The LDF and Columbia Law School sponsored Symposium on “Pursuing Racial Fairness in Criminal Justice: Twenty Years After McCleskey v. Kemp” held March 2-3, 2007, attracted almost two-hundred participants, including Central Park Jogger-case exoneree, Yusef Salaam; author, law professor, and LDF alumnus, Derrick Bell; and distinguished Supreme Court reporters, including Linda Greenhouse.
The Symposium opened with a screening of “The Trials of Darryl Hunt,” a powerful, award-winning documentary that chronicles the journey of one African-American man through a criminal justice process corrupted by racism and injustice in North Carolina. Darryl Hunt attended the screening and Symposium with his attorney Mark Rabil.
The film was followed by a series of presentations by practitioners, legal scholars, and others addressing the McCleskey v. Kemp decision, its impact on the administration of criminal justice and offering proposals for how to ameliorate its negative impact.
Among the notable presenters was New York University Law Professor Anthony Amsterdam, who reminded the audience of the entrenched link between American racism and the death penalty, and laid out a comprehensive, forward-looking plan for attacking the continuing influence of race in capital punishment.
LDF attorney Robert Stroup’s presentation exposed the legal and political landscape in which the McCleskey case was litigated; Stanford Law Professor Lawrence Marshall, who was a clerk for Justice Stevens when McCleskey was decided, provided a riveting personal analysis of the possible political and social concerns confronting the Justices at the time of the decision; New York Times columnist Bob Herbert used real stories of glaring injustice as a call to action; and Bryan Stevenson, Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative, reminded participants of the need to expose the many ways in which race continues to impact the administration of justice.
In his keynote address on Saturday, LDF Director-Counsel and President Ted Shaw provided the constitutional context for many of today’s McCleskey-related legal challenges — such as declining educational opportunities, the school to prison pipeline, the correlation between states that condoned lynching and states with high execution rates — that continue to plague the African-American community.