- this was a story I was all too familiar with; a familiarity not by exposure but by experience.

Whereas, over the border and across the sea, America has heard Friedman’s story of diversity for generations, Israel is still becoming familiar with this narrative. By no means do I mean to convey that because in America the story is heard that it is accepted and internalized- I only mean that it is there that there is the exposure and familiarity. As Friedman spoke about her mixed race children handling the innocence of childhood and the ignorance of adults, and agave accounts of situations they faced, I relived my own childhood memories of confusion colored by pride. Continue reading “Israel Reflections 2017–Race and Diversity”

Supreme Court Permits Some Light Into the Black Box of Jury Deliberations

Posted on Categories Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law & Process, Public, Race & Law, U.S. Supreme CourtLeave a comment» on Supreme Court Permits Some Light Into the Black Box of Jury Deliberations

A photo of the Supreme CourtJury deliberations are the proverbial black box. After passively receiving the law, evidence, and arguments at a trial, the jurors will retire to discuss the case in secret. When they return with a verdict, no explanation will be required for their decision. Afterward, the jurors will normally be instructed that they need discuss the case with no one. The parties are left to wonder how well the jurors understood the governing law, attended to the key evidence, and faithfully attempted to apply the former to the latter.

Occasionally, the public catches some glimpse of what happens inside the black box. But when this happens, the law’s typical response echoes the famous admonition of the Wizard of Oz: “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!” This position is reflected in Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b), which generally prohibits jurors from testifying about their deliberations and thought processes when the validity of a verdict is challenged.

Although it seems perfectly sensible to discourage losing litigants from harassing jurors in the hope of uncovering errors, it is not so clear that the system benefits when judges are required to turn a blind eye to substantial evidence that a jury’s decisionmaking went off the rails.  Continue reading “Supreme Court Permits Some Light Into the Black Box of Jury Deliberations”

Mission Week Speakers Urge More Knowledge and Action on Racial Inequality

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It’s time for new talk – and a new commitment to change – about race in America. It’s time for a new version of The Talk in America.

Those were key themes during an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program at Marquette Law School on Tuesday that was part of Marquette University’s Mission Week for this school year. A capacity audience in the Appellate Courtroom heard thoughts from three nationally known figures in social and racial justice causes during the program, which was titled “Racial Justice: Black, White, and the Call of the Church.”

The Talk? That’s the term used often for the conversation many African American parents have with their children about how to behave out in the community so that they don’t get in trouble – or worse – with police officers. Continue reading “Mission Week Speakers Urge More Knowledge and Action on Racial Inequality”

A New Era: The Rule of Law in the Trump Administration

Posted on Categories Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Federal Law & Legal System, Federalism, First Amendment, Human Rights, Immigration Law, Labor & Employment Law, Legal History, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, Race & Law1 Comment on A New Era: The Rule of Law in the Trump Administration

Well, here we are, January 20, 2017, and Donald J. Trump has been sworn in as this nation’s 45th president, though he achieved that position by losing the popular vote by the widest margin of any winning candidate in recent history (2.9 million more people voted for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton), and he arrives at his new position with the lowest approval rating of any president in recent history.

As numerous others before me have written, President Trump’s campaign was not traditional in any number of ways, and I expect that his presidency will follow that trend. For some, that’s been the whole point. For others, that’s a less-than-inspiring harbinger. I wrote this summer about my concern about the candidate’s rhetoric, proposed policies, and the rule of law.

Though he has since backed off some of his campaign promises (for example, about having a special prosecutor investigate rival Clinton for her use of a private email server—a favorite chant at his rallies was “Lock her up!”), nothing since that time has changed my view. I continue to believe that the president won’t be appreciably different from the candidate. Continue reading “A New Era: The Rule of Law in the Trump Administration”

We Need More Than Equality

Posted on Categories Civil Rights, Human Rights, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, Race & Law, UncategorizedLeave a comment» on We Need More Than Equality

girl_blowing_soap_bubblesOver the past few months, I’ve tried to wrap my brain around the multitude of complex issues that have occurred between police officers and people of color within the United States. From my recollection, it seemed like every other day there was a new incident involving an unarmed black man being gunned down by individuals who are sworn to protect the public: the police. Whenever the news of these incidents were revealed to the public, I noticed friends, family, and strangers all begin to take sides as to who they believed was either right or wrong in this situation (involving the police and the individual who was shot). Through social media and conversations with peers, I’ve observed people pick “sides,” such as, “Blue Lives Matter,” “Black Lives Matter,” or “All Lives Matter.” When I observed people use these phrases to justify their stance on life (and which lives matter), I began to establish my own thoughts about how we as a society ought to view life from a metaphysical standpoint. Within this essay, I will first illustrate the significance of the fact that humans are social beings. Second, I will illustrate the importance of sympathy and empathy for social beings like humans. Third, I will argue that human life is precious and that it ought to be appreciated and celebrated uniformly with all human life.

