On October 20, 2018 CRRJ sponsored the conference Past Harms, Present Remedies: Law Enforcement and Families Affected by Police Violence in Conversation at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law. Designed to consider how to include historical justice in conversations about current policing, the conference was the first of its kind in the country.
The convening focused on the relatives of those killed by law enforcement from 1930 to 1955 in the four states with the highest concentration of such killings: Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi. The conference attendees examined a history that was close to erasure and discussed measures of repair. Together with police chiefs, we discussed the need to acknowledge the lives lost, incidents of violence, injustices of failed investigations, sham legal proceedings and lenient sentences.
Family members, some of whom were speaking out for the first time, shared their stories and visions for repair. In this public witnessing, we heard how families and communities were affected and gained insight into the social context within which these events took place and the trail of trauma in their wake.
Panelists discussed the ongoing impact of historical state-sponsored violence, exploring why generations that come after historical injustices nevertheless have a duty to face and ameliorate the harms. We considered how to impart these teachings to learners at all levels, including law enforcement and the general public, and how best to marshal the information we are amassing about these past injustices to change the American narrative.
We also explored how restorative justice might bring together the victims’ families and representatives of the state actors implicated in the violence. As to remedies, we explored issues such as whether to seek compensation, punishment, reconciliation, or all three. We considered how to leverage experiences of historical injustice and intergenerational trauma in law enforcement training to foster healthier relationships between the police and the communities they serve.
The conference participants met in small groups to consider specific cases and to think more concretely about the present-day effects of long-term enforcement of a racial legal system.
Relatives present at the conference included Della McDuffie, the granddaughter of Della McDuffie, Evan Lewis, the great-grandson of Lent Shaw, Roy Brooks Jr., the grandson of Royal Brooks, Felicia Bacon, the great-great niece of Samuel Bacon, Sheila Moss-Brown, the granddaughter of Henry Peg Gilbert, Denver Terrance, the nephew of Denver Smith, Wanda Charles, the niece of Charles Chrispon Jr., Wilbert Robertson Jr., the son of Wilbert Robertson, and Barbara Bryan, the niece of Eugene Jones.
Featured speakers included Attorney Kaylie Simon, CRRJ Restorative Justice Director; Professor Geoff Ward, Washington University in St. Louis; Professor Andrea Armstrong, Loyola University New Orleans College of Law; Author Karen Branan, The Family Tree; Hon. Calvin Johnson, retired Chief Judge of the Orleans Parish Criminal Court; Chief Louis Dekmar, LaGrange GA Chief of Police; and Dia Grover, Fayette Police Captain in Mississippi.
Northeastern professors Margaret Burnham (CRRJ), Rose Zoltek-Jick (CRRJ), Jack McDevitt (CSSH), and Shytierra Gaskins (CSSH) helped shape the discussions, as did Melissa Nobles, Dean, MIT School of Arts, Humanities and Social Science.