Off The Streets And Onto The Syllabus: The Freddie Gray Course

Aug 22, 2015
Originally published on August 22, 2015 7:03 pm

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."


Interview Highlights

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.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

TESS VIGELAND, HOST:

It's been less than six months since a 25-year-old African-American man named Freddie Gray died after sustaining severe injuries in police custody in Baltimore. Gray's death set off days of demonstrations and rioting. But it also inspired a new class at the University of Maryland law school - Freddie Gray's Baltimore - Past, Present And Moving Forward. Professor Michael Greenberger is coordinating the class, which starts next week. He says the idea for the course came from those protests, which happened right outside the law school building.

MICHAEL GREENBERGER: We were in dead center in the protests themselves. So our faculty and students saw firsthand the anger of the Baltimore population at what happened to Freddie Gray. And 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.

VIGELAND: Then how does that discussion belong in a law school class versus a social policy class?

GREENBERGER: Well, 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 that 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 an 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, they foreclosed on them. We believe that through the class, we will be able to identify 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.

VIGELAND: What has the reaction been to your class? What kind of interest have you had?

GREENBERGER: Well, it's very interesting. I mean, 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.

VIGELAND: What are you hoping that your students get out of the class?

GREENBERGER: Well, traditionally, law school is a matter of sitting in class and reading casebooks. And some of the cases go back to the Middle Ages. And it's very hard for students to relate to the real world. And the very heart of this course is to look at the real world that we are dead center in the middle of and to show how laws impact the way 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 this subject matter, but stimulate their interest in learning the law.

VIGELAND: That's professor Michael Greenberger of the University of Maryland law school. His new class is Freddie Gray's Baltimore - Past, Present And Moving Forward. Professor, thank you.

GREENBERGER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.