Off The Streets And Onto The Syllabus: The Freddie Gray Course
It's been less than six months since Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old African-American man, died after sustaining severe injuries in police custody. At the time, Gray's death set off days of demonstrations in Baltimore — as well as rioting and criminal charges against six police officers. Those officers have all pleaded not guilty.
But the case won't have to make its way into history books before being taken up in the classroom. Starting in a couple of weeks, it'll serve as fodder for a new class at the University of Maryland law school, called "Freddie Gray's Baltimore: Past, Present, And Moving Forward."
As professor Michael Greenberger tells NPR's Tess Vigeland, the class arises foremost from a simple fact: So close to the protests themselves, the faculty and students at Maryland couldn't look away.
"We were in dead center at the protests ourselves, so our faculty and students saw firsthand the anger of the Baltimore population at what happened to Freddie Gray," professor Michael Greenberger tells NPR's Tess Vigeland.
"It became clear that those protests were instigated in the first instance by Freddie Gray's death, but behind all that is an anger by inner-city residents at their status in life."
On why this class belongs in a law school
We're studying through this course a broad range of issues: housing, education, health care, policing, criminal justice. Each of those subjects begins with a legal framework.
Policing, for example — there are doctrines of law about the way police departments relate to those they're policing. For housing, there are all sorts of rules and regulations that make the housing market completely inadequate. For example, we had massive foreclosures in the city of Baltimore and increase in homelessness because of rules and regulations that made it easy to trick people into mortgages they couldn't afford, and then when they couldn't pay, to foreclose on them.
We believe that through the class, we will identify the actions that need to be taken as legal matters. And it will help us identify what further support we can give to the Baltimore inner-city community.
On the reaction to the class
It's very interesting. We have to limit the class to the size of the classroom. Our largest classroom in the law school holds 120, and we've been overwhelmed by enthusiasm. The medical school, the pharmacy school, the nursing school, the school of public health have all wanted to attend this class. We've had community organizers want to attend the class. This has led us to try and reformulate the class in a way that we can attract a broader audience.
On what he's hoping his students get out of it
Traditionally, law school is about sitting in class and reading the casebooks. And some of the cases go back to the Middle Ages, and it's very hard for the students to relate to the real world. The very heart of this course is to look at the world that we are dead-center in the middle of, and to show how laws impact how people behave and whether they're satisfied with the quality of their life. So we believe looking at a broad array of issues is going to stimulate interest on the students, not only in the subject matter but stimulate their interest in learning the law.
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