Last Monday, Roy Austin Jr., deputy assistant to President Obama and director of the White House Office of Urban Affairs, Justice, and Opportunity, spoke about a particularly topical issue—“What Lawyers (and Soon-to-Be-Lawyers) Can Do to Ensure Constitutional Policing.”

Roy Austin Jr.Austin joined students for a formal discussion, later followed by an informal one, that explored the troubles of the criminal justice system, the effectiveness of data-driven policing, and the use of body cameras. He emphasized that simply changing the law or police practices is not enough.

“The opportunity to change the system through legislation and political action can be powerful, but the route to substantive change is through transformation of culture and expansion of experience,” Creighton Davis ’16 said, summing up the talk. “And lawyers can play a huge role in that, and really lead the discussion in that regard.”

This event grew out of the ongoing conversation at NYU School of Law about policing and the criminal justice system. Last November, the Black Allied Law Students Association (BALSA) held a community forum to discuss the grand jury’s decision not to indict the officer who killed Michael Brown. The event gave Davis, the BALSA chair, the chance to connect with Stephen Schulhofer, Robert B. McKay Professor of Law. Together, they invited Austin, Schulhofer’s former student, to speak at the Law School.

BALSA is now embarking on its own plans to influence the criminal justice narrative, including hosting more conversations and demonstrations and publishing opinion pieces.

“Change is ongoing, as challenging as these times are,” Davis said. “As Roy Austin said, when we consider the Civil Rights Era and the difference between then and now, we can see a change. We are moving in the right direction, so we need to maintain hope and maintain optimism that the changes we seek are possible.”

Posted February 4, 2015