Confronting Racial Injustice & Historical Narratives
Professor Deborah A. Ramirez founded the Northeastern University School of Law Criminal Justice Task Force in the summer of 2020, responding to calls for criminal justice reform by protesters around the world. Through a framework of subgroups, the Task Force addresses policies and practices within the criminal justice system that disenfranchise the most vulnerable members of our society. The subgroups facilitate communication and collaboration across communities which might not otherwise get the opportunity to work together. With more than 110 members, the Task Force includes representatives from the judicial, legal and public policy communities, law enforcement and academia.
Confronting Racial Injustice
Confronting Racial Injustice is a free panel series developed by the Northeastern University School of Law Criminal Justice Task Force, hosted by Massachusetts Historical Society and sponsored by a number of other Boston-area organizations and institutions.
The goal of this five-part virtual series is to explore historical events in Massachusetts history in order to probe how slavery, racism and their legacies have influenced and continue to influence the criminal justice system.
For years Faneuil Hall, affectionately nicknamed “The Cradle of Liberty,” has been growing in notoriety as Massachusetts confronts the historic building’s ties to slavery.
Faneuil Hall owes its existence to its namesake’s participation in the slave trade and the prevalence of slavery in the North, yet today tourists flock to the landmark with little, if any, understanding of this truth. Accordingly, this narrative includes a history of Peter Faneuil and Faneuil Hall to help academics, politicians and the greater community understand Faneuil Hall’s legacy and the reality of slavery in the North during the 18th century, particularly in Boston. Following the historical component is a discussion of Faneuil Hall today; this discussion suggests acts of restorative justice to strengthen the community and hold Boston accountable for years of retelling an inaccurate history through its silence.
Harvard Law School
On a national level, Harvard Law School occupies an exalted place in our legal landscape. Locally, the law school is a source of pride; its name is found across buildings and apparel or represented by sitting judges in the federal and state courts. Though the law school is known for its prestige and contributions to the law, such accolades must not overshadow the school’s roots in slavery. As such, this narrative begins with a history of the Royall family, the largest slave-holding family in Massachusetts and whose wealth funded the law school. The narrative addresses past actions acknowledging the law school’s foundation, and also suggests additional efforts to ensure Harvard Law School continues to recognize its history and honor the enslaved persons to whom it owes its existence.
The Charles Stuart Story
On October 23, 1989, Carol DiMaiti was shot and killed in the Mission Hill area of Boston.
Her husband, Charles Stuart, told authorities that an African American man in a black running suit was responsible. This heightened racial tensions in Boston and prompted a manhunt, allowing the Boston Police Department to use stop and frisk tactics on young Black on any pretense. In truth, Stuart fabricated his account and was responsible for his wife’s death. Stuart used his whiteness as a tool of violence to falsely accuse an innocent Willie Bennett of DiMaiti’s murder. This narrative explores the lasting effects of this crime and Stuart’s lie on stop and frisk practices in the Boston area. The narrative concludes with recommendations to raise awareness in police and judicial trainings that can serve to strengthen professional and community relationships.
Busing & Desegregation in Boston
In 1954, the United States Supreme Court found in Brown v. Board of Education that segregated public education based solely on the race of students was violative of the Equal Protection Clause in the Fourteenth Amendment. After the federal courts mandated that schools take an active role in desegregation, the South saw years of progress towards this end; the North, however, resisted such change. Twenty years after Brown, Federal Judge W. Arthur Garrity found that the Boston school district remained segregated and ordered students of color be bused to other schools to create a desegregated school system. Unfortunately, the success that busing brought many communities in the South was not replicated in Boston. This narrative focuses on
this failure of busing in Boston as compared to other communities. Against this history is a discussion of the long-term effects of busing and a discussion on how understanding these effects can inform a more equitable education.