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David Harris

  • How Has Boston Gotten Away with Being Segregated for So Long?

    December 9, 2020

    When Sheena Collier moved here from Atlanta 16 years ago to pursue a master’s at Harvard Graduate School of Education, she was looking forward to getting her degree from one of the most prestigious universities in the country. What Collier was not looking forward to, however, was living in the Boston area. Collier, who had just graduated from the historically Black Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia, had the very distinct impression that there weren’t a lot of people of color here. For her first two years in the area—during which she lived in Cambridge and Allston, interned for a while in Charlestown, and went out at night in downtown Boston—Collier didn’t see anything that changed her mind. Then she moved to Roxbury and began managing after-school programs there. “That was when my whole perception of the city shifted,” she says. “You start to learn that this is who lives in this neighborhood and this is who lives in that one. Boston is diverse—it’s just really segregated.” ... There is no shortage of plans and policy proposals that could help Boston and its suburbs become less segregated. But to turn those bright ideas into lasting change, we’ll need something more: a commitment to take on this debt to our Black community and invest in reversing the harm of decades of housing discrimination. When we talk about integration, it is important not to become enamored with shortcuts, nor to lose sight of the fact that “integration is not a pathway to social justice; it is a result of social justice,” says David Harris, the managing director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School.

  • In a close election, some Black Americans see a clear winner: Racism

    November 5, 2020

    Chad Williams, chair of the department of African and African American Studies at Brandeis University, admits he was optimistic heading into Tuesday night. He had hoped “America would get it right this time” and that Joe Biden would win resoundingly. But as he watched President Trump gain an edge in key swing states like Florida and North Carolina, it became apparent to Williams that the president hadn’t lost his appeal. Indeed, in some counties, Trump did better Tuesday night than he did in 2016. At 9:44 p.m. Williams tweeted, “Damn, white supremacy is resilient.” As results trickled in, it became evident that neither candidate would be able to claim a quick and decisive victory. But to some Black Americans, muddled voting tallies signaled a clear victor: American racism...A critical voting bloc for Democrats who overwhelmingly rejected Trump in 2016, many Black voters felt the choice for 2020 was clear: A vote for the incumbent would be a vote in favor of racist policy and rhetoric. But even given the stakes — and following a summer that saw millions march for racial justice — the country overall was split roughly down the middle, a fact that several exasperated Black voters called “disappointing but not surprising.” “The impulse in this country for the status quo never ceases to amaze me . . . and on some level, that’s a strength — that’s how we get stability,” said David Harris, managing director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School. “But that stability is a system of white supremacy and racial oppression.” In the last few months of the campaign, Trump capitalized on the fears of white suburbanites, with inflammatory talk of law and order and rising crime. Long before final results were set to be called in Michigan, Wisconsin, and several other key states, social media was already abuzz with lessons drawn from the close contest.

  • Push to Remove Racist Names Draws Support — And Backlash

    October 26, 2020

    For more than two decades, Black residents of Rhode Island have argued that the official name of their state, “The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations,” connotes slavery and should be changed. It’s a “hurtful term” that “conjures extremely painful images for many Rhode Islanders,” said Democratic state Sen. Harold Metts, who traces his family lineage to a plantation in Virginia and is the only Black man in the Senate. Metts sponsored a bill to amend the state constitution to remove “Providence Plantations” from the official state name. Rhode Island voters will decide in November, but Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo already has issued an executive order removing the phrase from official state documents, websites and paystubs. Citing the George Floyd killing in Minneapolis, Raimondo said Rhode Island must do more to fight racial injustice...Faneuil Hall, also called the Cradle of Liberty for the many historic events there, is owned by the city and has a visitors’ center operated by the National Park Service. Peter Faneuil, one of Boston’s wealthiest merchants in the 18th century, proposed a marketplace in 1740 and paid for the building. He was a slaveholder and slave trader. Renaming Faneuil Hall is “metaphor for addressing cultural racism in the city,” said Peterson, founder of the New Democracy Coalition, an advocacy group focusing on civic education and electoral justice. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, a Democrat, said in June he opposes the name change...To David Harris, managing director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School, “Keeping these names is a way of normalizing the horrors of our history.” Visitors to Faneuil Hall “don’t even know it’s named for a person. That’s how deeply buried our troubled past is,” Harris said in an interview. He co-wrote an essay calling for a public conversation about renaming Faneuil Hall but stopped short of endorsing a change. The headline erroneously said the authors were calling for a name change. “We said we need to have this conversation. By having a conversation, the public has a voice in the decision,” he said. “I don’t want to pretend it’s as important to change a name as to change a policy,” Harris said, adding, “but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do both.”

