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On behalf of the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, I write to condemn the unjust killing of George Floyd and far too many Black men and women all across this country. Black lives matter. Our criminal justice system and the agencies and agents who interpret and apply our laws must live up to our Constitution’s mandate that all Americans be treated equally under the law. We support BLSA’s statement and stand in solidarity with BLSA and other students who are calling for racial justice. As a law school, we have a special obligation to foster work that will bring about change in our community. We are proud of our students for leading this charge, and we stand ready to work alongside our students to educate, innovate, and reform.
Making a statement as an institution is not something to be taken lightly. Such a statement runs the inevitable risk that it may contravene or fail to capture the full range of views of those who actually comprise the institution. That said, there are times when we must speak as one—when the concerns of individuals who do not wish to be “spoken for” cannot outweigh the overwhelming need of our community to hear from the institutions they look to for leadership. This is clearly one of those times.
Words are important, but we also have to act. In the college’s prior statement, I outlined some of the many ways ASU Law is doing important work on these issues, and we’re already doing more. In just the last week, in support of our community values, we have reintroduced Critical Race Theory and Civil Rights Litigation into our curriculum, begun plans for a year-long workshop on inequality, and restarted dialogue with our student groups to explore how the law school might better address their concerns. The First Amendment Clinic has embarked on a new project to promote open access to information of potential police misconduct. The Academy for Justice has created two new fellowships for students working on criminal justice and police reform. This is all just a start. We are committed to doing what it takes.
As a community, ASU Law’s students, faculty, and staff will work together to address racial injustice—in our classrooms, in our work, and in our public service. As your dean, I am prepared to do my part to harness the power of this institution to better the lives of our students and support their work in search of a just future. ASU Law will continue to work to make racial justice a reality. We will also engage in a dialogue with our students about how to move forward ourselves and how to best support our students in the work they are called to do. I am listening. Call on me. Let us know what you need and what we can do to help make racial justice a reality.
Douglas J. Sylvester
Dean & Professor of Law
We, the Black Law Students Association at ASU Law, stand in solidarity with Dion Johnson, George Floyd, and all of the other lives lost to police brutality. Both men, murdered on Memorial Day, deserve swift justice.
We are waiting. George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis, sparking protests in all 50 states. On the same day, an eerily similar incident took place right in our own backyard. Dion Johnson was shot and killed by an Arizona Department of Public Safety trooper while asleep in his car. Unfortunately for those seeking justice, his murder was not caught on film. Dion’s family and community have yet to receive any answers regarding his death. We can no longer sit by idly and hope that those responsible for his death will be held accountable.
We are walking. As a Black-oriented organization here at ASU, we feel a particular sense of urgency to speak, protest, donate, and call in support of this cause. The murders of people like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor were senseless acts of hate. These acts of hate are symptoms of the disease plaguing our nation and transmitted by lawless police officers. We are exercising all forms of resistance to bring about change. We are calling ASU Law, and ASU in general, to stand behind their diverse students and release a statement that condemns the murders of George Floyd and Dion Johnson.
We are weeping. We see George and Dion in our fathers, brothers, husbands, and in ourselves. As the nation grieves for George, we take a small comfort in the fact that at a minimum, his death will not be forgotten. The officers involved in his murder have all been fired and now face criminal charges. The sad reality is, however, that this move towards accountability is the exception, not the norm. This must change. Dion Johnson may never obtain justice because we do not have footage of his death. Arizona maintains impermissibly loose body cam standards for law enforcement, allowing officers to choose when to wear the surveillance devices. We must demand better of our leaders. BLSA recognizes the work our institution has done to combat injustice and would like to see those efforts expanded to include more student input. There’s an unsettling irony to the fact that the law students from communities that social justice work aims to uplift are often prevented from taking such positions by financial barriers. BLSA asks for your support in developing projects that combat racial inequality both on and off-campus. For a start, we would like funding for student research of legal solutions to police brutality and to see the development of need-based stipends to make social justice work accessible to students of color. We also look forward to drafting sample legislation regarding body cameras.
Finally, we are working. Our pain from this system of oppression fuels our passion for entering the legal field. Attending law school is a privilege and responsibility that we do not take lightly. We offer ourselves as a resource to our community. We encourage those of you interested in joining the legal field or pursuing a law degree to reach out to us; we would love to speak with you. Many of us came to law school to bring about change in our communities of color and advocate for marginalized people. That starts now. Protests have sparked a dialogue that we can channel into meaningful legislation. We invite our administration, community partners, and peers to stand with us.
Thank you for your consideration. We respectfully look forward to your show of support.
The John P. Morris Black Law Students Association