Dean's Note

November 1, 2018

Incidents over the past few weeks have been tragic, very disturbing, and mind-boggling. Individuals appear to have been killed because of their religious or racial identity or threatened because of their political affiliation or ideology.

There has been a dramatic increase in hate crimes in the United States. In 2016, the FBI reported that ½ of all antireligious hate crimes were directed at Jewish Americans. The Anti-Defamation League reports that there was a 60% surge in anti-Semitic incidents in 2017 on top of a 35% increase in the prior year. There has also been an increase in hate crimes directed at Muslim American; although Muslims make up only 1% of the U.S. population, twenty percent of the anti-religious hate crimes have been directed towards them.

We have also seen Latino migrant families separated from their children, increased deportations, special protections ended that have been in place for migrants from certain countries, and a significant shrinkage in the number of refugees granted asylum. All these actions have created a great deal of anxiety and hardship in immigrant communities especially those of those from mixed immigration status families.

Acts of violence based on religious or racial identity or political ideology are wrong. My heart goes out to all the victims and all their families and friends. It is also important to note that for religious, racial, and ethnic minority communities that have a long experienced history on the receiving end of oppression and violence, these attacks may cut deeper and sometimes retrigger shared historical trauma. Unfortunately, I fear that this violence may also have an impact on our larger society especially for those who subscribe to a hate-based ideology.

I point out the following sequence of events and the reported underlying causes not to sensationalize them, but the telling of the stories honors the victims and demonstrates how out of the norm these recent events are. They have happened in rapid succession and have been devastating.

Last Saturday, a gunman shouting anti-Semitic slurs killed at least 11 individuals, in a synagogue, and hurt many others. The attack was also apparently linked to immigration. The alleged assailant's social media posts indicate that he was incensed over the Jewish community's support and advocacy for refugees.

Last week, 14 packages containing pipe bombs were sent through the mail to former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Senator Cory Booker, Senator Kamala Harris, Rep. Maxine Waters, the offices of CNN, and many others. News reports indicate that the alleged perpetrator called himself a "white supremacist" and engaged in vituperative anti-Democratic rants on social media.

Also recently, a man allegedly banged on, and attempted to open, a locked door of a predominantly black church in Jeffersontown, Kentucky; he was unable to get in. The alleged assailant then went to a grocery store where he shot an African American grandfather, and his grandson, and then shot an unrelated woman in the parking lot. It has been reported that the alleged assailant has a history of domestic violence, mental illness, making racial threats, and using the N-word. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell described the shooting as a "hate crime."

The violence based on ideology has also been directed at Rep. Steve Scalise, the House Majority Whip. In 2017; he was shot while practicing during a Congressional Baseball Game for charity. The Virginia Attorney General declared the shooting was "fueled by rage against Republican legislators."

All of these incidents come on the heels of the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, a little over one year ago. The stated goal of the rally was to unite the right and oppose the removal of the statue of Robert E. Lee from Charlottesville's Emancipation Park. As you know, General Lee was the Commander of Confederate Forces during the Civil War. During the demonstration, the white nationalists shouted racist and anti-Semitic slogans: "Jews won't replace us" and "Blood and soil, "which is an ideology based on blood descent and territory. Seven Jewish cemeteries were desecrated during the protests. A young woman who was a counter demonstrator was killed when a car rammed into a crowd.

There have been countless numbers of senseless gun violence in high schools across the nation that appear to be unrelated to religious or racial identity or political ideology; the most notable of these crimes occurred in Parkland, Florida and near us in Santa Fe, Texas.

I ask myself as an institution, what can we do? What is our role as a law school in these larger societal issues? First, it is important not to despair. The U.S. is a very resilient country that has gotten through much worse times of contestation and polarization: the Civil War, Jim Crow, Anti-Asian Immigration policies, the Vietnam War, and the Great Depression. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has said that "The arc of moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice." We all have a role to play to stamp out hate. In many religious traditions, we are called upon to be our brother's/sister's keepers. We all have the power to make a difference.

Second, it is important to protect and prepare ourselves to the best we can from senseless, random acts of violence. On October 19, we held our second active shooter workshop. We also have had workshops in CPR training and self-defense.

Third, after Charlottesville, we established the Faculty Diversity and Inclusion Committee chaired by Professors Meredith Duncan and Geoffrey Hoffman. Special programs and discussions will help students process these more recent unprecedented events.

Fourth, we continue to have CLEs on socially relevant issues. For instance, we have held two CLEs over the past year with the Anti-Defamation League. In 2017, we joined forces to discuss immigration and law and religion, and just last Friday, we held one on community policing. Through the CLEs, we will continue to reach out to alumni and friends to help explore complex socially important legal issues.

Fifth, our clinics and programs continue to do outstanding work in the areas of social justice including: (1) immigration, (2) mediation, (3) entrepreneurship, (4) consumer, (5) record sealing, (6) death penalty, (7) innocence and many other areas. The clinics teach our students how to practice law and also the value of providing service to our communities.

By continuing to work together to set a stellar example, we can serve as a model of racial, ethnic, religious, and ideological comity while educating our students to be the best lawyers that they can be.


Leonard M. Baynes
Dean & Professor of Law
University of Houston Law Center

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