  • Madison Park coach explores Boston gangs in documentary: ‘It’s all about trying to open eyes and save lives’

    August 31, 2020

    They say they are family, that they will die for each other. And so they do, young men in Boston street gangs who for decades have arrived at hospital emergency rooms, felled by gunfire. Some have worn tattoos that read like commentaries on the social and economic deprivations that have shaped their short lives. “Born to be hated.” “Dying to be loved.” “Death is nothing. But to live defeated is to die every day.” The images are “burned into my consciousness,” Dr. Thea James, the director of Boston Medical Center’s violence intervention advocacy program, says in a penetrating documentary film, “This Ain’t Normal,” about the causes of gang affiliations in Boston and the possible solutions. The film is produced by Dennis Wilson, an acclaimed history teacher, basketball coach, and football coach at Madison Park Technical Vocational High School in Roxbury, who for 40 years has witnessed and tried to curb the deadly toll of street violence. Wilson said he produced the documentary with a friend, Rudy Hypolite, to shine a light on the systemic and institutional racism they hold responsible for the long reign of Boston’s urban gang culture. Some of Wilson’s former student-athletes are among the dead. “It’s all about trying to open eyes and save lives,” he said... “This Ain’t Normal” won an Audience Choice Award at the Orlando Film Festival and has been presented twice at Harvard University, first by the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School, then as part of the Harvard Library’s “Anti-Black Racism Documentary Film Series.” David Harris, the institute’s managing director, said, “The film is a powerful antidote to the way people think about our young people and our communities. Every elected official should have to see it and ponder and wrestle with its lessons.”

  • Fanueil Hall name change needed

    August 6, 2020

    An article by Marty Blatt and David J. Harris: In light of the lynching of George Floyd and the subsequent Black Lives Matter uprising, we call on the city of Boston to engage in the ongoing conversation, initiated by Kevin Peterson and the New Democracy Coalition more than a year ago, about changing the name of Faneuil Hall. Indeed, this would be consistent with the decision of Boston to remove the copy of the memorial,  “The Emancipation Group,”  which depicts a standing Lincoln and kneeling black man gazing up at him. If the statue of a figure as revered as Lincoln is being removed, how can we retain the name of Peter Faneuil, a local merchant who became one of the wealthiest men in the colonies buying and selling human beings. Although most of us are aware of the Atlantic slave trade originating in Africa, historian Jared Hardesty has documented that Faneuil’s ship, The Jolly Bachelor, was involved in trafficking enslaved people throughout the West Indies and into New England. This smaller scale, inter-American slaving, Hardesty argues, was the primary way Bostonians participated in the slave trade. Indeed, as a successful merchant, Faneuil also extended credit to other New Englanders engaged in the slave trade and was, as such, a financier of white supremacy. Does having paid for the building warrant retaining the name in perpetuity, when doing so maintains a place of honor and respect? We might well ask whether Faneuil actually paid for the building or whether it was purchased by the lives and freedom of those he transported and sold. Some argue that Faneuil Hall, whatever its origins story, has ironically become known as the cradle of liberty, a historic site whose name has become associated with abolitionists and suffragists who spoke there. In removing the name of Faneuil, so this argument goes, history is being erased. We would counter that by retaining the name of Faneuil, we in Boston do a great disservice to history by concealing his true past. Many visitors to Boston and many Bostonians have no idea that Faneuil was a slave trader.

  • MassHumanities Reading Frederick Douglass Together event image

    Reading Frederick Douglass together

    June 30, 2020

    In a July 2019 Q&A, David Harris, managing director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice, discussed the annual public reading of Douglass’ speech “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”, virtual this year for the first time in its 12-year history.

  • The phrase ‘criminal justice system’ has to go

    June 29, 2020

    An article by David J. Harris: It is becoming increasingly clear that we, as a nation, have arrived at a crossroads.  Between the coronavirus and the private and state-sanctioned lynchings of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd sandwiched around the white lives matter moment of Amy Cooper, we seem to be approaching a reckoning of sorts.  That reckoning will be essential if we are to move forward from this place of pain and anguish. And any such movement will certainly require deep and broad reflection and action.  An essential aspect of our reckoning will be interrogating the language we use to describe the social forces we confront.  For several years I have been advocating that we eliminate the term “criminal justice system” from our lexicon. It is a term fraught with powerful negative associations and one that corrupts the meaning of justice. It is difficult, if not impossible, to imagine a system that begins with “criminal” as a pathway to anything but criminalization. As with breaking any habit, withdrawing from “criminal justice” can be painful. It is, after all, accepted as a term of trade. The phrase is used to capture a whole range of activities from policing to prosecution, from charging to conviction, from trial to sentencing and (mass) incarceration. On the front end it captures police, bail, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges. On the back end, it describes all who function within prisons, parole, probation. This is not an exhaustive list, but it makes the point: however dysfunctional it may be, it certainly has enough components to look like a system.  But, let’s call that system what it is: a law enforcement system.

