Brooklyn Heights

Dean Allard Pens Letter to Brooklyn Law School students in wake of police-involved shootings

July 13, 2016 By Rob Abruzzese Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Brooklyn Law School (BLS) Dean Nicholas W. Allard felt the need to address his students and faculty in the wake of the recent police-related shootings throughout the country. Eagle file photo by Rob Abruzzese
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In times of terrible tragedy, people often look to leaders for guidance and advice. A truly great leader is not one who stokes fears and emotions, but one who tries to heal and bring people together.

In the wake of recent police-related shootings in Minnesota, Louisiana and Texas, Brooklyn Law School (BLS) Dean Nicholas W. Allard felt his students and faculty needed to hear a message from their leader — so he spoke up and penned a letter to the school to address the situation.

“Pooling our minds and hearts, we might together yet find some relief from this sad searing summer of discontent overheated beyond belief as if the gates of hell have broken permanently open,” the opening of Allard’s letter read.

“The already simmering anger, distrust and fear fanned by the most recent shootings of blacks by police in Baton Rouge and outside of Minneapolis and the shootings of police officers in Dallas could engulf and overcome our society unless we collectively harness our better selves and attack our core problems with the necessary determination, wisdom and selflessness,” Allard continued.

The dean went on to assert that the recent events are signs of a growing problem the nation faces, and he reminded his students that problems will not go away by ignoring them and that they will find strength in numbers.

“As tempting as it is to seek security, economic stability and autonomy by withdrawal and disengagement as evidenced by Brexit, and by much of the current political discourse closer to home, such isolation may be as futile as was raising the drawbridge to fend of the black plague in medieval times,” Allard wrote. “Going [at] it alone does not necessarily make it any easier to solve common shared problems, problems that are blind to borders and demographic distinctions and which cannot be solved in isolation. We need each other as much as ever.”

Allard is not presumptuous enough to pretend that he has all of the solutions. Instead, he suggested reading a column published in Monday’s New York Times, written by his friend, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.

In it, Adams wrote, “What the terrible events of Dallas should remind us of is the need to see the uniform and the person inside it at once, to recognize and learn from our complexities. We call the police the thin blue line. Let it not be a line that divides us.”

Allard went further and suggested advice from the readings of Martin Luther King’s, “I Have Been to the Mountaintop,” speech (url: http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkivebeentothemountaintop.htm)  and the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

“[MLK’s] speech…could have been written this week and it’s soothing soaring inspirational wisdom is worth remembering and is as apt as ever. It gives us context, direction and hope amidst our present woes,” Allard wrote.

“The Jews and Samaritans of the time knew each other well, and to put it mildly were adversaries with deep dislike and distrust for each other,” Allard wrote. “Yet it is the Samaritan who shows mercy and kindness, what Dr. King calls ‘dangerous unselfishness’ to his fellow man.”

Allard’s full letter is below: 

 

Dear Colleagues and Friends,

Pooling our minds and hearts we might together yet find some relief from this sad searing summer of discontent overheated beyond belief as if the gates of hell have broken permanently open.

The already simmering anger, distrust and fear fanned by the most recent shootings of blacks by police in Baton Rouge and outside of Minneapolis and the shootings of police officers in Dallas could engulf and overcome our society unless we collectively harness our better selves and attack our core problems with the necessary determination, wisdom and selflessness. By no means will we easily and quickly douse the fires sparked by hatred, ignorance, bigotry and narcissistic selfishness.  

The incomprehensible tragedies of this past week fall upon cascading recent reminders of the growing danger and injustice in our world including the violence and hate crimes committed against the LGBTQ and Latino communities in Orlando, escalating mayhem by terrorists abroad and at home, and the appalling reemergence of religious and ethnic intolerance made more poignant by the death last week of Elie Wiesel, whose conscience taught us why we should never forget the consequences of such inhumanity. And as tempting as it is to seek security, economic stability and autonomy by withdrawal and disengagement as evidenced by Brexit, and by much of the current political discourse closer to home, such isolation may be as futile as was raising the drawbridge to fend of the black plague in medieval times. Going [at] it alone does not necessarily make it any easier to solve common shared problems, problems that are blind to borders and demographic distinctions and which cannot be solved in isolation . We need each other as much as ever.

I cannot be sure of much, surely not any answers. But I am certain that if we are to succeed I firmly believe that lawyers will be instrumental in correcting injustices, bridging divides over chasms of deep disagreement and distrust, engineering economic opportunity for all, guarding freedom and liberty,  and defusing fear, all by upholding and strengthening our system of justice under law.

I am sure that law schools and law students will have a critically important role and indeed responsibility in successfully healing the societal ills we are suffering so acutely. So I am hopeful, because I know of your qualities, and gratefully thank you all in advance for your skill, courage, empathy and dedication in taking up the fight for justice.

At this moment I cannot myself offer any advice or solutions. It may already have been too presumptuous for me to write on a topic of such magnitude and of such intense concern which so many others far better equipped are legitimately addressing and who certainly will pursue more effectively than I can. (For example, my friend and our Borough President Eric Adam’s heartfelt, moving and powerfully eloquent column in [Monday] morning’s New York Times offers invaluable insights and guidance).

Here I merely pass along two references for you to consider which I believe can be useful, inspiring and encouraging in thinking and speaking about our present enormous challenges. I am sure that both references are known to you, and so I merely offer here a reminder about how timely, timeless, helpful and encouraging they might be to you.

The first is Dr. Martin Luther King’s last speech. The second is the story of the Good Samaritan.  The two references are related.

Dr. King explained this parable the night before he was assassinated in Memphis, April 3, 1968.  His speech, “I Have Been to the Mountaintop,” could have been written this week and its soothing soaring inspirational wisdom is worth remembering and is as apt as ever. It gives us context, direction and hope amidst our present woes. It also is one of the most remarkable speeches and pieces of literature of all time. Worth rereading. (Linked below)

Interestingly, the Good Samaritan gospel/ parable (Luke 10: 25-37) paraphrased by Dr King in his speech is so well known that it is part of our cultural literacy and is a universal reference- as secular as it is non-secular. (Coincidentally it was the gospel reading this Sunday, yesterday) What is less generally known is this: As the story goes a lawyer was questioning Jesus about how to get into heaven. Jesus’ advice included “love thy neighbor as yourself.” The lawyer then asked “who is my neighbor?”; Meaning probably, who is NOT my neighbor, who can I ignore or hate?  Jesus responded with the story of the good Samaritan. The story he told mentions the actions of “a Priest, a Levite and a Samaritan” when they each come across a mortally wounded crime victim lying helpless and dying in the road. Just as we all know widely shared “triplet” expressions such as “Red, White and Blue,” or “Tinkers to Evers to Chance” or “Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato” or in a popular genre of jokes “A Priest, a Minister and a Rabbi” in the time of the parable the expected triplet would have been something like “a Priest, a Levite and an Israelite.” The choice of “Samaritan” to complete the triplet, was not expected and was jarring and makes the story more powerful and the lesson so apt today. The Jews and Samaritans of the time knew each other well, and to put it mildly were adversaries with deep dislike and distrust for each other. Yet it is the Samaritan who shows mercy and kindness, what Dr. King calls “dangerous unselfishness” to his fellow man. Though I owe these insights to a Jesuit in Georgetown I offer them not as a sermon, but just for your consideration. Again, Dr. King’s  address is one of the most stunning speeches ever  delivered and for those who have time worth rereading.

Thanks in advance for your patience, empathy and your dedication to the dual private and public roles of lawyers.

 

Fond regards,

Nick


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