Louis D. Brandeis School of Law.
Louis D. Brandeis School of Law.

The death of Breonna Taylor in March helped spark a global movement and elevated #SayHerName to a national rallying cry.

No doubt some of the legal details of this case, particularly as they apply to race and equity, are complicated. As such, the University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law has introduced a new, 14-week class called “Breonna Taylor’s Louisville: Race, Equity and Law.

The class is the brainchild of Dean Colin Crawford and is open to law students who have passed their first year. According to the Courier Journal, 12 students are currently enrolled and eight others are auditing.

The class features different speakers who discuss topics such as housing, reparations and policing. Crawford told the CJ that while Breonna Taylor’s death is the impetus behind the class and, the greater movement, students are tasked with introducing amendments to laws that may mask systemic inequality.

In a letter to the law school community on June 1, Crawford illustrates why a course like this is an important part of legal education, writing in part:

“…As I watch these (protests) unfold, I think of the importance of the importance of the law at times like these. Law is everywhere at this moment. Lawyers likely approved the no-knock warrant policy that has now been rescinded. Lawyers originally charged Breonna Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, for the shots he fired from his own, permitted firearm. A lawyer – the Commonwealth Attorney – subsequently rescinded those charges. Lawyers will represent Taylor’s family and Walker going ahead, as they will do for the police involved.

“The law also permits us as Americans to protest peacefully. And the law will be used to punish those who turned peaceable protests violent, unnecessarily and with needless destruction of property, causing physical injury and further death.

“Perhaps most powerfully, these events remind me of our national commitment to equality of treatment before the law, a principle included in the 14th Amendment over a century ago. The inequities that led to its passage, as recent events demonstrate, are tragically still with us. For my part, I therefore hope that this historical moment will lead all of us to re-examine the persistent disparities and inequities that too often characterize the structure and practice of our institutions, enabling systematic oppression of particular groups, and especially of African Americans. I hope that many of you feel the same. The current events show us that we still have far to go to be able truly to claim to be ‘one nation, undivided, with liberty and justice for all.’

Lawyers can help change that reality. Lawyers will be evermore important in the coming months and years. More will be demanded of us as we are called upon to dedicate ourselves, as officers of the court and as those who translate our highest principles into laws and regulations, to the cause of justice applied equally and fairly for all people, no matter what they look like or their station in life. As Justice Brandeis famously said, ‘The greatest menace to freedom is an inert people.’ This is no time for us as a people – and as lawyers – to be inert.”

The CJ reports that “Freddie Gray’s Baltimore” class at the University of Maryland helped inspire UofL’s class. Freddie Gray was arrested in Baltimore in 2015 for possessing a knife. He fell into a coma while being transported in a police van and later died due to injuries to his spinal cord. Breonna Taylor’s death obviously hits closer to home.  

“We’re the only law school in this city, so it’s really important that we engage,” Crawford told Wave 3. “I’m really hoping (the students) will come up with a solution of their own and feel they’ve been empowered to think about these matters differently and use law as a tool for positive change.”

Resources added ahead of the verdict

The Counseling Center, Cultural Center, LGBT Center, PEACC, and Student Affairs are collaborating to hold virtual drop-in group sessions for students who want to connect, share, and find support in light of the Attorney General’s impending announcement on the Breonna Taylor case. Student well being is a priority, as we strive to foster an environment of inclusiveness that empowers us all to our highest potential without fear of prejudice or bias. Groups will be held via Microsoft Teams. The sessions will not be recorded. Check this page for updates on how to join a session.

Additionally, the Office of Diversity and Equity has compiled a list of Anti-Racism resources for the campus community. The list will be updated on an ongoing basis.

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Alicia Kelso
Alicia Kelso is the director of social media and digital content. She joined UofL in 2015 as director of communications at the Brandeis School of Law. She also serves as a senior contributor at Forbes.com, writing about the restaurant industry, which she has covered since 2010. Her work has been featured in publications around the world, including NPR, Bloomberg, The Seattle Times, Good Morning America and Franchise Asia Magazine.