  • ‘When I hear Black Lives Matter, I want to focus on the lives.’ After policing, a host of other systems await reform

    June 26, 2020

    Growing up in Roxbury, Feliciano Tavares’ family shuffled in and out of shelters and subsidized housing, seeking stability amid the turbulence of poverty. But Tavares’ precarious home life was a secret to his classmates and most of his teachers in Weston, an affluent, mostly white suburb west of Boston, where he went to school through Metco, the state’s voluntary integration program for students of color. Those years going to school in Weston, Tavares said, exposed him to the “full spectrum of the American experience,” one divided along unrelenting racial and economic lines, where white children in Weston have access to every resource and opportunity imaginable, and Black children like himself can’t walk to a well-funded school in their own neighborhood. “When I hear ‘Black Lives Matter,’ I really want to focus on the ‘lives’ part of that statement,” said Tavares, who is now 42 and raising his own son and daughter with his wife in Roslindale...Organizers, city councilors, and community advocates have criticized Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s proposal to reallocate 20 percent — about $12 million — of the police department’s ballooning overtime budget to a variety of social services as woefully inadequate. “If you took the entire police budget, it wouldn’t be enough of an investment in terms of what we need,” said David Harris, managing director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice at Harvard Law School. He pointed to a detail from the 2017 Globe Spotlight series on race in Boston, which cited a jaw-dropping statistic: According to a report by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, Duke University, and the New School, the median net worth for nonimmigrant Black households in the Greater Boston region is $8, compared with $247,500 for white families. “That is the reality of life in Boston,” Harris added. “It speaks to the scale of what we face.”

  • Institutional racism contributes to Covid-19’s “double whammy” impact on the Black community, Fauci says

    June 24, 2020

    Institutional racism in the United States contributes to the disproportional impact that the coronavirus pandemic has had on the Black community, the nation's top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said on Tuesday. When asked about the racial disparities emerging amid the pandemic during the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on the "Oversight of the Trump Administration's Response to the Covid-19 Pandemic," Fauci responded that the Black community has been facing a "double whammy." Fauci noted that some Black adults may not be able to social distance if they are essential workers, and there is a disproportionate prevalence of underlying conditions within the Black community, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, chronic lung disease and kidney disease...The coronavirus pandemic has made it more clear than ever before that the United States needs to invest in communities -- especially in ways that could reduce health disparities, one expert on racial justice said last week. "I think we need to think about devoting more resources to addressing the issues that create the disparities and prevalence in susceptibility to coronavirus," David Harris, managing director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School, said on a Facebook Live discussion. "It's the way in which the institutional racism, for lack of a better word, seeps down into some very, very specific and particular differences in treatment," he said.Addressing racism and Covid-19 in a talk about inequities and policing on Thursday, Harris highlighted issues that have put Black communities at a disadvantage as the pandemic has gone on.

  • Rewriting history — to include all of it this time

    June 23, 2020

    Ninety-nine years after a mob of poor white people killed 150 to 300 African Americans and destroyed the “Black Wall Street” in Tulsa, Okla., the city again made headlines when President Trump announced he would kick off his re-election campaign there on Juneteenth — the day that marks the final end of slavery in the U.S. Although the rally was subsequently rescheduled for Saturday, Trump’s actions brought renewed attention to the 1921 massacre in Tulsa’s Greenwood District, a tragedy that generally has been overlooked in American history classes. This oversight, said participants in a Weatherhead Initiative on Global History webinar on Thursday, is emblematic of — and continues to contribute to — America’s racial divide...Smashing communities and burying their histories erases stories of Black success and possibility, the panelists said...Addressing “the disinvestment and what we’ve done to our cities,” David J. Harris, managing director of Harvard Law School’s Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice, which cosponsored the webinar, pointed out the ongoing repercussions. Most recently, he said, “COVID-19 has revealed how these disparities have caused great harm.” “We can never let up,” said Harris. “There’s no way forward until and unless we truly reckon with all of this history.”

  • Coronavirus Conversations: How systemic racism intersects with the pandemic

    June 22, 2020

    Calls for social justice and police reform have gained momentum as unrest continues across around the world in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. These calls are intersecting with the coronavirus pandemic. As part of our regular series discussing the coronavirus crisis, The World's health reporter Elana Gordon moderated a live conversation with David Harris, managing director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School.

  • Juneteenth in a time of reckoning

    June 19, 2020

    ... To understand the significance of Juneteenth, a blending of the words June and 19th, we asked some members of the Harvard community what the holiday means to them. ...David Harris, Ph.D.’92, managing director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School: "Juneteenth is a defining day. However empty the promise of freedom often appears to have been, Juneteenth has remained a day uniquely celebrated by the descendants of the formerly enslaved." ...Kenneth Mack, Lawrence D. Biele Professor of Law at Harvard Law School; affiliate professor of history at Harvard University: .".. We commemorate Abraham Lincoln in various ways, but we don’t have a national commemoration of the triumph over slavery, which has to be one of the most important moments in American history. One should consider Juneteenth in that context. The best case to be made for Juneteenth would be as a commemoration of both the legacy of slavery and the success of the movement to abolish formal slavery in the United States."

  • Emancipation Day celebration June 19, 1900

    ‘Juneteenth is a day of reflection of how we as a country and as individuals continue to reckon with slavery’

    June 18, 2020

    Tomiko Brown-Nagin spoke with Harvard Law Today about the history of Juneteenth and its particular relevance more than 150 years later.

