In Class News

April 13, 2018 at 2:07 pm

Attorneys Visit African American Studies Course on History of Injustice

Jonathan J.C. Grey, portrait in suit

Jonathan J.C. Grey

Two lawyers brought their expertise to a discussion with Ohio University’s students in History of Injustices in the U.S. and Black Men & Masculinities classes on April 3.

The African American Studies Department regularly invites speakers to classes to engage with students about important sociopolitical topics that our country is facing.

“We are interested in providing students with direct access to professionals working in diverse fields, and important social justice work,” notes Dr. Bayyinah S. Jeffries, Assistant Professor of African American Studies.

This is the third year that Jonathan J.C. Grey and George Chaney Jr. have visited the History of Injustices course taught by Jeffries.

Chaney is an Assistant Federal Public Defender in the Office of the Federal Public Defender Southern District of Ohio, Columbus Division. He transferred to Ohio from the Office of the Federal Public Defender for the Eastern District of Louisiana in New Orleans in January 2016.

He received his Juris Doctor from Tulane University Law School in 1991. He was admitted to the Minnesota bar in 1991 and joined Robins, Kaplan, Miller and Ciresi as a business litigation associate. He was admitted to the Louisiana bar in 1993, and he worked as a teaching fellow with the Tulane University Law School Juvenile Clinic from 1995 to 1997. He was in private practice with the firm Chaney & Recasner, L.L.C., in New Orleans from 1995 until 2003.

Chaney also was a member of the Orleans Parish Capital Conflict Panel from 1997 through 2000. He served on the Criminal Justice Act Panel for the Eastern District of Louisiana from 1997 until 2003, and he joined the Federal Public Defenders for the Eastern District of Louisiana in August 2003 as an Assistant Federal Public Defender, working in the Eastern District of Louisiana until January 2016.

Grey is an Assistant United States Attorney at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Ohio in Columbus. Previously, he served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Detroit, as a law clerk to two federal judges, and as an associate in labor and employment law at a large law firm in Chicago. Grey is a graduate of Morehouse College and Georgetown Law. A native of Baton Rouge, La., he is an avid mentor, occasional runner, and intermediate speaker of French.

Students Query Guests after Reading ‘The New Jim Crow’

“Each year students read Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow and other readings before our guests visit,” Jeffries said. “This allows students to dialogue with two legal experts in relation to what they are reading in our classes. Students have found their visits invaluable.”

“Thank you for soliciting those gentlemen for class today. It was really illuminating,” said student Peter Barrow.

Kha’Lil Newton commented, “I just wanted to thank you for inviting today’s speakers to our class. The Q&A was very inspiring, and I’m really glad you pushed me to ask them more afterward. The conversations were important and insightful, and I’m just glad to have been a part of them. I’m sure today planted the seeds of curiosity and different perspectives into the heads of many of my classmates.”

“Powerful,” stated Ian Wagner. “I wish they were given an entire class period to talk about their job and their experiences growing up and living in Mississippi, and how they got their jobs in more detail. I’d take the time to write them both personal thank you letters for taking time to talk to us for that class period.”

“I greatly enjoyed listening to the guest speakers. In light of reading The New Jim Crow, I found their points of view to be fascinating. The discussion helped connect the topics covered in the book to the real world. In addition, hearing the perspectives of a federal prosecutor and public defender on the legal process was valuable and informative,” said Samuel Crawford.

Dejae’Naye Wilkins noted, “Both men also bring up the importance of reading. Staying up to date on current events and understanding the history of the injustices brought upon African Americans can be beneficial to help solving the problem. I feel as though the discussion was valuable because you heard from people that work in the justice system on racial inequality and their perception on how well the justice system handles this issue.”

“Mr. Grey said the lack of representation was one reason that lead him to become lawyer, but it was not the only factor,” said Carlie McClung. “I greatly appreciated these men coming and sharing their experiences…. From them I gained knowledge that race is not the only reason of discrimination but also how large a role money plays and also that injustice is still happening today, even if it is not as obvious as it once was in the past.”

“Both Mr. Chaney and Mr. Grey said in the discussion, there are barriers that block progress for African Americans and other people of color that cause these communities to struggle to implement their rights and opportunities supposedly guaranteed by law. I really can see the logic in that analysis,” concluded Alexis Broomes.

“Their discussion was valuable because it’s good to see someone of color’s viewpoint on the system and how they navigate their way to make a change. Especially because as black men, they know the law, but the law can be against them [too],” said Camarie Howell.

“Seeing them sit next to each other was a fascinating comparison of the ‘sides’ of law itself. It was apparent from the time that [Mr. Grey] sat down that the two knew each other well and had a history. Their back and forth confirmed that they had faced in court frequently. Chaney had a certain agency, working as a public defender, that Grey did not share, as his employer is the U.S. government. The stiff disclaimer prior to his testimony was evidence of this. Grey clearly was bound to being a responsible mouthpiece for the government and defending their actions and decisions,” concluded Emma Howells.

“Their individual stories really say a lot as to what they think the criminal justice system is meant to do,” noted Alexis Broomes.

“I believe that this presentation was not only a valuable, but essential, addition to what we have been covering in class thus far. The justice system is inextricably linked with the plight of African Americans in this country and having two lawyers representing different sides of the case with such a distinctive background was a unique opportunity. In a way, their presence and discussion physically confirmed Michelle Alexander’s claims in the New Jim Crow. It was a fitting and important testament to witness, and I am glad I was able to hear firsthand their thoughts on the system in which they operate,” Howells added.

“The race problem in the United States may seem as simple as just black and white, but it may be due to a whole other color all together. Green. While white Americans did everything they could to stop the end of slavery the motive behind it was not just racism but also based on the economy,” continued McClung.

Angela Green summed it up, “‘A change in the law does not necessarily change a person.’ George’s reply to me impacted me strongly that day. Thinking about the guest speakers overall, I expected the discussion to be more like Alexander’s The New Jim Crow with passionate words formed to [inspire] people to make a change in the justice system. George Chaney and Jonathan J.C. Grey seemed a bit more casual, and not quite as dissatisfied with the current system compared to Alexander. They both are dissatisfied with the system, but did not express it in the same way that Alexander did and took a different approach to solving it…. It is inspiring that they both chose to dedicate so much of their lives to being an honest example of how to do the justice system rightly.”

“We thank Mr. Chaney Jr. and Mr. Grey for their continued service, and commitment to Ohio University student learning and engagement,” Jeffries said.

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