On November 11, the Judge AW Center hosted the third annual lecture which this year was centered on the theme of Justice. Professor Erica J. Suter, Director of the Innocence Project Clinic at the University of Baltimore School of Law shared inspiring remarks about the continuous fight to bring justice to those wrongly convicted. Below are few of the many empowering quotes that were embedded within the lecture:
- " f you come to my home or my office you will see pictures of birds and bird figurines. You will find bird feeders in my yard. I love them for a simple reason. They seem free to me. Every time I visit a client in prison I look for the birds because the idea that something can fly up and over those walls and fences whenever it wants gives me hope, the idea that something can choose to move away from what it knows and toward something it can’t yet see, gives me hope. In order to transform our criminal legal system and our society, which are inextricably linked, we must have the courage and vision to believe in something we cannot yet see, that something different is possible; and, that the unfamiliar and the uncomfortable are part of the path. "
- "9, 344, 000 days. Nine Million Three Hundred Forty Four Thousand Days. 25, 600 years lost. As of 2021, Exonerees, According to the National Registry of Exonerations served a collective 9, 344,00 days. Men and women who were innocent of the crimes of which they were convicted. In Maryland, according to the Registry, just as of last week, there have been 42 exonerations since 1989. And those exonerees have served a collective, 221, 555 days, 607 years."
- "An exoneration is a very particular thing. It requires working against a system that is designed to preserve convictions. Our criminal legal system worships at the altar of finality. By the time someone has been convicted and sentenced, the burden is on them to prove that something went wrong with the trial. The law presumes that the jury got it right and the opportunities to challenge that verdict are few and far between. Even for the innocent, it is like threading the eye of a needle, while riding in a bus, being driven over a street filled with potholes.... On average, an exoneration takes about 7.5 years.... The exonerees are simply the ones that the public eventually knows about. The exonerees are the miracles."
- "We all must sit with the horrors of our criminal legal system. Some of which occur through horrific misconduct, some of which are a product of both individual and systemic racism, some of which occur through vast disparities in resources, some of which occur through callous indifference to the lives of those who are buried alive behind the walls. Before there is a way forward, we must witness and acknowledge the sorrow, distress, and humiliation of it."
- "Did you know that in Maryland, if you have a criminal conviction and served more than a year, felony or misdemeanor, you can never serve on a jury. You are disqualified. When you are aware of the racial breakdown in our jails and prisons, it becomes clear what portion of our population is being disenfranchised. Last session, legislation was proposed to change juror disqualification in Maryland. I hope to see that legislation pass this session. "
- "Maryland charges more children in adult court than any other state except Alabama."
- "Local politics matter. Pay attention to your elected officials, support those whose values align with yours. Call your representative and let them know what bills you want to see them support. Listen and amplify the voices and stories of those who are or have been incarcerated. Support organizations such as the Judge AW center and others who are working to address the disparities in justice. Continue to educate yourself about our criminal legal system and its impact on our communities."
- "I am not encouraging you to be patient, but I am encouraging you to be dogged, to be relentless, to be a weeble wobble. I encourage you to believe in the things that your eyes haven’t seen. I invite you to reject false binaries, justice or mercy, criminal or victim, us or them. Our fates are bound up with each other. "
- "The path ahead toward a more just and equitable society is not a straight line. It will inevitably involve joyous victories and painful defeats, but to quote Angela Davis, 'You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time.'"
In addition to hearing Suter's empowering remarks, throughout the lecture the Center honored 3 organizations committed to continuously pushing for justice. The first honoree was the Innocence Project Clinic at the University of Baltimore School of Law, which fights for the rights of those wrongly convicted and has won several cases to exonarate and free them. The second honoree was the Bridge Center at the Adam’s House in Prince George’s County—a one-stop shop for returning citizens that provides critical supports needed to facilitate successfully reintegrate into their communities. The final honoree was The Victim’s Rights Foundation, an organization supporting victims of violent crime.
For highlights from the lecture, check out this video on the Center's YouTube channel.