  • After the protest…what next?

    June 12, 2020

    An article by David Harris: First, and essentially, we must reckon with what our history has wrought. As difficult as such a reckoning will be to define, indicators will reveal the extent to which we have succeeded. In order to facilitate the process, we must acknowledge a foundational point: “We the People” has never included all of us. That cannot be subject to debate. Once we acknowledge this defining exclusion, we can trace the myriad ways in which having denied large groups of people, notably African Americans and Native Americans, the most basic rights of membership and participation — the qualities of citizenship — has diminished life chances for individuals and communities. Understanding the real, ongoing harm from policies and practices that have differentially distributed access and opportunity, state violence, and deprivation will open our eyes to avenues for repair and restoration. We must rethink our notions of justice, as well. Our current coupling of criminality and justice locks us into a fixation on punishment in lieu of a system of justice. I understand justice as being made whole, which promotes practices that center on health and well-being of all residents, and whole communities, as the hallmarks of safety. Another more tangible indicator of our progress on the pathway to reckoning will be whether we not only hear and empathize with what people who have suffered for decades are saying, but act in truly responsive ways. As people are taking to the streets at great risk to themselves to decry the institutionalized racial violence perpetuated by policing, promoting legislation that bans chokeholds is tone deaf.

  • What if we eliminated the police?

    June 5, 2020

    An article by David HarrisI hate the PO-lice. This is not an easy thing to admit and will certainly generate a great deal of heat, but it is past time to do so. To be clear from the beginning, this hatred is not directed at individuals, whether rank and file or leadership. It is directed at the institution and practice of policing in the United States, born as it was from the practices of slave catching, which has served as an instrument of social control over black people for far too long. So, I hate the policing. I have to keep saying it. It’s more important than repeating the name of someone who has been killed or any other chant we might invoke in protest. It conveys a truth, hard to come by, but once arrived, so very cathartic. It is a complicated admission and it actually feels like a confession. I have always told my son “hate is a strong word,” and urged him to use it sparingly. Sunday night when he returned from marching and protesting on the streets of Boston and we were watching the policing of the city on television, I had to say it out loud, though in a muted voice. “I hate the police,” I whispered. My son has grown up in the era of cellphones and social media. He has been bombarded but also socialized by social media reports of police atrocities. In the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, we have talked about policing at length and in those conversations, informed by his couple years of college, including a course on Red Summer of 1919, we talked about police abolition. I told him how happy I was to know that he had been listening to me for all the years I have been telling him police are not a natural phenomenon, that society existed and survived for millennia without them.

  • Structural racism is the real pandemic

    May 19, 2020

    An article by Monica Cannon-Grant and David HarrisAs the death toll mounts daily from COVID-19, so do the headlines and data documenting its disparate impact on communities of color, especially black people, immigrants, native people, poor people, and those living at the intersections of these identities. The impact of COVID-19 tells a tale of the “web of disadvantage” spun from decades of disinvestment in, and disregard for, poor communities of color. Structural racism is the pandemic; COVID-19’s disparate impact is just a symptom of a long-festering and deadly virus. The disparities and injustice being exposed and underscored by the unequal spread of the novel coronavirus are no revelation. Our people have been living through the pandemic of racism for centuries—too often ignored or unseen as many enjoyed health and prosperity, now suddenly threatened. We won’t dwell on the reasons for the disparities: poverty-stricken communities lack access to adequate personal protective equipment; poor communities of color are overburdened with preexisting social conditions of air pollution and environmental toxicity and food deserts and inequities in healthcare; social distancing is a privilege denied to “black and Latino workers  overrepresented among the essential, the unemployed, and the dead.” In recent weeks as we read about the surge, flattening the curve, protests over supposed infringement of rights, the threat to the economy, and additional billions in relief, we’ve seen more of the same on the streets of Boston. Our people are hurting. Our people are dying.

  • She Stole Something While Struggling With Heroin Addiction. Cops Turned Her Into A Facebook Meme.

    November 8, 2019

    On May 31, Meghan Burmester became a meme. She was featured, along with four other women, on the Harford County Sheriff’s Office “Ladies’ Night” Facebook post for alleged theft under $1,500. “Oh yes! It's Ladies' Night here in Harford County!” the post said. “This month we are running our summer special - turn yourself in, and get a free stay at the Harford County Rock Spring Road Spa (a.k.a, Harford County Detention Center). Sorry, no pedicures, manicures, facials, massages, spa services included (or available).” The Maryland department’s “Ladies’ Night” Facebook posts, which feature a handful of women who have open warrants against them usually for alleged theft or traffic- or drug-related offenses, are a big hit with its 55,000 followers...“If you looked like one of the people being mocked by the police department, what kind of confidence would you have in police?” David Harris, the managing director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School and a civil rights advocate, told BuzzFeed News. He said the Houston Institute is in the process of recruiting more people to review offensive social media posts by law enforcement agencies and to identify potential relations between agencies’ Facebook posts and possible racial disparities in how they use force and conduct arrests or traffic stops.

