Conference Explores Civil Disobedience, Police Brutality

Lawyers, legal experts and professors tackled the topics of civil disobedience and police brutality at the 13th annual Emory Public Interest Committee (EPIC) Conference, hosted by Emory University School of Law Oct. 1. The conference, titled “Justice for All? How the Law Handles Civil Disobedience,” included discussions on use of force by police and the history of civil disobedience.

Racial segregation and injustice remain prominent in society, Georgia Court of Appeals Judge Herbert Phipps said in his keynote speech, advising the audience to practice civil disobedience when the law is unfair. He also explained how his childhood influenced his views on civil disobedience, particularly in light of current police-citizen relations and police brutality.

“Good people who see injustice and do nothing are not good people,” he said. “They’re just as bad as bad people.”

Police and Use of Force panelists addressed recent police shootings, such as those in Ferguson and Tulsa, and use of police body cameras. The panel consisted of attorney Jeff Filipovits, Charles Howard Candler Professor of Law Morgan Cloud, Senior Assistant DeKalb County Attorney Kendric Smith and attorney Brian Spears.

Spears advocated for expanding the focus of the conversation surrounding police shootings past police officers to include the system of accountability. While Cloud described his interactions with police officers as “very hostile, aggressive, because of escalation of gun violence and military-like training,” Smith said that some of the officers he has encountered were “polite.”

The panel discussed whether the cameras can provide footage that accurately depicts interactions between police and police shooting victims.

Body cameras only record a fixed area, depending on their location on the officers, and cannot capture the entire picture, Smith said.

Cloud said that “training [for police officers] has been inadequate [and] body cameras serve a purpose, but institutionalization is a problem, and we don’t devote the resources that are needed.”

While a body camera records what an officer sees, it ultimately won’t solve the problem of revealing the truth of the interaction, the panelists concluded.

Dean and Asa Griggs Candler Professor of Law Robert Schapiro spoke about Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a civil rights activist who was arrested 45 times. Schapiro encouraged people to “recognize crucial roles from those who violated particular laws in circumstances and how we can advance legal justice.”

This year, Emory Law is celebrating its centennial anniversary while addressing the issue of breaking the law, EPIC Conference manager and moderator Seth Church said.

“It’s one of the great paradoxes,” Church said. “Emory does a good job of treading that line, learning when the law is bad, but learning to make it better [through education].”

Some conference attendees expressed their appreciation for hearing varying perspectives on police brutality.

“Especially in the police panel, I got perspective of both sides, both perspectives going back and forth; [EPIC] picked the right people,” Emory Law second-year Melanie Bracht said.

Emory Law second-year Deborah Ku agreed with Bracht.

“I liked … having someone from the police to represent the police, to the professor side and the attorneys to see what’s going on, and all of them talk[ing] about it was really insightful,” Ku said. She added that she believes that the current racial and political climate surrounding police brutality causes those outside of law school to turn to those who are in law school, and expressed appreciation for the educational nature of the conference.

“To be able to see people in this field talk about [justice and civil disobedience], it’s very insightful,” Ku said.