Creighton Black Law Student Group Pens Letter on Racism

By 
David Golbitz
The Daily Record

It had been weeks since Deanna Mathews had seen or spoken to any of her fellow Creighton School of Law students when George Floyd was killed on Memorial Day in Minneapolis.

The third-year law student said she had never before felt so isolated by the coronavirus pandemic as when many of her peers began to contact her.

They wanted to know what Mathews, the immediate past president of the school’s Black Law Students Association, had to say about Floyd’s death and the wave of protests that were sweeping the country in its aftermath.

Mathews wanted to share her thoughts, “but when I sat down to try and write it, the words just weren’t coming,” she said in an interview.

“I’m really good at being able to talk about it,” Mathews said. “But, for some reason, just writing it just was not happening.”

Mathews turned to the current BLSA President Traemon Anderson for help in crafting a statement on behalf of the organization.

“I didn’t feel like anybody else would really be able to envision what BLSA has to say better than Trae,” Mathews said.

What came from their collaboration is a scathing indictment of racial injustice and police brutality in America, along with a call to action to finally do the work of creating the change that has been long promised, but never delivered.

“It’s great to see people protesting,” Anderson told The Daily Record in an interview. “It’s great to see people speaking up for what they believe in and talking about the changes that need to be made, but in regard to actual change being made, that happens when laws are passed, that happens when legislations are enforced.”

While Mathews and Anderson believe that a number of remedies are necessary – from demilitarization of police departments to defunding and reallocating resources – their letter focuses primarily on creating legislation that would make it easier to hold police officers to account for “abusing their power through unlawful force, abuse, and murder.”

“We’re currently learning how the law is supposed to work, how a judge should rule on something, what a police officer should and shouldn’t do,” said Anderson, who is in his second year at Creighton Law.

“It’s sometimes very frustrating because you see how it’s supposed to work and it’s like, ‘Oh, we learned about this in class, but why is this not what’s happening in our society? Why are they not following the law?’” Anderson said.

In addition to Floyd’s death in police custody, the letter cites numerous other instances of police action that resulted in the deaths of Black people in America, including Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile and Breonna Taylor.

Anderson is particularly upset that police officers with numerous excessive force complaints continue to be employed by law enforcement around the country.

“There’s a lot of police officers that we hear about, who, oh, they’ve done this like three or four times and nothing’s happened, or they’ve done this three or four times, they got let go and then they were rehired,”

There are reports of many police officers who have been accused of misconduct several times without significant disciplinary action, as well as officers who were terminated for their conduct who were rehired or simply join a different law enforcement agency.

“There has to be something in place that makes it to where if you keep doing the same things to people, if you keep hurting people, if you keep shooting people or beating people up, and not actually doing the job of a police officer, you shouldn’t be allowed to keep doing the job,” Anderson said.

The letter Mathews and Anderson wrote wasn’t written for the purpose of changing peoples’ minds, Mathews said. There is ample evidence that the system needs to change, she said, and if you don’t see it, you’re simply choosing not to see it.

“I just reached a point where I’m done trying to change people’s minds,” Mathews said. “I don’t know what else I can do or what I can say, what magic words can come out of my mouth to convince people that things need to change.”

Both Mathews and Anderson experienced racism in a variety of forms as they were growing up.

Anderson, who was raised in Texas, “grew up with people saying the N-word, people making jokes about slavery, making jokes about people being hung,” he said.

“I had kids who talked about Black people as being dirty, or the idea of being with someone Black as being nasty,” Anderson said.

Much of that took place during middle and high school, when “you’re very young and almost ignorant of reality,” he said. When he grew up, though, he realized “that was really messed up.”

“I mean, just to think about, when I heard that guy say that to him thinking about dating a Black woman is nasty to him, where did you even get that mindset? Who taught you that? You don’t just come out of the womb thinking that about somebody,” Anderson said. “Somebody had to put that in your mind and make you think that that was OK to say, verbalize and rationalize in your own head.”

Mathews recalled something she experienced in middle school, involving a boy who was interested in her.

