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Thursday January 20th

Legal defense leader Sherrilyn Ifill talks police violence at UNC conference

Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, speaks at a panel discussion, Police Violence in the Wake of Ferguson and Staten Island, at the UNC School of Law on Friday.
Buy Photos Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, speaks at a panel discussion, Police Violence in the Wake of Ferguson and Staten Island, at the UNC School of Law on Friday.

Ifill was the keynote speaker on Friday at the UNC School of Law as part of an all-day event titled “Police Violence in the Wake of Ferguson and Staten Island.” The conference brought together people from a variety of backgrounds, including police officers, lawyers, professors and students.

Ifill spoke about her own experience in civil rights, which she called “democracy maintenance work.”

She said she was 10 years old in Queens, N.Y., when Clifford Glover, also age 10, was shot by a police officer. The police officer in this case, Thomas Shea, was indicted but later acquitted by a jury despite being fired by the New York Police Department.

“It stayed with me for 40 years,” she said.

Sean Yau, a UNC law exchange student from the University of Hong Kong, said he agreed with Ifill that problems similar to the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases have existed for a long time.

“This racism is embedded in years and generations of this country,” Yau said.

Ifill presented possible short-term and long-term solutions to decrease issues with police violence, which included using implicit bias training and body cameras.

She emphasized how little time police officers have to make decisions and said they might often act on their neurological impulses before fully evaluating the situation.

“We are doing (law enforcement) a disservice if we are not providing them that training,” Ifill said, adding that the implicit bias training can especially help de-escalate encounters with the mentally ill.

One solution could involve having conversations about the lasting harms of white people not spending time around black people, she said.

“I think we can no longer afford to live as two separate countries,” she said.

Michael Troutman, assistant public defender in Guilford County, said he attended the event because he often confronts these issues in his work.

Troutman said Ifill’s strategy to increase implicit bias training among police officers has merit, though he thinks the training should go both ways.

“Her solution of expanding training among law enforcement is one strategy, but on the other side, it is educating people how to deal with those encounters as well,” he said.

He said he hopes there will be fewer deaths resulting from police encounters in the future.

“I think that the unknown — this animosity that seems to exist for police and young black men, and the animosity that exists between young black men and the police — has to change,” he said.

The tensions between law enforcement and black people aren’t going to change overnight, Yau said.

“Something like this conference needs to be held more often; this conversation needs to keep going,” he said.

state@dailytarheel.com

CORRECTION: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this story included a headline that mischaracterized Sherrilyn Ifill's title. She is the president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which is independent from the NAACP. The headline has been updated to reflect this change. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for the error.

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