Pre-law fraternity Phi Alpha Delta held a panel to discuss criminal justice reform and race relations on Wednesday Dec. 2. The panel featured assistant professor of philosophy Amanda Roth, sociology professor Bill Lofquist and special assistant public defender Andre Vitale. Phi Alpha Delta’s stated goals include increasing public knowledge on important or controversial legal issues.
“We thought it was obligation as a law fraternity to present the legal side of this problem,” Phi Alpha Delta president junior Darrell Getman said. “It’s a very prevalent topic and the campus is clearly very involved in the issue and we thought it would be very beneficial to the campus community.”
Each panelist discussed police brutality from his or her own perspective. Lofquist presented recent history and legal politics, followed by Vitale, who spoke about institutionalized racism he often sees first-hand in his job as a public defender. Roth then spoke about the role of government and the police from a philosophical perspective.
“We wanted to have people who were in the law enforcement community and in academia so that you could get an academic perspective and then a more practical, experiential perspective from those who have worked in the legal system and have seen it firsthand,” Getman said. “I think each [panelist] offered a unique perspective.”
The panelists addressed the concept of institutionalized racism in criminal justice as well as the idea that it has gone unaccounted for until very recently.
“We are talking about this more not because it is getting worse but because it is getting defined as a problem,” Lofquist said.
“The overseers of the police consistently buy what their officers say without question,” Vitale added.
The underlying divisions between the police and minority communities were also discussed and explanations were provided. “Those areas where there are minority communities are where the police choose to increase enforcement,” Vitale said. “Selective enforcement is one of the most important reasons why there is a division between the police and minority communities.”
“Drug laws—it should be noted—are enforced vastly disproportionately against African-Americans,” Lofquist said.
The panel also addressed the possibility of using information and media sharing as a way to bring power back to minorities and those being discriminated against.
“What has to happen now is that there has to be accountability,” Vitale said.
All the panelists agreed that many of the current law cases, such as that of Laquan McDonald in Chicago, would not have gained traction without video footage released of the incidents.
The panel discussion brought up discrimination in multiple forms. Violence used by police officers, disparate arrest rates and crime sentences and racial profiling were among the topics that the panelists touched upon.
The room was filled to capacity during the panel discussion, with attendees pressed against the back walls and sitting on the floor.
“It was great to see so many people who were engaged and interested in the dialogue,” Getman said. “I think it’s a testament to the political consciousness of this community.”
Solutions were discussed during the question and answer portion of the event following the panelists’ prepared speeches. Proposed solutions included civilian review boards to effectively monitor the way police treat citizens and their legal cases, body cameras and dashboard cameras for law enforcement and increasing social awareness by including lessons on institutionalized racism in educational curriculums.
“We want solutions,” Getman said. “A lot of people like to talk about the problems and that’s good because you absolutely need to identify these issues, but what we wanted was a discussion that focused on how we as a society … address these problems and enact laws and legislation to actively address these problems.”
Vitale noted that he believes that the panel is “a nice start,” but that the conversation has to continue and people have to remain engaged in order to actually effect change.
“Many times, you have these events and the conversation then dies,” Vitale said. “This is the conversation that needs to be occurring just like it occurred here—in our broader society—and it’s not and that’s a shame because until these conversations occur and until there’s some follow up, nothing is going to change.”