  • Legislative hearings have become mostly theater

    October 28, 2019

    An op-ed by David J. Harris and Jean Trounstine: Last week we joined 200 other Massachusetts residents for a hearing of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on the Judiciary. The hearing, set to cover sentencing, corrections, and criminal records, had a list of 60 bills under consideration. As is common practice, verbal testimony was limited to three minutes per person, with the committee chairs retaining the right to take people out of turn. This, of course, is not unusual. The rationale is that with three minutes of testimony, all of the hundred or so people who wanted to testify would have their say. We have both been through this before and understand it is general operating procedure for our legislative process. But there was something so deeply flawed here that it forces us to question this approach to crafting legislation to guide the Commonwealth.

  • We need bias-free policing as much as hands-free driving

    October 2, 2019

    A letter to the editor by David Harris: In “Safer roads take a back seat to Beacon Hill drama” (Sept. 30), the Globe Editorial Board claims that lawmakers in “progressive Massachusetts” should be “embarrassed” by efforts to ensure that comprehensive data collection accompany pending hands-free driving legislation. In a state whose Supreme Judicial Court ruled that black men may flee police to avoid the “recurring indignity of being racially profiled,” counseling expedience over transparency and ignoring the established inequity in law enforcement is to have one’s editorial head in the sand.

  • How Should Boston Address Its History Of Slavery?

    July 23, 2019

    There's a new debate emerging over the proposed memorial to slavery at Faneuil Hall. The idea for the memorial emerged as many activists called for Faneuil Hall to be renamed, because of Peter Faneuil's history as a slave trader. But last week the artist who proposed the memorial — Steve Locke — said he was withdrawing his project. ... Guests ... David Harris, managing director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice at Harvard Law School.

  • Boston professors criticize Globe over Rollins

    July 16, 2019

    A letter to the editor by 19 Boston area faculty members, including Laurence Tribe, Dehlia Umunna, and David Harris.  WE ARE 19 FACULTY MEMBERS at universities across the Boston area, including Boston College, Boston University, Harvard University, and Northeastern University. We wish to respond to The Boston Globe’s recent article, “Stopping injustice or putting the public at risk? Suffolk DA Rachael Rollins’s tactics spur pushback,” which contained reporting that appears to us to be, at best, seriously misleading.

  • MassHumanities Reading Frederick Douglass Together event image

    Frederick Douglass’ Fourth of July speech, then and now: A Q&A with David Harris

    June 28, 2019

    On July 2nd, people from across Massachusetts will gather at noon in Boston Common near the State House for the 11th annual public reading of Frederick Douglass’s historic address, "What to the slave is the Fourth of July?"

  • Boston officials need to fund violence prevention

    May 28, 2019

    An op-ed co-written by David J. Harris, managing director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School, and Monica Cannon-Grant, founder and director of Violence in Boston: Boston Mayor Marty Walsh recently submitted his proposed fiscal 2020 operating and capital budget to the Boston City Council. From April 22 to May 21, the City Council held hearing after hearing on specific line items and proposed capital improvements. In all of this deliberation, there was one glaring omission: no hearing, and not a single line-item, on violence prevention. As temperatures rise and city officials hold forth about plans to combat an anticipated increase in violence, the city lacks any comprehensive plan for violence prevention.

  • Answering the Call

    February 22, 2019

    During the last two weeks of January, Lillie A. Estes had shared with many that this was going to be her year. This would be the year a nascent Community Justice Network came together. ... The film series recently became the Community Justice Network. On Jan. 28, Estes asked the network to interview David J. Harris, managing director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School. Estes envisioned a blog post illustrating the relationships emerging from the network's launch. More connectivity, more co-creation. Reached Jan. 30, Harris, a longtime Estes supporter and collaborator, offered ideas about navigating that energy. "Lillie herself is really a model and a hero to me," Harris said. "Keeping up with Lillie can be a challenge. But one thing that's unbelievably consistent about her, that I encounter rarely, is her absolute commitment to certain models for creating community leadership. I've seen her step back and say, 'I'm not going to make this decision, this is a collective decision.'

  • For Section 8 Holders, Housing Options In Boston Are Limited

    February 22, 2019

    Malique Gordon has already moved three times since his 6-year-old son, Makari, was born. Gordon, 27, lives with his mother Maureen Nugent, who receives a Section 8 voucher. Section 8 — or the Housing Choice Voucher Program, as it’s now known — is a federal program that pays for a predetermined amount of rent.  ... “Suburban communities ... that are supposed to be the target for integration have certain characteristics, and we think those characteristics are good: They're clean, they're open, children have good schools,” says David Harris, managing director of Harvard Law School’s Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice. “The question becomes, why it is that people have to move to the suburbs to have access to those things? Why isn't our policy designed to make sure all communities are endowed with those characteristics, where the amenities and the benefits are all the same?” Before his position at Harvard, Harris was the director of the Fair Housing Center of Greater Boston. He argues “mobility” — moving people out of cities and to affluent suburbs — is the wrong solution. He calls it "policy by lottery.

