Whether the physical or social climate, when things heat up, you can count on the Harvard community to throw some fists in the air. Their protests aren’t always the most raucous; you might recall how during Occupy Boston, the school made numerous attempts to keep outside demonstrators off campus, in fear of things escalating. That said, their voices are not only welcome, but often at the forefront of conversations about topics ranging from the governmental to environmental. So naturally, it was not very surprising to find the following in our mailbox this morning:
Harvard Law students to gather in solidarity with the national #HandsUpWalkOut protests
At12:01 pm on August 9, Michael Brown was shot multiple times by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. His body lay in the middle of the street baking in the August sun for four and a half hours before it was taken to the morgue.
At 12:01 pm tomorrow, people around the country will walk out of their schools and places of work in solidarity with the family of Michael Brown, with protestors in Ferguson, and with all communities that are affected by police violence. HLS students will join this national movement. We stand together against police brutality and against a future in which the law continues to legitimize violence and inequality.
HLS students and professors will speak about Ferguson, about the continuing national movement that Ferguson has inspired, and about the role that law students, lawyers, and law schools can play.
Rebecca Chapman, HLS ’15, who went to Ferguson in October, notes that, “despite what we are taught in law school, the law is not neutral; lawyers and law students have a unique perspective on the reality that law does not protect everyone equally. Judges, prosecutors, politicians, policemen – everyone is complicit in perpetuating our unequal, racist, sexist system of laws.” Victoria White, HLS ’15 returned from Ferguson only a few days ago.
“The time I spent in Ferguson reaffirmed for me the idea that there is an integral role for lawyers to play in social movements—not only to work alongside organizers and activists, but also to protect the civil and human rights of those who exercise their right to protest. We must use our legal education to begin addressing systemic injustice, one day at a time.”
We believe in the power of the people, so we will hold our walkout at 12:01 pm EST (rather than 12:01 pm CST) so that as many students as possible may participate. We will congregate outside of Wasserstein Hall at the center of the Harvard Law campus. Students and faculty from all Harvard schools are encouraged to join.
In anticipation of the event, we asked one of the organizers, Harvard Law School student Rebecca Nahmias Chapman, what Cambridge should be looking forward to this afternoon…
What are you expecting for turnout, if anything?
We are expecting at least 300 people. Students from the Law School will already be on campus, and students from Harvard College, Harvard Divinity School, Harvard Education School, and the Kennedy School of Government will be also be walking out of their classes to join us.
Have organizers been in touch with police, authorities, campus or otherwise? Do you expect anything in particular in terms of the reaction you’ll be facing?
It is a public event, and we have sent invitations to specific faculty and administrators who we know will be interested. Since the event is public, we assume the authorities and the police are aware. There has never been a police presence on campus, so anything more than one officer would be out of the ordinary.
Are you expecting mostly Harvard students and people from the Harvard community?
Yes. As I said, this is meant to be a walk out from Harvard for Harvard students. There are other walkouts planned across Cambridge and Boston that we are aware of, and of course, the campus is public so anyone will be welcome at our rally!
How long do you expect the demonstration to last?
Our rally will last at least until 1pm.
What do you feel law students in particular can and should add to the conversation and actions around Ferguson?
Perhaps uniquely, law students and lawyers understand how the law operates and that, despite what we are sometimes taught in law school, law is not neutral. We learn supposedly neutral rules like the ‘reasonableness’ standard for police use of force as if they are somehow applied in a vacuum. The movement in Ferguson seeks to address systemic forms of oppression that legitimize the idea that it is ‘reasonable’ to fear black men and women in this country, and thus it is ‘reasonable’ to end their lives. This movement is not just about ending police brutality. Rather, it understands that the brutality of the police is merely one symptom of an underlying illness in the law. The law does not protect everyone equally. Judges, prosecutors, politicians, policemen – everyone is complicit in perpetuating an unequal, racist, sexist system.
As students at Harvard Law School, we know that if we remain silent, we are complicit. This is true for all people, but it is especially and tangibly true for law students. Several of us have recently returned from Ferguson and saw first hand the reality of oppression there – and felt what that means for the oppression and structural inequality that infects the entire country. In Ferguson, protestors and organizers frequently invoked the principle that “when injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty.” As the future of the law, law students must take this to heart. We believe that there is an integral role for lawyers to play in social movements—not only to work alongside organizers and activists in helping to mobilize, but to protect the civil and human rights of those who exercise their right to protest. We know that, without a system to back it up, a ‘right’ is just a bunch of words; right now, the system that we have, the system that law has built, is not one that backs up everyone’s rights equally.