Panel discusses achieving justice in black communities

A distinguished panel gathered on Monday night on Stetson’s Gulfport campus to discuss ways to achieve equal justice in black communities. The panel of Saint Louis University School of Law Professor Justin Hansford, Suffolk Law School Professor Emeritus Michael Avery, and Berny Jacques J.D. ’12,  addressed how public perceptions impact policing and crime in black neighborhoods. Stetson’s Black Law Students Association sponsored the event, “Disparate Treatment: Examining Policing in Black Communities and the Relevance of State Grand Juries.”

Panelists and students gathered in the Great Hall Monday night. Photo by Brittany Brochard.

Panelists and students gathered in the Great Hall Monday night. Photo by Brittany Brochard.

Hansford teaches critical race, international human rights law and economic & global justice at SLU School of Law. He has a B.A. from Howard and J.D. from Georgetown University where he founded the Georgetown Journal of Modern Critical Race Perspectives. He has been involved as an advocate, activist and legal consultant on a number of issues related to policing in the Ferguson, Missouri area.  His activism addressing police violence has taken him across the country as well as to the United Nations.

Avery taught constitutional law, individual rights and evidence at Suffolk Law School, where he was also the Director of Litigation. He received his B.A. as well as his law degree from Yale University. Avery is the former president of the National Lawyer’s Guild and the National Police Accountability Project. He authored a treatise on police misconduct entitled Law & Litigation, and received the largest judgment against the FBI in a misconduct case: $102 million.

Jacques moved to the U.S. from Haiti at the age of seven and was raised in Naples, Florida. He received his B.A. from Washington Adventist University and is a recent graduate of Stetson University College of Law. During college, he served as a legislative intern to Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart. He currently serves as an assistant state attorney and is president of the Pinellas County Young Republicans and a member of the Pinellas Leadership Council for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tampa Bay.

Professor Judith Scully, director of Stetson’s Innocence Initiative, Juvenile Justice Initiative, Street Law program, and co-director of the Social Justice Advocacy Concentration Program, introduced the panel.

Panelists discussed a range of issues including the cycle of crime, police misconduct, grand juries and disparate treatment.

Avery said that the lack of statewide or national police force databases, and the absence of a standard method for police departments across the country to use to determine police accountability, makes it difficult to analyze policing in black communities.

“We believe in accountability. We believe in bringing people to justice,” said Professor Hansford.

“It starts with interacting with one another, with police officers being engaged in the community through Big Brothers Big Sisters program and mentoring,” said Jacques.

“We do have to change the image of the black community,” said Stetson Law student Diriki Geuka. “We can advocate for people who don’t have the opportunity to sit in rooms like this.”

Geuka, along with fellow Stetson Law student Zachariah Wade, both work with The Pillars, a subsidiary of Stetson’s Black Law Students Association that partners with the Public Defender’s Office to mentor young men navigating the juvenile justice system.