March 8, 2016 – NAACP President and CEO Cornell William Brooks said the presence of cameras and social media can help hold police officers accountable in incidents of racial profiling. Brooks led his discussion, “Born Suspect: Tragedies of Racial Profiling” as part of the Yale L. Rosenberg Memorial Lecture in Krost Hall on Thursday at the University of Houston Law Center.
Brooks discussed several high-profile cases involving racial profiling against African-Americans, including the death of Sandra Bland, who committed suicide in the Waller County Jail on July 13, 2015, three days after being arrested near Prairie View University following a routine traffic violation.
“The arc of racially profiling and criminalizing a generation of African-Americans has some longevity -- this is not a matter of recent creation,” Brooks said. “But what is, is our ability to capture digitally the brutalization and dehumanization of African-Americans. Tools are being employed by not only lawyers, but laypeople, people from all walks of life who have determined within themselves that we can bring an end to this form of racialized violence called racial profiling. The ubiquity of cameras have created the beginning of accountability.”
In May 2014, Brooks became the 18th chief executive of the NAACP. The death of Eric Garner, who was killed after being put in a chokehold by an officer with the New York Police Department happened on July 17, 2014. Brooks called Garner’s death a “tragic prologue” to his tenure as CEO and president of the NAACP. On Aug. 9, 2014, 18-year-old Michael Brown was fatally shot by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Mo., resulting in protests and a national discussion about the relationship between law enforcement and the black community.
“There is an unrelenting stream of victims of police misconduct and violence – racialized violence,” Brooks said. “We’re reminded that 25 years ago Rodney King was brutally beaten and the beating was captured by a video camera. Fast forward 25 years, a group of young people saw Michael Brown lying on the pavement. They took pictures of this young man and sent these pictures through social media all around the world. The power and ubiquity of mobile technology was such that this tragedy was lifted up and became emblematic of an age of activism – the Black Lives Matter movement.”
The Yale L. Rosenberg Memorial Fund was established to recognize and foster excellence at the Law Center. The endowment is used to fund a student writing prize and bring distinguished speakers, such as Brooks, to the Law Center for a lecture series.
"It is my understanding that in Judaism there is the notion that when you invoke a person's name, their legacy goes forward," Brooks said. "By invoking the name of Yale Rosenberg, we are invoking a legacy -- a legacy of a couple, a legacy of two scholars who came together, a legacy I would dare say is prophetic."
“A legal education changes lives and also changes the world,” said Law Center Dean Leonard M. Baynes in his welcoming remarks. “The Rosenbergs are a strong testament to that vision and so is our keynote speaker, Cornell William Brooks.”
In conjunction with the lecture, the Law Center electronically published Rosenberg’s book, “Comparative American and Talmudic Criminal Law.” Rosenberg and his wife and co-author, Professor Irene Merker Rosenberg, collaborated for more than 30 years on many comparative Jewish and American law articles that appeared in leading journals.
“We’re extremely pleased to honor Yale and Irene Rosenberg through President Brooks,” Professor Emerita Laura Oren said. “Unlike other scholars who would divvy up a project, the Rosenbergs would write together. They had different writing styles that complemented each other beautifully.”
“The Rosenberg’s love of excellence, their love of integrity, their love of doing everything first-rate was one of the reasons Irene wanted to start the memorial lecture for Yale,” Professor Ellen Marrus added. “When Yale passed away, she wanted to make sure that some part of him continued to live on. When she passed away, she left a large donation to the Law Center that complemented both her love for Yale and the Law Center. I want to thank Dean Baynes for his help and support and all the staff that helped put all this together.”
Brooks, a lawyer and ordained minister, is a product of Head Start and Yale Law School where he served as a senior editor of the Yale Law Journal. He earned a Bachelor of Arts, with honors, in political science from Jackson State University and a Master of Divinity from Boston University School of Theology. Before taking the helm of the NAACP, he served as president and CEO of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, a Newark, New Jersey-based urban research and advocacy group.