Last night, GDS was proud to kick off its 75th Anniversary Speaker Series with “Race, Justice, and the American Judicial System,” a panel discussion featuring two federal judges (one retired and one sitting) and a current Attorney General and moderated by a GDS alumna.
GDS welcomed the Honorable Andre Davis, the Honorable Christopher "Casey" Cooper, and Attorney General for the District of Columbia Karl Racine. Alumna Nicole Lewis ’05, a staff writer with The Marshall Project, moderated the panel and conducted the attendee-generated Q&A.
Among the nearly 300 attendees on a Tuesday evening, GDS was pleased to welcome many current students and dozens of alumni, several of whom submitted important questions for the formal Q&A. Current and former faculty/staff members, current parents and grandparents, and alumni parents joined in great numbers.
The conversation began with panelists' personal experiences that shaped their view of the American legal system and the decisions that led them to pursue a career as arbiters of justice. In the second part of the discussion, the panelists shared their observations about the current state of the justice system, paying close attention to one of its most defining aspects: the racial disparities of those held behind bars. Finally, the conversation wrapped up with an eye towards the future as the panelists discussed policies and practices that could help reduce the country's reliance on incarceration and potentially repair some of the harms caused by decades of mass incarceration.
The broad-ranging conversation covered historical and current systemic inequities, the legacy of slavery and mass incarceration, sentencing challenges, restorative justice practices, innovations in criminal justice, empathy and dignity, the importance of representation, the role of judges as community educators, and much more. And yet, while the panelists covered these broad topics, their stories were nuanced, specific, and personal. In fact, the panelists each took a turn encouraging attendees, especially the students in attendance, to engage personally with the justice system in courtrooms, in their community, and in attorneys generals’ offices. Their stories covered specific cases that have shaped their careers or informed their perspectives, including cases that involved their fellow panelists.
In closing, Head of School Russell Shaw said, “It was a privilege to bear witness to the conversation. Dr. King famously said, ‘the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice,’ and yet what we know is the arc doesn't bend by itself. It takes people to bend it. Judge Cooper, Judge Davis, Attorney General Racine, you are three citizens who have been bending the arc. And for that, we can be collectively grateful. I cannot think of a better way to honor the start of Georgetown Day School's 75th year than with this conversation, which is so at the heart of who we are and who we aspire to be as an institution.”