Guess Who is Teaching My Class?

A couple weeks into my 1L year, on my drive into school, I heard a report on public radio about a recent Supreme Judicial Court (the Massachusetts state supreme court) decision. The court had found that black men might have a reason, even if they were not guilty of a crime, to run from the police. Even as a greenhorn law student, I could tell that this sort of decision was radical. When I got to school, I printed the opinion, pushed Torts, Contracts, and CivPro to the side, and raced through it.

Citing to a study conducted by the Boston Police Department, which found that black men are more likely to be stopped and questioned by police officers, and repeatedly so, the court noted that a black male, “when approached by the police, might just as easily be motivated by the desire to avoid the recurring indignity of being racially profiled as by the desire to hide criminal activity.” This was the outcome I hoped to (but did not often) see in judicial decisions. I looked at the opinion’s author, Justice Geraldine Hines. The first black woman to serve on the Massachusetts Appeals Court and Supreme Judicial Court, she had worked in civil rights and defense before joining the bench. It seemed like the coolest career possible, and controverted the typical image of a judge as a stuffy old white man. Maybe if I was lucky, I thought, one day I would get to meet her.

That day would come sooner than I thought.

The Rappaport Center for Law and Public Policy, which has found its permanent home at BC Law, invites notable figures from around the country to spend a semester teaching at the law school.  Last year, 2016 Democratic presidential nominee and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley taught a course on performance management (during his time here, I was lucky enough to be able to discuss with him, over a beer, ways to address the impact of America’s violent history on our culture). In the Fall of 2017, former United States Attorney for Boston Carmen Ortiz brought her experience handling the Marathon Bombing prosecution to bear in a class about national security law. You can imagine my elation when the Center announced that, for the Spring 2018 semester, Justice Hines would be coming to BC Law to teach a course on race, policing, and the constitution.

Not only did I get to meet her, but every Wednesday she leads our class through an analysis of the complications in prosecuting cases of police use of force, often with black men as victims, in our criminal justice system. It is a privilege to learn from such an experienced attorney.  We recently examined the case of Jason Stockley, who was acquitted of first-degree murder after killing Anthony Smith in St. Louis, Missouri. The judge who decided the case wrote an opinion detailing the facts as he found them; there is also video of the shooting. We were all convinced the judge got it wrong. Justice Hines chided the class for analyzing the case with our hearts. You need to use your heads, and think through these facts like the judge would, she told us, and admitted that, despite what our hearts told us, this was a close, difficult case to decide.

This kind of thoughtful teaching and mentoring happens here every single day. Justice Hines is just the latest in a growing line of distinguished visiting faculty at BC Law. I can’t wait to see who they bring in next year. Whoever it might be, I know I’ll be learning something important–not just for my future career, but for how I view the world we live in.

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