Vincent Rougeau, Dean of Boston College Law School.

Summer 2020

This Time Feels Different

In May, protests erupted around the United States in the wake of yet another savage killing of an unarmed black man at the hands of the police. Not even a global pandemic could check the progress of America’s racial disease. It is chronic. We treat the symptoms but we have been unable to cure the cancer for 400 years.

This time, however, it feels as if a dam has broken. The demonstrations are mostly peaceful and many of the protesters are white. This should not surprise us because racism disfigures every member of society. Although black people are its most obvious and devastated victims, white people are forced to participate in a system created in their name, and are burdened with its “privileges” regardless of whether or not they perceive them.

On top of this, our country has been brought to its knees by a presidency that has shattered every norm of decency, comity, and civility that we have understood as essential to the operation of our democracy. President Trump’s words and actions have become salt on our nation’s wounds. During the protests in Washington, DC, his heavy-handed clearing of protesters and staging of photo opportunities before two prominent and historic churches drew widespread revulsion and sharp criticism from both the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, Mariann Budde, and the archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, Wilton Gregory, who happen to be the first woman and first African American, respectively, to hold their positions.

“The law is our best tool for reclaiming our country as a place where all people can participate in shaping our common life, and in which no one is simply an instrument for the acquisition of wealth or power by others.” —Dean Vincent Rougeau

Archbishop Gregory found it “baffling and reprehensible that any Catholic facility would allow itself to be so egregiously manipulated and misused in a fashion that violates our religious principles, which call us to defend the rights of all people, even those with whom we disagree.” He reminds us of the very same values that animate the Boston College Law School community, and signals to us what we are called to do in this moment.

We cannot continue to allow some in our society to dehumanize and divide us if we are to have any hope of preserving our democracy. The law is our best tool for reclaiming our country as a place where all people can participate in shaping our common life, and in which no one is simply an instrument for the acquisition of wealth or power by others.

America has erupted not only because of festering racism, but also because it is descending into oligarchy. The most meager attempts by ordinary people to have a voice in our government or to secure a modicum of economic security are ruthlessly attacked and derailed. We make it more difficult to vote than almost any other advanced democracy. We have an ineffective social safety net that is on the brink of collapse. We still give political credence to the contemptable notion of the “deserving” and “undeserving” poor. We turn our backs on legitimate cries for help and justice from immigrants and refugees.

Those views are inimical to the values that have sustained Boston College Law School for nearly 100 years. This law school will never retreat from its commitment to using the law to uphold the dignity of the human person, advance the common good, and promote compassion for the marginalized. A new opportunity to infuse our work as lawyers with those values has presented itself. Our country is in desperate need of healing. Let us not lose this opportunity to attack, once and for all, the disease of racism while we build an economy and a democracy that serve us all.


To read other pieces in this issue’s The Vision Project, click here.

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