June 9, 2020

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Cornell Law Clinical Faculty Respond to Racism and Police Violence

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To the Editor:

As individuals and as professors, we oppose racism in all its forms. We are outraged by the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and by the killings of countless other Black people who have lost their lives as a result of racialized violence. We are also outraged by commentators, some of them attached to Ivy League Institutions, who are leading a smear campaign against Black Lives Matter. In describing the protests, they deliberately use terms like “wilding,” a racially loaded term coined in 1989 to describe the imagined actions of five innocent Black teenagers (Korey Wise, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Antron McCray and Yusef Salaam) who were wrongly convicted and sentenced to lengthy prison terms for the assault of a White jogger. These commentators express rage over the sporadic looting that has taken place amidst the largely peaceful protests, calling for organized manhunts to track down those responsible. Theirs is a form of racism that gives cover to those police who use their batons and tear gas and rubber bullets and fists to silence and maim their critics.

These commentators are the defenders of institutionalized racism and violence. They are entitled to their viewpoints. We do not name them, so as to deprive them of a larger platform for their racist speech. But as clinical teachers who have spent our lives promoting social justice, combatting discrimination and teaching tolerance, we cannot allow their hateful vitriol to go unchallenged. We also have a responsibility to our students, many of whom are experiencing trauma and grief that is exacerbated by the callous cruelty of those who demean their struggle.

We stand with the Cornell Black Law Students Association, with the families of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor (and the many who fell before them) and with the protesters. We demand accountability for police violence. We are determined to combat hatred by teaching the truth about racial discrimination in the U.S. legal system, by exposing the structural causes of inequality and by representing clients in their struggle for justice. We commit ourselves to equip our students with the tools they need to fight for justice and equality as ethical and socially responsible legal professionals. And we will continue to expose and respond to racism masquerading as informed commentary.


Zohra Ahmed, International Human Rights Clinic: Litigation and Advocacy

Sandra Babcock, International Human Rights Clinic: Litigation and Advocacy

Briana Beltran, Farmworker Legal Assistance Clinic

Celia Bigoness, Entrepreneurship Law Clinic

John Blume, Capital Punishment Clinic

Elizabeth Brundige, Gender Justice Clinic

Angela Cornell, Labor Law Clinic

Sujata Gibson, Protest and Civil Disobedience Defense Practicum

Mark H. Jackson, First Amendment Clinic

Sheri Lynn Johnson, Capital Punishment Clinic

Jaclyn Kelley-Widmer, 1L Immigration Law and Advocacy Clinic

Cortelyou Kenney, First Amendment Clinic

Sital Kalantry, International Human Rights: Policy Advocacy Clinic

Ian M. Kysel, Asylum and Convention Against Torture Appellate Clinic

Mallory J. Livingston, LGBT Law Practicum

Delphine Lourtau, Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide

Beth Lyon, Farmworker Legal Assistance Clinic

Estelle McKee, Asylum and Convention Against Torture Appellate Clinic

Keir Weyble, Capital Punishment Clinic

Carlton E. Williams, Movement Lawyering Practicum

Stephen Yale-Loehr, Asylum and Convention Against Torture Appellate Clinic

*We sign in our individual capacity, and our views do not represent the official views of Cornell Law School.