  • Richmond Residents Pledge To Continue Community Justice Work Of Lillie A. Estes

    February 13, 2019

    Community members will gather Tuesday in Richmond to remember Lillie A. Estes. The longtime civic leader engaged countless local residents and was recognized nationally for her work. WCVE’s Catherine Komp spoke to friends and collaborators about her impact. ... David Harris: There are people and individuals in every community in this country who are doing work on the ground to rebuild their communities in the face of kind of devastation wrought by a system of racism and Injustice. Estes worked closely with David Harris and Harvard’s Charles Hamilton Houston Institute as she built a framework for Community Justice in Richmond. Harris: She understood and was determined to do things differently. From my perspective and in terms of what we think of as Community Justice, that's what we need.

  • At “Beloved Streets” Event, Panel Discusses Race and Transformative Justice

    February 1, 2019

    Harvard affiliates and community leaders gathered Thursday evening for an event called “Beloved Streets: Race & Justice in America,” which marked the culmination of a winter-term course at Harvard Graduate School of Education of the same name. ... David J. Harris, managing director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice and one of the course leaders, said the course attempted to create some spaces and places in a curriculum, fostering transparent conversations about important societal issues. ... “When I think about going into communities, what I think about is how can I operate from a place of listening,” said Emanuel Powell III, a Harvard Law School student and course participant.

  • To do good in the world

    January 30, 2019

    Alumni discuss pathways to public service work in advance of Public Interested Conference. ... For [David] Harris, Ph.D. ’92, that path was long and meandering. It began with his grandfather, a Unitarian minister who preached the imperative to demonstrate faith by improving society. Harris struggled, however, with how to go about that. He ultimately chose to follow his mother’s example and study sociology, but it would take him nine years and stints at three schools to finish his undergraduate degree. ... After 10 years there, he met with Harvard Law School Professor Charles Ogletree about the possibility of joining a new institute at Harvard that Ogletree had created to work on race and justice issues. “It was clear to both of us that it was just a perfect fit. And it has been,” said Harris, who has been the managing director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice since 2006.

  • Indiana case shines spotlight on solitary confinement

    January 23, 2019

    Twenty-eight years. That’s how much time, in total, Aaron Isby-Israel has served in solitary confinement within the Indiana Department of Correction since his 1989 incarceration. Some of that time has been broken up by stints in general population, but Isby has consistently served his time in administrative segregation at the Wabash Valley and Westville correctional facilities since October 2006. ...As a lawyer who has followed and assisted in Isby’s litigation, David Harris, managing director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School, said he viewed Isby’s time in isolation as a “second sentence.” There have been times when Isby’s physical health deteriorated because of his isolation, Harris said, though he praised the inmate for staying focused on his legal fight. It’s unusual for inmates in solitary confinement to maintain the mental strength Harris said is present in Isby. Indeed, Daniel Greenfield, a solitary confinement appellate litigation fellow with the MacArthur Justice Center at Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law, said research shows the opposite is usually true: that is, prolonged isolation causes or exacerbates mental illnesses.

  • Howard School of Law Celebrates 150 Years

    January 14, 2019

    The enduring legacies of Thurgood Marshall, Charles Hamilton Houston, Patricia Roberts Harris and countless other graduates of the Howard University School of Law (HUSL) are on full display this year as the historic school celebrates its Sesquicentennial anniversary. ... Dr. David Harris, managing director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice and a lecturer at Harvard Law School, said that Howard Law School is a critical piece of legal framework in the country.

  • David Harris receives 2018 Governor’s Awards in the Humanities

    David Harris receives 2018 Governor’s Award in the Humanities

    November 20, 2018

    In October, David J. Harris, managing director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice at Harvard Law School, received the Massachusetts Governor's Award in the Humanities. Harris was one of four leaders recognized for their "public actions, grounded in an appreciation of the humanities, to enhance civic life in the Commonwealth."

  • Incarcerated Youth Visit Harvard to Explore Career, Educational Options After Release

    November 2, 2018

    A handful of incarcerated youth traveled around Harvard's campus Thursday to learn about possible professional and educational paths they could pursue after their release from prison...The group also visited the Law School, where they spoke with David J. Harris, the managing director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice. Harris spoke to the group about about issues ranging from community engagement to the justice system. Harris said he wanted to show the two students that there is a role for them in society after they are released. “We care about what happens to them, that we believe in them, and that we believe there’s a place for them and a contribution to make,” he said.

  • Charles H. Houston Jr., retired Morgan lecturer who founded scholars program at the University of Baltimore, dies

    August 7, 2018

    Charles Hamilton Houston Jr., a retired Morgan State University lecturer whose work extended the legacy of his father’s contributions to the civil rights movement, died July 15 from Parkinson’s disease at the University of Maryland Medical Center...The younger Mr. Houston worked closely with Howard University, the University of Maryland, College Park, and Harvard University, where its law school has been home to the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice since its founding in 2005. “He and his wife, Rose, have been part of the Houston Institute family from the beginning and we have been blessed by his spirit, grace, generosity and integrity,” said David Harris, managing director of the institute. “Joining us for so many of our events, Charles always brought a warmth and dignity that embodied his father’s legacy. His smile was at once inviting and contagious and his comments always filled us with insight.

