President's Letter

ABA joins with dozens of law schools to address issues in police practices

  • Print.

Photo courtesy of ABA Media Relations

America was founded on the principle that all men are created equal. Throughout our history, we have not always lived up to that self-evident truth. This has been especially true in our criminal justice system.

In 2020, inequities involving how Black people and other people of color are treated in our justice system have been the focus of nationwide protests and movements such as Black Lives Matter. The killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer ignited a national debate about police tactics and accountability.

Injustices in our system are not new and are all too common. But we are long overdue for addressing and correcting them.

This should draw the attention of all lawyers. A system that is unfair for some must be unacceptable to all.

The American Bar Association stands for equal justice and has long worked to eliminate bias in our justice system. We always must encourage innovative and proactive approaches that promote justice for all.

To help accomplish this, the ABA, in collaboration with 52 founding ABA-accredited law schools, recently launched the ABA Legal Education Police Practices Consortium. The group, which continues to accept new member law schools, is examining and addressing legal issues in policing and public safety, including conduct, oversight and the evolving nature of police work.

The ABA’s expertise in developing model police practices and collaborating on projects will aid in implementing needed reforms throughout the United States.

The consortium will initiate projects designed to support effective policing, promote racial equity in the criminal justice system and eliminate tactics that are racially motivated or have a disparate impact based on race. Each community has different needs and adopts different solutions. The consortium’s wide-ranging approach and geographic diversity will help address the issues at a more local level.

The consortium will have input from and access to the ABA Criminal Justice Section and the full range of the American Bar Association’s expertise and influence. Each participating law school will develop opportunities for one or more of its law students to engage in assignments that will include promoting existing ABA policies at the local, state and national levels as well as developing new policy proposals for consideration by the ABA House of Delegates. They will conduct research, provide advocacy and develop model curricula for law schools. The students will also engage with police departments and local, state and national leaders on police practices.

ABA’s stances on policing

This effort is an important step toward producing a more equitable system for all, but it is far from the ABA’s first or only effort. The Criminal Justice Section, which recently celebrated its 100th anniversary, published its first edition of the Criminal Justice Standards in 1974, and it included a section on standards for the Urban Police Function.

At the annual meeting in 2020, the ABA House of Delegates passed several resolutions dealing with policing, including policies that urge governments to enact legislation to eliminate or substantially curtail qualified immunity for law enforcement agents in civil actions. Another resolution called for legislation to encourage the collection of records and data on the use of deadly or excessive force by law enforcement.

In his speech accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.”

We can achieve, as is etched in the frieze of the Supreme Court building, “Equal Justice Under Law.” We, as lawyers, cannot accept anything less.

As we continue to experience a time of accelerated change and disruption, the American Bar Association and leading legal software provider Clio have joined forces as strategic partners to assist legal professionals in navigating the significant and unique challenges ahead.

This story was originally published in the Dec/Jan 2020-2021 issue of the ABA Journal under the headline: “Equal Justice Under Law: ABA joins with dozens of law schools to address issues in police practices.”

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.