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“Hot Topics” Luncheon Tackles Relations Between Police and Citizenry

 

 

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As part of an ongoing series of informal “Hot Topics” luncheons that encourage students to freely speak their minds about events that fill the daily news headlines, the Columbus School of Law’s Student Bar Association sponsored a Jan. 22 open forum on “The Disconnect Between the Police and the Citizen They are Sworn to Protect.”   

Over a brown bag lunch, approximately 20 students, as well as four members of the faculty, shared their thoughts, ideas, and interpretations about the spate of national news stories over the past year that have highlighted racial tensions between the police and residents of many of the communities they serve.
 
The hour-long discussion opened with a five minute video clip of last summer’s death of  Eric Garner of Staten Island, New York, after a police officer put him in a chokehold. The video clearly showed Garner’s repeated gasp of "I can't breathe" while a number of NYPD officers held him face down on a sidewalk. Garner’s takedown was prompted, according to police, by his selling of untaxed cigarettes on the street.
 
On December 3, 2014, a grand jury decided not to indict the officer whose arms were wrapped around Garner’s neck. Its decision has so far stirred at least 50 public demonstrations about the case nationwide.
 
After watching the video as a starting point for the discussion, students and faculty members expressed a wide range of opinions that included viewpoints such as:
 
  • Garner’s frustration with the police was evident before the event turned physical—the first sign of a “disconnect” between law enforcement and citizen
  • The selling of untaxed cigarettes does not rise even to the level of a misdemeanor in New York City; it merits a fine at most
  • Society sometimes gives police officers too much discretion in how to respond to situations, and some people appear to be drawn to law enforcement with the intent to discriminate
  • The police force is “para-militarized” in some communities
  • The officer who was not indicted by the grand jury should at the least have been held accountable for negligent homicide 
The Hot Topics lunch series is coordinated by SBA Academic Affairs VP Jonathan Thomas and Sports and Entertainment Law Students President Jaclyn Kavendek. The roundtable talks are part of an effort to help the CUA Law community come together  from time to time to examine the law in the context of pressing social issues.