A Message to the AUWCL Community from Acting Dean Robert Dinerstein and SBA President Tim Schmeling
Jan. 7, 2021
To Our WCL Community:
What we saw occur in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, January 6, 2021, shook many of us to our core. Although it was not unique – as the Washington Post reported, “not since the British set fire to the Capitol in 1814 has a mob overrun the ultimate symbol of American freedom” – it was highly unusual and, frankly, appalling. As President-elect Biden said: “This is not dissent, it’s disorder. It’s chaos, it borders on sedition, and it must end now.”
Which is why, to protect our hard-won freedoms, we must continue to be vigilant and engaged. As law students, legal educators, and dedicated staff, we are members of a great community and we know that our words carry incredible power. Words used recklessly threaten the security and justice of our communities and our country. The continued propagation by certain national leaders of a demonstrably discredited narrative based on lies and false information incited yesterday’s violence and destruction. We must continue to call out lawlessness and bolster what makes our democracy strong.
The juxtaposition of what has happened during the last few days could not be more striking. Tuesday, in a free and fair election with broad participation by many, including many people of color and many newly registered voters, we saw the state of Georgia elect its first Black Senator, Rev. Raphael Warnock, who is only the eleventh Black American to serve in the Senate, along with fellow Democrat, Jon Ossoff, the state’s first Jewish senator. Only hours later, rioters – not protesters – stormed and looted the Capitol, leaving destruction in their wake and delaying the constitutional process of electoral vote counting in which the Congress was engaged. Eventually, in the wee hours of the morning, Congress was able to return to the business at hand, acknowledging the election of Joe Biden. Democracy prevailed, but the day’s events reminded us that we can never be complacent about its health.
You are all lawyers in training. As part of your education, you learn that it will be your duty to uphold the highest ethical standards and recognize that actions like those seen yesterday are untenable. We teach, and are taught, to apply the rule of law to truth and facts. When facts are falsified, and the rule of law cast aside, chaos is inevitable.
Although the actions of the rioters and their enablers are our primary focus, we, like you, also have questions about how law enforcement handled the riot. While many officers showed great courage and professionalism, the various law enforcement agencies seemed insufficiently prepared for a predictably violent event that was telegraphed weeks in advance. There were disturbing scenes where some law enforcement officers appeared to facilitate access to the Capitol building. Following a summer and fall of aggressive and often violent police confrontations with predominantly peaceful protesters – not rioters – of color and their allies, the differential response is disturbing and must be investigated.
As a community, we need to look out for each other, and ourselves. Should you be in need of counseling resources, the AU Counseling Center has Protocall services available via 202-885-7979. You also may consider Lawyer Assistance Program (LAP) assistance within the state where you are currently located or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (Phone: 1-800-273-8255) or the National Alliance on Mental Illness (Phone: 800-950-6264).
We also need to stay safe, and help each other to do so. We do not know what the weeks leading up to the Inauguration will entail, but our vigilance must extend to doing our utmost to ensure that all members of our community feel safe in their homes and activities. Please reach out to us at any time if you need assistance from the law school or university in this regard.
This American democracy needs each and every one of us to embrace our role as advocates and engaged participants in the effort to champion what matters.
Robert Dinerstein Tim Schmeling
Acting Dean and Professor of Law Student Bar Association, President