In recent weeks RWU law students organized programs focusing on the deaths of two black men, Troy Davis, executed by the state of Georgia, and Trayvon Martin, killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Florida. Understandably, law students are deeply concerned with the issues raised by these cases, including the death penalty and racial profiling.
Last week, the Association of Public Interest Law and the Black Law Students Association sponsored a spirited discussion of the many issues springing from the killing of Trayvon Martin. Associate Dean Andy Horwitz was on hand to discuss the intricacies of “stand your ground laws,” while students tackled racial profiling and the role of race in our society more generally. Some students donned "Just for Trayvon" buttons and wore hoodies to show their support.
This event shows there is a demand by people to have a necessary, productive conversation about where race fits in our society," said David Ellison, the President of the Association for Public Interest Law. "In law school, we learn about what the law is, but we rarely get a chance to say where it needs to go. You could see how students feel there is a lot of work to be done.
Some students expressed frustration that it took the death of a 17-year-old boy to have a national conversation about race but understood that positives can come from negatives. The conversation about race turned into one about social and economic factors with students sharing personal experiences.
This is a vital conversation that must not stop at this event, but we need to remind students to continue this conversation in the classroom and throughout their lives," said Basannya Babumba, Chair of the Black Law Students Association.
The first program coincided with the sixth-month anniversary of the execution of Troy Davis. RWU Law has a special connection to the case, as the Director of our Criminal Defense Clinic, Priya Lahki, represented Mr. Davis on Death Row during her time at the Georgia Resource Center.
To raise student awareness of the harshness, and in cases the unfairness, of “the ultimate sanction,” 1L Marcus Swift offered the following summary:
Yesterday (Wednesday, March 21, 2012), marked the six month anniversary of the execution of Troy Davis by the State of Georgia under a cloud of doubt. Back in January, fellow 1L, Josh Xavier and I thought it would be a good idea to commemorate the occasion by encouraging classmates to wear "I Am Troy Davis" t-shirts and stickers and give flyers to friends regarding Troy's case.
Our goal was to shine a light on Troy's case, the death penalty, and our increasingly crowded and dysfunctional criminal justice system. In addition to creating a buzz, we wanted to engage in respectful, informative conversations with classmates who had not heard of Troy.
In addition to about two-dozen students, Associate Dean Andy Horwitz also participated.
I had at least three separate conversations with students who had not heard of Troy or his case. They were not only shocked to hear the details, but several of them went on to do more research and read more about it themselves. I know most other participants had similar conversations.
Associate Dean Andy Horwitz flanked by student
organizers Marcus Swift and Josh Xavier
Troy Davis Day