“He kept calling me his ‘jungle princess,’” she said. “And I just like, where did you get that from? Who put that in your head?”

Despite their past experiences with racism and the systemic challenges facing modern policing,

Anderson and Mathews are optimistic that change is possible.

“I’m not necessarily the most vocal person in the world, but I learned the best way to go about it was just to be my unapologetic self and as long as that happens change will come” Mathews said. “And it’s coming.”

 

CREIGHTON BLSA OPEN LETTER

Dear Law School Community, 

For black children, racism is hard to understand. It is hard to understand why anyone fights so hard to be oppressive toward other races. It is hard to understand how people can sleep at night, face themselves in the mirror, or even call themselves a Christian, while also openly, quietly, or subconsciously hating a race of people simply because they are different. But as we grow up and experience racism first hand as young African Americans, it becomes quite evident why people hold these hateful ideologies with a tight fist. Once you become comfortable believing that you are superior to others, it is hard to let go, especially if you have dehumanized people of color in the process. It is human nature to want to hold on to what you know and resist change. However, being a flawed human being is no longer and has never been a valid or justified excuse for racism. We all must release ourselves from the racist ideologies that birthed America and accept that America has grown into a diverse country that can no longer progress while racism is ingrained in its communities. 

Thousands of innocent black Americans have lost their lives at the hands of police brutality and many were unarmed making the death sting even more. Over the last six years, we have lost Eric Garner (2014), Michael Brown (2014), Tamir Rice (2014), Walter Scott (2015), Alton Sterling (2016), Philando Castile (2016), Stephon Clark (2018), and many others to racially motivated acts of hatred executed by police officers. Recently the burn of racism has hit close to home with the recent deaths of George Floyd (2020), Breonna Taylor (2020), and James Scurlock (2020), two of which were brutally murdered by police officers and the last by a white citizen with an unlicensed weapon in our hometown of Omaha, Nebraska. This country is currently in an uproar because our community is hurt and people are angry at the blatant racism toward black people. Black lives have been undervalued and taken for granted for thousands of years by white oppressors and the police force has played a role in this continued oppression.

The police’s reaction to the current protests show that peace and understanding is not their main objective and excessive force is commonplace. Over the past few weeks of protests across the United States, thousands of people have felt the consequences of standing with our community as we have experienced a blatant disregard for our right to peaceably assemble. The consequences of protesting did not discriminate against race as it punished Blacks, Whites, Hispanics, Asians, Straight, Gay, Trans, Men, Women, and children. This affects us all and this behavior is unacceptable. There must be meaningful reform. There is an absence of de-escalation techniques in police-citizen interactions. It has become more than evident that de-escalation training needs to be reintroduced in our training of our police officers in America. This level of force and constant escalation will continue to lead to abuses upon citizens that will cause injuries and deaths.

What we must understand is that the police need to be held accountable for abusing their power through unlawful force, abuse, and murder. Protection through the qualified immunity doctrine is no longer appropriate when officers are not deserving of this “assumed justification,” which allows a large percentage of officers to evade charges or disciplinary action. There are thousands of police officers who fail to do their job correctly and who have shown an inability and unwillingness to change. These officers must be disciplined and charged when they prove they cannot represent their badge in the correct manner. There must be legislation passed to implement an independent authority to review officer conduct in order to actually hold these officers accountable. It is the duty of all Americans, who believe this land is the home of the free, to raise a fist in the air in solidarity with the cause to end all acts of police brutality and racism.

A time for change is upon us. A time to reach for new heights, overcome obstacles, and rise to the occasion. We must overcome and push forward to a better America. Our ancestors have brought us this far, and it’s up to us to pick up the torch and charge forward towards equality, by any means necessary. The Black Law Students Association has always strived to be a welcoming community for all African Americans and anyone who supports our cause. We know that these last few weeks have been challenging, but for us there is no change without protest. There is no change in silence. We must do better. And we can do better. 

In solidarity,

The Creighton Law Black Law Students Association

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