Humans are social beings. We are dependent upon our experiences within the world and with other human beings. Our experiences are important because they help shape our ideas and beliefs; they also allow for us to understand our surroundings as well as other people. For instance, you could not place a new born baby in a room by itself for its entire life and expect it to develop into a human being who can properly rationalize and truly understand what is going on around it. We need other human beings in order to thrive and live. As social beings who learn from experience, hopefully in some capacity during our lifetime, we learn to develop sympathy and empathy. The hope is that we are given the opportunity to have enough experiences in order to indirectly or directly relate to another human being. I’m sure you’ve heard the old phrase: “We fear what we do not know.” A majority of the time, that statement is true because we often don’t fear the things we thoroughly understand (with some exceptions of course). When we fail to sympathize or empathize with another individual who has/had different experiences than us, we occasionally resort to stereotypes and make assumptions. We can learn so much from other people when we listen, rather than immediately resorting to various preconceived notions. Sympathy and empathy wouldn’t be important if we were not the social beings that we are. We rely on others to live and, arguably, could not survive without other human beings. Continue reading “We Need More Than Equality”

Calling 911 in the Wake of Police Violence

Posted on Categories Civil Rights, Criminal Law & Process, Human Rights, Media & Journalism, Milwaukee, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Poverty & Law, Public, Race & LawLeave a comment» on Calling 911 in the Wake of Police Violence

black_lives_matter_sign_-_minneapolis_protest_22632545857Amanda Seligman is a Visiting Fellow in Law and Public Policy at Marquette University Law School.

How does racially-tinged police violence toward civilians affect city residents’ willingness to summon aid in an emergency? A study in the October 2016 American Sociological Review asks what happened to the number of 911 calls after the public revelation that off-duty white Milwaukee police officers beat Frank Jude in 2004. In “Police Violence and Citizen Crime Reporting in the Black Community,” Matthew Desmond, Andrew V. Papachristos, and David S. Kirk find that in the year after the initial publicity around the beating, Milwaukee residents placed 22,000 fewer 911 calls than might have been expected, resulting in a total of 110,000 calls. Although white neighborhoods saw a spike in 911 calls and then a long but shallow dip, the loss of calls was especially pronounced in black neighborhoods. The authors found no such loss of calls reporting traffic accidents.

Desmond et al.’s 911 study received extensive mass media coverage. Juleyka Lantigua-Williams wrote about the study in The Atlantic, and the New York Times’sThe Upshot” column reported the findings. The study was the subject of two articles in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, one reporting on the findings and one offering responses from District Attorney John Chisholm and Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn. Two of the authors, Desmond and Papachristos, also published an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times commenting on the significance of their research. A small host of other reports suggest broad interest in the study’s implications in the context of the Black Lives Matter movement and widespread coverage of police shootings of African American civilians.

Sociologist Desmond is one of our most thoughtful observers of the cultural significance of the 911 emergency call system. In Evicted, his 2015 ethnographic study of housing and poverty in Milwaukee, Desmond observed how victims of domestic violence put themselves at risk for losing their homes if they call the police too often. Continue reading “Calling 911 in the Wake of Police Violence”

Obama Clemency Grants Pick Up Steam

Posted on Categories Criminal Law & Process, Federal Criminal Law & Process, Federal Sentencing, Marquette Law School, President & Executive Branch, Prisoner Rights, Public, Race & LawLeave a comment» on Obama Clemency Grants Pick Up Steam

Somewhat lost amidst the wall-to-wall media coverage of the Clinton and Trump campaigns, President Barack Obama commuted the sentences of 111 federal prisoners on August 30. This builds on what has quietly become one of Obama’s most significant end-of-term domestic policy initiatives. He has now commuted 673 sentences, more than the previous ten presidents combined. The August 30 grants, however, had special significance for me and a small group of recent Marquette Law School graduates.

Commutation (that is, a reduction in the severity of a criminal sentence) is a form of executive clemency. The Constitution expressly grants clemency powers, and presidents since George Washington have used these powers in a variety of different ways. In recent decades, though, there has been a certain whiff of disrepute surrounding clemency. Reinforcing the negative perceptions, President Bill Clinton’s pardon of financier Marc Rich and President George W. Bush’s commutation of the sentence of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby seemed to confirm that clemency was mostly used to benefit wealthy, powerful defendants.

The Obama Administration, however, envisioned a very different way to use clemency.   Continue reading “Obama Clemency Grants Pick Up Steam”