The dean of the law school at the University of the District of Columbia urged students to take part in protests in Baltimore, even offering to defer an exam for those who help people on the street with legal advice.
Dean Shelley Broderick of the David A. Clarke School of Law told students that community and police relations “is the civil rights issue of our time,” and that law school leaders want students to be part of the “energy and commitment” of the protests.
Some of that energy has taken an extremely ugly turn in recent days.
About 200 people have been arrested in Baltimore this week, after mobs set cars on fire, smashed windows, looted stores and threw bricks at police officers. Schools and businesses shut down, a state of emergency was declared and Humvees lumbered through the city’s streets.
The conflict started after Freddie Gray died of a spinal injury while in police custody, triggering a local outburst of the anger that has been simmering nationally for many people over race relations and policing.
Here is the dean’s letter in full:
We have been watching the news from Baltimore and know that it is having a profound effect on many in the Law School community. As John Lewis said earlier this week, community/police relations is the civil rights issue of this time. Across this Nation, for nearly a year, the concerns of communities of color about persistent and long standing police abuse, have been reflected in demonstrations and public debate. The energy and commitment of those involved in the movement is inspiring and we want the Law School to be part of it.
The situation in Baltimore is of particular concern. Not only is Baltimore just 30 miles up the road, but many members of our community have roots in the City. It is important that we not ignore what is happening to our neighbors. Several students have come to the Deans with a request that they be permitted to defer an exam so that they can provide legal observer and other assistance to those who have taken to the streets to exercise their First Amendment rights and to address these serious issues.
We would like to support this activism. To that end, if any student wishes to participate in legal support for the demonstrations, we will defer one exam until May 11. To do so, you need to connect with one of the legal assistance organizations, develop a plan for the assistance you intend to provide and get this information to Dean Steward before your exam. If you are having difficulty in identifying a group to work with, please let me know and we can assist you. In addition, because these issues affect everyone at the Law School, we would be pleased to support a student organized teach-in. A community event that brings us together around these issues and promotes mutual support is important during these challenging times.
The police accountability movement needs and will continue to need the best lawyers that we can train. It is our aspiration that you become the future of the legal support for the most important cases of the next generation. It is critical that, while we pay attention to what is going on today, that we not lose sight of the essential role you will play once you pass the bar. We need to invest in you to be prepared to play that role. That is our shared commitment.