Yale Teach-In Series Reflects on the Path Forward After the Chauvin Verdict
A series of three teach-ins involving Law School faculty, staff, alumni, and affiliates examined the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who was convicted in the murder of George Floyd. The series presented an opportunity for the Yale community to reflect and come together in the wake of the verdict.
The teach-ins were held as webinars on April 22 & 23, 2021 for the Yale community and explored the wide-ranging legal and societal implications of the killing of Floyd, the subsequent legal proceedings, and the recent guilty verdicts.
The first teach-in on April 22 featured Dean Heather Gerken as moderator and a panel of experts from The Justice Collaboratory at Yale Law School. Justice Collaboratory Founding Director Tracey Meares, the Walton Hale Hamilton Professor of Law; Justice Collaboratory member Elizabeth Hinton, Associate Professor of History & African American Studies at Yale and Professor of Law at Yale Law School; and Justice Collaboratory member Jennifer Richeson, the Philip R. Allen Professor of Psychology at Yale, began by sharing reactions to the Chauvin verdict, personally and as scholars.
“My immediate reaction was to just feel the enormity of the task in front of us,” Meares said. She spoke of the challenges in trying to bring about police reforms in a federalist system, when most police work is managed at the local or state level.
Gerken also asked the panel to discuss their individual work more deeply. Hinton discussed her research into police violence and racial unrest across the country in the 1960s and 1970s, and Meares discussed her work thinking about public safety and inside communities impacted by violence. Richeson spoke about social science and its role in trying to understand how issues like bias and racism work in American society.
A session hosted by The Arthur Liman Center for Public Interest Law on April 23 addressed the role of the courts, the role of the police, and how to ensure safe, equitable communities. Arthur Liman Professor of Law Judith Resnik moderated a panel with participants Anna VanCleave, director of the Liman Center; Lecturer in Law Emily Bazelon ’00; Dwayne Betts ’16, Director of the Law School’s Million Book Project and a Ph.D. in Law candidate; and Melissa Murray ’02, Frederick I. and Grace Stokes Professor of Law at NYU Law.
VanCleave spoke about how heavily society relies on the court system and how important the Chauvin verdict was for so many. “We don’t have the other forums for processing this kind of racialized violence,” she said. “We don't have truth commissions, we don’t have reparations, we don’t have true restorative justice systems in any sort of comprehensive way, in any particular jurisdiction. And that means that we have to lean on the criminal and adversarial process to do so much more than it is often equipped to do.”
Betts spoke about wanting the justice system to work as advertised and his thinking about how the justice system has affected his peers who are incarcerated. Murray addressed how the national conversation recently has turned toward policing, perhaps ignoring injustices done as a result of mass incarceration.
The final teach-in, also on April 23, was organized by the Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization at the Law School and featured legal and public policy practitioners sharing their experiences working with adult and juvenile clients who have been affected by police violence.
Sol Goldman Clinical Professor of Law Muneer Ahmad and Clinical Professor of Law Fiona Doherty ’99 moderated the event with panelists Chrysanthemum Desir ’18 from the Maryland Office of the Public Defender, Christy Lopez ’94, Professor from Practice at Georgetown Law, Cara McClellan ’15, assistant counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and Mel Medina of the ACLU.
“The Chauvin verdict on the murder of George Floyd brought many of us great relief, but no joy. And even as we were told, this is an inflection point. One could be forgiven for feeling pessimistic, in light of the ongoing police violence against black Americans,” Ahmad said.
The panel explored a range of legal and advocacy tools outside the criminal legal system and how these tools offer opportunities to improve equal justice and, in particular, address discriminatory police violence.
The Teach-In Series was co-sponsored by the Office of the Dean at Yale Law School along with Yale College, Yale Divinity School, the Yale Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the Yale Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, the Yale School of Architecture, the Yale School of Art, the Yale School of Drama, the Yale School of Management, the Yale School of Medicine, the Yale School of Music, the Yale School of Nursing, the Yale School of Public Health, and the Yale School of the Environment.