The University of Maryland’s law school announced Sunday it is launching a center focused on racial justice in Baltimore and beyond, an attempt to align itself with Baltimore’s history and current challenges with racial inequality.

Named after the law school’s first Black tenured professors, Larry Gibson and Taunya Banks, the Gibson-Banks Center for Race and the Law will “re-imagine and transform institutions and systems of racial and intersectional inequality, marginalization, and oppression,” the center’s newly named director Michael Pinard wrote in an open letter.

“Baltimore is the heartbeat of the Gibson-Banks Center,” Pinard wrote. “The Center is for Baltimore and of Baltimore. While the Center’s work will extend beyond the city, all of the work will connect to issues that resonate deeply here.”

The center will be housed in the Francis King Carey School of Law, in downtown Baltimore.

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“This is an activist city,” Pinard said in an interview with The Banner. “So many individuals and organizations are doing tremendous work calling out racial injustice. We really want to position the center as a partner. ... and illustrate with our deeds that this city is the life force of our center.”

According to a statement released by the law school, the center was announced at the Black Alumni reunion, which has been held every five years since 2003.

“The center will provide a critical space for scholarship, engagement, and action on issues of race and the law,” said law school dean Renee Hutchins. “It will also serve as a resource for students, lawyers, and community members who are working to advance racial justice. The beauty of this center is that it will be a convener of all the relevant voices so we can get to the best solutions.”

The center will host programs and symposiums, file amicus briefs, work on legislative and policy issues, and conduct research that drives advocacy, Pinard said.

Discussions about creating the center began after the murder of George Floyd, a Black man, by a white Minneapolis police officer in May 2020. Floyd’s death sparked nationwide protests during the pandemic.

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“The culture of our law school is for students to understand the power of law,” Pinard said, “the ways law has oppressed and can liberate, and to use their skills and knowledge to further the common good. They can do that regardless of type of law they practice.”

The center has already received a financial commitment of $1 million from attorney William “Billy” Murphy, a former Baltimore Circuit Court judge and Baltimore mayoral candidate, who graduated from the law school in 1969. In 2015, Murphy was the attorney for the family of Freddie Gray, who died while in the custody of Baltimore police.

Hugo Kugiya is a reporter for the Express Desk and has formerly reported for the Associated Press, Newsday, and the Seattle Times.

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