  • Parole board still slow to release inmates 8 years after ex-convict killed officer, critics say

    June 26, 2018

    Dominic Cinelli was one year out of prison and on parole when he shot and killed a police officer the day after Christmas in 2010. Since then, the number of people released on parole has remained consistently low, the state parole board has been stacked with members with law enforcement backgrounds, and the board has become less transparent, according to a coalition of attorneys, criminal justice reform groups, and prisoner rights advocates. The coalition wrote Governor Charlie Baker on Monday, saying the board is taking longer to decide the fate of inmates and failing to properly consider their mental health and drug use disorders. “It’s not working. It’s a terrible system,” said David Harris, managing director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice at Harvard Law School, a research and civil rights advocacy center that signed the letter. “We are terribly backwards and emblematic of the punitive posture we have taken in this country for far too long.”

  • Get Out: Toward an Honest Commitment to Racial Justice

    February 27, 2018

    An op-ed by David Harris. Several weeks ago the Boston Globe published an opinion piece by editorial and staff writer David Scharfenberg in which he called for an “honest” commitment to racial integration. He dismissed the “gauzy 1963 version” of integration, insisted that “harping too much” on its virtues “can feel paternalistic,” and lamented the “disastrous busing experiment of the 1970s” which proved that “forced integration…simply doesn’t work.” Even so, he declared integration the “single most important racial justice strategy we’ve got” and a “good start” toward “true racial reconciliation.” There are several basic problems with the article. First, it conflates race and class, creating a set of contrasts between black/urban/poor and white/suburban/affluent, using them interchangeably, without definition, assuming readers share the implied associations.

  • Lifting Up Community Voices to Tackle Injustice

    January 2, 2018

    ..."How do you build a platform that allows the adversely impacted community members to step into their power?" At a time when many are feeling defeated as they try to fight against a racist and non-responsive government, many justice advocates around the country are asking this critical question. They recognize that nothing less than a total sea change in perspective will work: In order to create new policies and enhance community life, community justice organizers must turn to those most impacted..."Community justice grows out of the idea that entire communities are repressed, oppressed and held voiceless," said David Harris of Harvard Law School's Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice (CHHIRJ).

  • Harvard Symposium Examines Charles Hamilton Houston’s Enduring Legacy

    November 20, 2017

    Two universities recently convened a symposium to honor the work and influence of the late civil rights lawyer Charles Hamilton Houston. Harvard University’s Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice (CHHRIJ) and Clemson University’s Charles H. Houston Center for the Study of the Black Experience in Education hosted “The Enduring Legacy of Charles Hamilton Houston: 3rd Biennial Symposium” at Harvard Law School last week...“The theme of building bridges to the future follows directly from the work of Charles Hamilton Houston, whose work was always built on establishing a foundation from which one could go further,” said Dr. David Harris, managing director of CHHRIJ. “He did not see school desegregation as an end but a beginning of a pathway forward. Although he would surely be disappointed in the delays we have experienced as a nation in closing the gaps between students of color and White students, he would applaud the efforts of all our panelists to eliminate obstacles and create opportunities.”...“We believe that there is so much unfinished business with regard to educational access,” [Tomiko Brown-Nagin] added. “Students of color still suffer disadvantages: disproportionate punishment, fewer resources, less experienced teachers. By working in the educational space around issues of access and quality, the Houston Institute continues the legacy of its namesake,” she added.

  • Prosecutors Conference_Panel

    Redefining the role of prosecutors

    August 31, 2017

    The Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice at Harvard Law School joined forces with the ACLU of Massachusetts to host a daylong conference at Harvard Law School in June, titled “Redefining the Role of the Prosecutor within the Community.”

  • What July Fourth Meant To Frederick Douglass

    July 5, 2017

    ...Nearly 80 years after the celebration of the nation’s origins had taken root as annual ritual, the abolitionist Frederick Douglass pointed out in detail the unfinished business that the Declaration espoused. In a speech given in Rochester, New York, on July 5, 1852, Douglass rose to the occasion with searing hot rhetoric...The words of Douglass’ speech will be read this year on Monday, July 3rd in Boston Common, as well as other locations around the state, as remembrance of this great democratically inspired literature, but also as reminder of the original solemnity of the day. The public reading of the speech in Boston, which began annually in 2009, is the brain child of David Harris, a longtime civil rights activist, who is also the director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice at Harvard Law School. “Douglass was one of the nation’s greatest patriots and his words, as much as those of any founder, continue to guide us toward the democracy we want to be," Harris told me recently by email.

