Utica City Councilman Delvin Moody and Utica College Professors Clemmie Harris and Bernard Hyman spoke in a Zoom webinar titled “Black Lives Matter: The Movement and Its Importance to All of Us” on Sept. 23. The webinar, which was also broadcasted on WUTR, was moderated by Hamilton Professor Frank Anechiarico and sponsored in part by the Levitt Center Law and Justice Lab.
Harris opened the talk with a brief but extensive background of Black American history, beginning in the 15th century and continuing to the present day. He recounted the events of recent months, in particular the development of the Black Lives Matter movement, and provided statistics that demonstrated the gravity of issues such as police brutality.
Harris explained the origins of “stop-and-frisk” policies, implemented infamously in such cities as New York, and drew connections between these contentious policies and events such as the 1965 Watts Riots.
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.
“America cannot resolve the entrenched nature of institutional racism through incremental reforms to its criminal justice system,” Harris said, encouraging instead measures “that attack the structural foundations of racism, discrimination, poverty, residential segregation, and white privilege.”
From there, Hyman, who is also an attorney, described his personal relationship with the Black Lives Matter movement and his somewhat “reluctant journey” to the conversation being had. The killing of George Floyd, for which Hyman said there was “no legal or factual defense to even be explored,” elicited anger that the lifelong prosecutor said altered his perspective on law enforcement. “This conversation is truly about reimagining not just policing, but the entire criminal justice system based on fairness, due process, and justice for all, in every community across the nation,” Hyman said.
In line with the historical patterns of discrimination highlighted by Harris, Moody described Black Lives Matter as a “new voice of an old song.” The current movement provides for the individual and society three key things according to Moody: personal advocacy, social accountability, and moral resurgency. All of this contributes to a movement that seeks to address a diversity of social problems beyond just police brutality, something that Hyman alluded to as well.
Many of the issues pointed to by Black Lives Matter are, at their core, “human issues,” Moody said, that transcend the divisions of political beliefs.
The webinar concluded with a Q&A session, during which the nationwide topics discussed by the three speakers were considered on a more local scale. Anechiarico mentioned Governor Cuomo’s recent executive order requiring imminent racial justice reforms in all municipal police agencies, which Moody said he thinks will produce meaningful change. Recent protests in Utica have been peaceful and generally well-received by police, prompting some to wonder if reforms are even necessary. In response, all three speakers warned against complacency and stressed the importance of “getting ahead,” with Hyman asserting his belief that Utica is a community “well-suited to change.”
Wednesday’s event was the first in a series of webinars scheduled to take place in the next few weeks, all focused on the subject of racial injustice.