The Last Word: Carl Williams ’06

Carl WilliamsA champion for freedom and liberation, Carl Williams serves as a staff attorney for the ACLU in Boston where he made history for his successful efforts leading to the largest dismissal of criminal cases at once. As a result of the advocacy of Williams and a team of attorneys, more than 20,000 Massachusetts drug cases were voided due to a police crime lab chemist’s misconduct.

Why did you want to attend law school?
I was involved in community activism work and remember seeing National Lawyers Guild lawyers at a protest, wearing bright green hats and red coats, keeping the police at bay and protecting the rights of protesters. I saw lawyers go into police detention and make people free. I realized that all of the stuff I was doing in my free time outside of work, I wanted to make into my full-time career.

What was your student experience like here at UW?
Madison was culturally a very challenging place to be. It wasn’t easy for me to go from Boston to an overwhelmingly white city like Madison. Many weekends, I would go to Milwaukee and Chicago. But I did have a student community that I was super tight with. We organized and challenged institutionalized power and cared about politics and human rights, the community, and the environment. These are folks I still consider some of my closest friends.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your work?
Fighting for freedom and liberation. The law is a useful tool in the struggle for liberation. In many cases it’s a tool used to criminalize people, make them homeless, take away their money. Where I’m from, the law hurt me when I was growing up. One way we can use the law is to help people fight for their own liberation.

What keeps you up at night?
There are people that aren’t free in this world. I want to do things to make them free—and me, too. I always think “are we doing that the right, most efficient way? I see things happening when I’m in my neighborhood, with police. What can we do to stop this?”

How do you define success?
When we challenge injustice and fight for civil rights and humanity, we win. We win the day when we stand up and fight, not just the day the legislation passes.

Finish the sentence, “If I hadn’t gone to law school, I probably would have…”
…done the same thing: work to make my people free. Different road, going in the same direction.

Interview by Karen Koethe