by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Next year, Boston will have the opportunity to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the Boston Massacre. The victims in the confrontation and shooting outside the Boston Customs House have long been considered the first casualties of the American Revolution, and the fact that one of the fallen was an African American (Crispus Attucks) helped make the incident even more relevant in recent decades.
However, one of the most important lessons of the massacre won’t get the same respect it did in the past: the importance of the right to counsel.
When the British soldiers who had fired into the crowd on the night of March 5, 1770, were put on trial, it was John Adams — one of Boston’s top lawyers and a leading member of the Patriot political faction that had helped incite the protests against the government — who took their case. His successful defense of the most unpopular defendants in the colonies at the time was the moment when the future president entered history. And by choosing to face down the hostile mob of fellow Patriots organized by his cousin Sam Adams, he also stood for a principle — the right to effective counsel — that has become a hallmark of the American legal system.
But Adams’s alma mater, Harvard University, has broken with the spirit of what he achieved. In a shocking development, the school announced last weekend that their first African-American faculty deans would be terminated. Ronald S. Sullivan Jr. and his wife, Stephanie Robinson, may continue to teach at Harvard Law. But they lost their jobs as deans because of their decision to join the defense team of former Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, who faces charges of sexual misconduct.