Crafting Racial Justice Reform
When Frank Anechiarico ’71, the Maynard-Knox Professor of Law, announced a new practicum about criminal justice reform, the course met a wave of student desire for action. Some 60 students were interested in enrolling in a course that had space for roughly 20.
Anechiarico found the response heartening. “It shows, I think, that our students have been very engaged with these issues back home. They know what’s going on probably better than most of us. They want to come back to college and see that there’s something going on,” he says.
The Black Live Matters Movement inspired him to develop the course Crafting Criminal Justice Reform, which debuted this semester. It’s part of a larger initiative, also led by Anechiarico, that brings together the campus and community to potentially foster local reform. Besides more traditional course work, students are part of a team collecting information that will be used by Anechiarico and partners to develop policy proposals that could make it all the way to the governor’s office.
At Hamilton, students are in a bubble, and this is a chance to get beyond that, says government major Anokhi Manchanda ’22, who was drawn to the course by the opportunity for a practical experience — and a chance to have Anechiarico again as a professor. What they accomplish in the course could make a difference in real-world policy, she points out. “I’m also the type of person who wants to help people, and I wanted to do as much as I can, especially [to support the] Black Lives Matter movement,” Manchanda says.
Yve Belizaire ’21, a government major and Africana studies minor, has a similar perspective. “With this class, it’s not just learning, it’s action-based. And so that felt much better for me because Hamilton is a school that's on the Hill and predominantly white, so sometimes the courses feel disconnected from the real world,” she says.
Belizaire saw the course as an opportunity to make a difference — without allowing herself to become overwhelmed emotionally by the Black deaths at the hands of the police. She has struggled to find a way to stay involved and informed but not traumatized, and the course fit the need.
... we want to engage in a public conversation about how to reform the system to be both equitable and responsive to a diverse community. This is an agenda shared by the leadership of each institution, and we have been assured of their support.
Student involvement is one aspect of the project, called the College/Community Partnership for Racial Justice. It unites representatives and resources from Hamilton College, Herkimer College, Mohawk Valley Community College, Pratt Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute, SUNY Polytechnic Institute, and Utica College to address, in part, Governor Cuomo’s executive order requiring that all jurisdictions with police agencies forward detailed reform plans to Albany by April 2021. The plans must take racial justice into account and source local experience and opinion in doing so.
“First, we want to use the resources of the colleges to both listen to the voices of our neighbors and record their experience and evaluation of the justice system,” Anechiarico said. “Second, we want to engage in a public conversation about how to reform the system to be both equitable and responsive to a diverse community. This is an agenda shared by the leadership of each institution, and we have been assured of their support.”
It’s important to ensure that stakeholders are heard, says Associate Professor of Government Gbemende Johnson, who is a co-instructor for the course, a member of the coordinating committee, and a lecturer in a related series of webinars.
“One of the reasons why I got involved is wanting to be a part of something where you have the chance to go from being concerned about it and conducting research on it to having a hand in developing proposals that could actually be helpful to people — and finding ways to give the community a voice,” Johnson said. “So you have all the stakeholders involved, but you want to make sure you center the conversation on those individuals who are most affected by interactions within the justice system and law enforcement so they have a chance to speak about their concerns.”
Residents of the Mohawk Valley, including Hamilton College students, can be part of the community's message to our elected officials in Albany, N.Y., by participating in the criminal justice survey. To take the survey, text MVJustice to 898211.
Students will deploy and analyze a survey of residents of Herkimer and Oneida counties already conducted by Zogby Analytics and funded by the Levitt Center, research best practices, and, in consultation with public officials, prepare law enforcement reform reports. Utica City Court Judge Ralph Eannace is a co-instructor.
Running in tandem will be another course at Utica College that will take a more qualitative approach to the same issues, with students interviewing and recording responses from individuals in law enforcement and the judiciary. Students in both courses will also research and compile evidence-based best practices in policy areas related to criminal justice reform and ensuring racial equity.
The webinar series covers Black Lives Matter, police use of force, the treatment of people with mental illness in the criminal justice system, domestic violence, and other issues relevant to effective reform.
The partnership’s related eight-part lecture/webinar/Q&A series covers Black Lives Matter, police use of force, the treatment of people with mental illness in the criminal justice system, domestic violence, and other issues relevant to effective reform. The lectures will be delivered by faculty and staff, including Johnson, from partnership member institutions. The series will be broadcast on consecutive Wednesdays at 7 p.m. beginning Sept. 23 on WPNY, broadcast channel 11 and cable channel 12. To sign up, visit the partnership website at www.community4justice.org.
Colleges and Community Partnership for Racial Justice Reform Coordinating Committee
- Frank Anechiarico ’71, Department of Government, Hamilton College, Convener and Chair
- Anthony Colon, Mitchell International and Mohawk Valley Community College Trustee
- Bernard Hyman, Department of Criminal Justice, Utica College
- Gbemende Johnson, Department of Government, Hamilton College
- Marquis Palmer ’18, Office of the Kings County, N.Y., District Attorney
- Jawwaad Rasheed, Oneida County Family Court Magistrate and President, Frontiers Club of the Mohawk Valley
- Christopher Riddle, Department of Philosophy, Utica College
- Veronica Tichenor, Department of Sociology, SUNY Polytechnic Institute