Last week the corporate law firm Latham and Watkins fired over 400 employees. This may not mean much to most, but what these white collar layoffs indicate is that even a degree from Harvard Law School won’t keep the greedy claws of the recession monster off your slice of the economic pie. As law students scan the popular law blogs to carefully track which corporate firm is laying off associates, the everyday American faces a far colder set of problems. And projections are that it will get worse before it gets better.

Paper bags ready? Inhale slowly, now exhale, and repeat.

As frightening as the continuing layoffs and escalating unemployment rates are, we are WAY over due for a collective anxiety attack about joblessness. I am just a little disturbed… no, I lie… I’m really disgusted by the fact that Black male unemployment, which has long been nearly eight times as high in Boston as the unemployment rate nationally, didn’t get anyone off their butt and still hasn’t. Even though half of all Black male Bostonians actively searching for jobs were not able to secure employment during stable economic times, no eyebrows were raised and no fingers were lifted. Shouldn’t this have warranted a similar stress attack? Maybe not. Stress is, after all, incredibly unhealthy. It causes wrinkles (which are not cute), hair loss (even more uncute), and holes in your stomach lining (eeew). Maybe group stress relief is what is motivating many MA legislators, like Eugene O’Flaherty, Chair of the Judiciary Committee, to condone one of the most punitive Criminal Offender Record Information laws in the country.

Before diving into MA’s clever stress relief law and how it ought to be fixed, let’s back up a little. Without getting into the whole story of deindustrialization in Boston and how the unions helped ensure that whites populated the few remaining jobs, it is important to understand that a tension exists. While there has been a desire to allocate scarce jobs to whites, resulting in the disproportionate Black unemployment Boston has seen, there simultaneously exists a fear of too many unemployed Black men. This has resulted in an urge to contain all those scary jobless and crime-prone Black men. And what better place to contain them than in prison? Moreover, being incarcerated in MA has the added “bonus” of ensuring these Black men, once released, won’t be hired due to their criminal records. It really isn’t as if Black men needed more of a disadvantage in the job market either. In the book Marked, Devah Pager publishes the results of a study that shows that white men with criminal records are more likely than Black men without criminal records to get a job. It appears the rules of the game are still color-coded. It shouldn’t be surprising then, that approaches to white joblessness and Black joblessness are vastly different. To illustrate:

No Jobs for Blacks (“Who cares?”) → Crime Increase (“Yikes, put ‘em in jail”) → Incarceration → Criminal Record (CORI) → Got a CORI? Want a job? Fat chance! → Crime Increase → Incarceration → CORI…


No Jobs for Whites → Collective freak out → Economic stimulus → Jobs

Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) reports are issued to anyone who has ever been charged with a crime punishable by incarceration. Astonishingly, CORIs are not eligible for sealing until 10 – 15 years has passed. Regardless of whether the charge results in a dismissal, acquittal or a guilt verdict, a CORI report is generated. Additionally, a person could have a CORI, never have been charged with a crime and not even know he has one. To illustrate, if you’ve never had an interaction with the police, but your name happens to be Omar Johnson, and you share a birthday with another Omar Johnson who has a rap sheet, you’re outta luck (and probably out of a job).  This is because the records verify identities only according to name and date of birth and are not backed up by fingerprints, photos or social security numbers. Like a scarlet letter, the CORI stigmatizes its subject, does not wash off with redemption and, especially in the case of dismissals and acquittals, is undeserved. On the plus side, it does amazing things for that pesky unemployment rate related stress. Black unemployment rates getting you down? Feeling stressed? Go ahead and drink that Massachusetts Kool-Aid: Black men don’t have jobs because they are criminals, plain and simple. Humph. I don’t know about you, but I’m keeping my paper bag handy. Inhale slowly, now exhale, and repeat.

The Harvard Black Law Students Association’s Social Justice Committee (HBLSA SJC) has recently partnered with the Boston Worker’s Alliance, the Union for Minority Neighborhoods and the Charles Hamilton Houston Center for Race and Justice as part of a robust CORI reform campaign. There is currently a proposed bill in the MA legislature and an anticipated reform bill by Deval Patrick. If you would like to help the Harvard BLSA Social Justice Committee organize around this issue and get a reform bill passed, email  hblsasj at


2 Comments so far

  1. Keary Colbert on March 4, 2009 10:58 pm

    Sad, but true….

  2. Sebastian on March 9, 2009 5:22 pm

    why should the big white men who control the economy help blacks with economic aid when everybody including blacks themselves have the “us vs them” mentality?

    why should whites try to change their ways and end racism (explicit and implicit) when 1. they have nothing to gain and 2. everybody still plays by the group mentality?

    when the rich are doing well and the poor complain, yes the rich are going to say “yes we have to give back to the community” but they’re not gonna get up early Sunday morning and get to work!

    and the Marked study seems suspicious to me… did they control things like appearances, dialect, etc?

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    Harvard Black Law Students Association presents...
    Social Justice Week

    March 2nd - 6th

    Monday: Social Justice Week Kick-Off

    BLSA general body meeting featuring a special presentation by Noah Hood and the BLSA Social Justice Committee

    Langdell South 7:00 pm

    Dinner will be served

    Tuesday: Education

    Education Awareness Candy Campaign Learn about some of the problems facing Boston's youth, including the unfair and exclusionary expulsion policies

    Harkness Common 12:00 noon

    Wednesday: Housing

    Housing Recovery Acts in MA Some of the areas foremost housing activists will gather to discuss legislation concerning predatory lending practices

    Hauser 101 7:30 pm

    Refreshments will be served

    Thursday: Criminal Justice

    Sealing Criminal Records: Implications for Social Justice

    A panel of the leading voices in criminal justice reform will speak about criminal record information laws.

    Austin Hall 7:00 pm

    A Soul Food Dinner will be served.

    Friday: Criminal Justice

    CORI Sealing Training

    Criminal Record Sealing Training involves hands-on training. Participants will be able to help with upcoming CORI Sealing projects.