  • As celebrities celebrate, legal experts assess the reasons for defeats of Angela Corey and others

    September 1, 2016

    As voters around the country decided the fates of Sens. Marco Rubio and John McCain and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schulz, at least a few observers focused on the primary for Jacksonville’s elected prosecutor. Ten-time Grammy Awards winner John Legend celebrated State Attorney Angela Corey’s loss. So did “Orange Is The New Black” author Piper Kerman and former Democratic presidential candidate and Vermont Gov. Howard Dean...Harvard Law School professor Ronald Sullivan said, “Overzealous prosecutors, like Angela Corey, who have resorted to pursuing draconian sentences regardless of the circumstances will soon see themselves being replaced with leaders who have rejected these failed policies of the 1980s and ’90s, and are truly committed to reforming the justice system with proven, evidence-based, equitable solutions that increase public safety.”...David Harris, managing director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute at Harvard Law School, said the election results show that “voters have spoken in no uncertain terms about the kind of change they want to see and it speaks well beyond any single prosecutor to changes across the justice system.”

  • As President Calls For Dialogue On Race, 3 Mass. Parents Highlight ‘Despair,’ Challenges (audio)

    July 13, 2016

    At a memorial service in Dallas Tuesday for five police officers killed last week, President Obama called for Americans to participate in honest dialogue about race. The president said such conversations are the antidote to the violence and despair set off by the killings of two black men last week by police in Louisiana and Minnesota, incidents that proceeded what followed in Dallas. Those seven deaths last week, far from Boston, remain the source of confusion and frustration for many families in Greater Boston. Parents are trying to figure out what to say to children, especially black children, about justice, safety and progress. Three parents discussed these concerns on Morning Edition...David Harris...is African-American and managing director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School.

  • In anti-lynching plays, a coiled power

    May 24, 2016

    ...The museum performance whet her appetite to continue to stage the plays, and Zier reached out to the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School (HLS), where Managing Director David J. Harris was eager to incorporate art into social justice programming. “It was an easy sell for us,” said Harris. “That these plays were written by women, and the fact that women today are leading so many social movements, especially in communities of color — lots was compelling.”...Held in the Ames Courtroom last month, the performance, “Plays That Don’t Play: The Drama of Lynching” featured the three plays performed by 14 students from the College, HLS, and the Harvard Graduate School of Education, as well as one student from Northeastern University. It was an evening (followed by a panel discussion the next day) that Harris described as “unbelievably powerful.”

  • Death Penalty 2015: Lowest number of executions in 25 years, but marked by disability and impairment

    December 23, 2015

    In 2015, America had the lowest number of executions in 25 years, according to a new report released by Harvard Law School’s Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice. But of the 28 people executed, 68% suffered from severe mental disabilities or experienced extreme childhood trauma and abuse.

  • High Court Must Undo Clear Case of Juror Racism (registration)

    September 29, 2015

    An op-ed by Charles J. Ogletree Jr. and David J. Harris. Raise your hand if you believe that a juror could make this statement and still be considered fair and impartial. “I knew I would vote for the death penalty because that’s what that n----- deserved.” There’s no mistaking that this statement was actually made. The juror himself signed a sworn affidavit admitting he made the statement. On Sept. 28, the U.S. Supreme Court will consider a request to review whether the injection of the juror’s racial bias violated the rights to an impartial jury and a fair trial of a man sentenced to death in Georgia. We believe that it did.

  • A presidential perspective on race

    July 27, 2015

    It was a remarkable week for President Obama: On Monday he commuted the sentences of 46 nonviolent drug offenders; on Tuesday he called for sweeping criminal justice reform in an address to the NAACP; and on Thursday he became the first sitting president to visit a federal prison...“It’s shocking and surprising to see this kind of vision coming from the White House,” said David Harris, managing director of Harvard’s Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice. “I can’t imagine any other president having the breadth of knowledge that he displayed. … To the extent that other presidents have used crime as a code for race, this president actually named some of the racial disparities that impact our communities in ways that others haven’t.”

  • HLS report explores potential and limitations of body cameras for police

    June 8, 2015

    The Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School has released a report, authored by Chike Croslin '16, Justin Dews, and Jaimie McFarlin '15 of the Harvard Black Law Students Association, titled Independent Lens: Toward Transparency, Accountability, and Effectiveness in Police Tactics. The report explores the potential and limitations of body-worn cameras for police.

  • Proposing a Houston/Marshall Plan for domestic policy

    June 4, 2015

    An op-ed by David Harris and Johanna Wald. On June 5, 1947, Secretary of State George Marshall spoke to a crowd of 15,000 at Harvard University’s commencement...“The remedy lies in breaking the vicious circle,” stated George Marshall in the speech. Indeed. We propose to create a new Houston/Marshall Plan (named after civil rights giants Charles Hamilton Houston and Thurgood Marshall), focused on helping communities restore themselves after decades of intentional disinvestment. This new Houston/Marshall Plan will advance strategies, innovations, and solutions designed by those living and working in these neighborhoods. It is their voices that have been routinely ignored or silenced in public policy discussions.