Thursday, March 15, 2007
For University of Maryland School of Law Clinical CrimProf Brenda Bratton Blom, instilling respect for public service and access to justice is the building block of a legal education. To that end, Blom organized the first national conference on community justice, held at the law school.
The symposium attracted close to 300 academics, judges, lawyers, and representatives of nonprofit, community, and faith-based organizations to share innovative approaches to addressing crime and providing an effective alternative to the traditional criminal justice system.
"The symposium is about supporting a larger conversation in our society about criminalizing poverty," said Blom, associate professor at the School. "When we send someone to prison for a minor drug offense, can we live with that choice?"
"We're teaching students how to prosecute analytically and to look at the courtroom and ask who's coming through and what communities are being impacted," Blom added. "We're asking, 'What are the lawyer's skills that make a difference in a community's capacities to solve problems?'"
The morning keynote speaker, Elijah Anderson, PhD, professor at the University of Pennsylvania and author of Code of the Street: Decency, Violence, and the Moral Life of the Inner City, described how people living in dense urban areas sometimes view the world differently.
"Murder is so common in black neighborhoods that it barely makes the newspaper," he said. "You'll find the story in the back, back section of the paper. Black people say,'Well, when a white person is killed, that's front page news.' They see a huge discrepancy between how crime is covered in their neighborhood. And this really supports the idea of alienation in the inner city and the code of the street."
Anderson said many black men, poor and undereducated, search fruitlessly for work.
"We have so many people competing for jobs-white, black, immigrants, young, old-that the poor inner city male doesn't stand a chance," he said. "They're thrown back on the streets. The question a young man asked me many years ago still rings in my ears: 'Dr. Anderson, why is it so hard for me to get a job but so easy for me to sell drugs?'" Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]