Learn more about Peltz-Steele v. UMass Faculty Federation at Court Listener (complaint) and the Liberty Justice Center. The case is now on appeal in the First Circuit as no. 22-1466 (PACER paywall). Please direct media inquiries to Kristen Williamson.
Showing posts with label New Bedford. Show all posts
Showing posts with label New Bedford. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

News reports heroicize resistance to robbery, but storeowner's murder counsels common law wisdom

Mahaseth and his wife
(posted to Twitter by Sam Smink, WHDH 7 News)
A man was charged in early November for fatally shooting a Fall River, Mass., convenience store owner.

The murder of Stop N Save owner Lal Kishor Mahaseth in October shocked the Fall River community, near where I live in eastern Rhode Island.  But the circumstances that gave rise to it are all too familiar in Massachusetts south coast cities.

To help my Torts I class wrestle with the interrelated defenses of self, other, and property, I sometimes show a video of a local convenience store owner who fought back against would-be robbers.  When the viewer knows that no one was seriously hurt in the end, the video can be funny, while stirring serious conversation on matters such as tort doctrine, "stand your ground" laws, and the expectations of the social contract in the unique American culture of guns and personal responsibility.

Sadly and oddly, there are many videos from which to choose for this exercise, even limiting the search to nearby New Bedford, Mass.  My favorite video dates to 2012, when owner-operator Nicholas Dawoud turned the tables on assailants at the St. Elias Mini Market.  This story from WJAR has it all: robbery turned to personal threat; the frustrated defender, informed by past offenses, erupted; and other local customers joined the fray.

The tragedy in Fall River layers the problem with an added complexity.  Do news stories that glamorize defending locals incentivize a wrong choice?  Surveillance video in the Fall River case reportedly shows that 54-year-old Mahaseth resisted his armed assailants, at one point throwing a chair at them.  Does citizen frustration with failed policing in stressed economic times justify a different response to the problems of privileging defense?

Historic common law norms favor life over property in all circumstances.  The result is a familiar law school hypothetical with which students often struggle: the rightful owner of property has no privilege to commit personal attack to defend against threatened violence to dispossess, as long as the threat is merely contingent (albeit often unprovably so in real life) on the owner's refusal to surrender.  The theory is that no one will be hurt, and the wronged property owner can resort to assistance by proper authorities.

However, owing to the powerful American ethos of property and personal responsibility, the historic common law result is as likely to be excepted as applied, in practice.  The glamorization of physical defenses of property such as Dawoud's reinforces the incompatibility of the common law logic with many Americans' thinking.

Mahaseth, who was born in Nepal and earned a degree there in education, is survived by his wife and three children, The Herald News reported in October.  Prosecutors charged 37-year-old Nelson F. Coelho with murder, attempted armed and masked robbery, and carrying an illegal firearm, Mass Live reported in November.

[I acknowledge a kind note of Prof. Volokh, who aptly observes that non-deadly force in defense of property is permitted by common law.  I admittedly conflated defense by force at all, as I suggest, or fear, that the nuance is lost on the aggressor who responds violently, and potentially fatally.]

Sunday, April 7, 2019

W. Kamau Bell solves racism.
Or at least makes some progress....


My wife and I were privileged last night to see W. Kamau Bell speak at the Zeiterion Theatre in New Bedford, the show part of the New Bedford Lyceum.  (Also in the audience: our friends, colleague Professor Justine Dunlap and UMass Law alumni City Councilman Hugh Dunn and attorney and radio host Marcus Ferro.)  Bell is a comedian, but at the same time, most definitely a social activist, performing through multiple media, including television, podcasts, and books.  He is most familiar to me from his Emmy-winning show on CNN, United Shades of America, which returns to the small screen with its season 4 premiere, about megachurches, on April 28 (cordcutters pay per episode).

Tongue in cheek, Bell titled his show at the Zeiterion, "The W. Kamau Bell Curve: Ending Racism in About an Hour," a play on the title of the controversial 1994 book, The Bell Curve, by Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray.  Bell's essential thesis is that race is a construct, but, nevertheless, one we have to pay attention to.  Bell aims "to dismantle racism," but not race, which he believes can be turned into a constructive concept for the good of society as a whole.  Any effort on my part to summarize Bell's approach beyond that point would be inevitably inadequate.  Suffice to say, he works toward his mission with a brilliant combination of observational hilarity, multimedia presentation, and sharing
Outside 'the Z'
about his own life and family.  He does not ask that everyone agree with him on every point, he admonishes.  Rather, he has accomplished enough if people are moved to engage in meaningful dialog about race and social justice, which surely they must be.

The Zeiterion Theatre, or "the Z," is a classic building in old, cobblestoned New Bedford, Massachusetts, opened in 1923 to host vaudeville acts.  Its fortunes have waxed and waned with the history of working-class New Bedford.  The New Bedford Lyceum is a community cultural organization that dates to the city's whaling heyday.  Founded in 1828, Lyceum lectures and events aimed for “the improvement of its members in useful knowledge and the advancement of popular education.”  The Lyceum was disbanded in 1905, but revitalized by New Bedford leaders in 2016.

Bell was a smart choice to fulfill the Lyceum's public-educational mission.  New Bedford has an unusually (for not-Boston, Massachusetts) diverse population in terms of race and economic class, leading inevitably in our trying times to social tension and painfully obvious stratification.  City leaders—such as Councilman Dunn and UMass Law alumna Mali Lim, city coordinator for community education—work mightily to keep the peace, and, moreover, turn tension and diversity into productive community identity.  Bell's lecture at the Z was preceded by four public screenings and discussions in New Bedford and the surrounding area, one at UMass Dartmouth, each reflecting on a theme from Bell's CNN work.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

UMass Law SALDF hosts speaker to explain service animals and ADA compliance

The UMass Law chapters of the Student Animal Legal Defense Fund (SALDF) and the Asian Pacific Law Students Associations (APALSA) co-hosted speakers including Evan C. Bjorklund, general counsel of the Massachusetts Office on Disability (MOD), in late January for a public event about service dogs and public accommodation laws.  Bjorklund's talk was recorded and produced for air by DCTV educational access.  View the video at DCTV here.
Evan Bjorklund on DCTV: Service Animals and ADA Compliance
UMass Law APALSA is led by Mali Lim, who by day is human services coordinator for community education and diversity for the City of New Bedford, Massachusetts.  UMass Law SALDF officers are Kayla Venckauskas, president; Barnaby McLaughlin, vice president; Kerina Silva, treasurer; and Kseniya Ruzanova, secretary.  Venckauskas was just appointed 2018-2019 editor in chief of the UMass Law Review and McLaughlin 2018-2019 I.T. editor.  Ruzanova is a member of Team 1L Torts.  Yours truly serves as faculty co-adviser for SALDF.