It is so sad & frustrating that barely a month can go by without having to remark on some new violent tragedy. I was on vacation when I learned about Alton Sterling and then Philando Castile; being so far removed from what was happening gave me an outsider’s perspective. I could read things here and there, but really only had enough time online to gage the reactions of people I know. There have been many incidents like this, but for whatever reason, this seemed to tip the scale–people who normally never discussed race or police brutality came out in shock against what had happened. Gratefully, many people saw this crime for what it was–but there are still so many who just can’t seem to accept the racism and bias that comes into play within our justice system. It’s all just so sad & infuriating to see people’s reactions when they refuse to acknowledge the systemic racism that is drenched within our justice system.
When things like this happen I feel so useless. I feel like there are so many people, collectively, screaming about these injustices, but nothing seems to change. It can feel futile and many of us who have gained traction in our career, who have been lucky enough to build stable lives can reach a crossroad during this time of frustration were we can choose to act or decide to simply ignore what’s happening. Many of us could say, “well those problems aren’t my problems,” and ignore the vast injustices that are occurring. It’s definitely tempting, but then I’m reminded that our degree has given us an insider’s knowledge of how the criminal justice system functions—or malfunctions, as it were. We also have viable ways of creating change from the inside that others do not have. Simply put, we have a duty to act.
If you’ve entered this profession with open eyes then you know the system is inherently unjust and systematically set-up to be against us. That’s not hyperbole. For many of us growing up, we have seen how the justice system has failed our communities. Many of us have seen our own brothers and cousins scrutinized and harassed by police—these things aren’t just something we read about, but our real life experiences. Outside of the personal, we can look at legislative history that was mired in racist ideology; the school-to-prison pipeline that our youth continue to fall into; the privatization of prison that allows for children to be sold and detained. I can go on and on, and even though the system attempts to be impartial, the humans running the system are not. Those in power are still products of a society were they are conditioned to fear people of color and treat them–treat us–as less than.
So regardless of how much someone may try to distance themselves from this dysfunction, the reality is that this is our collective problem–we are all affected by these injustices and we shouldn’t stand for it.
As attorneys, we are aware of how the system really works, so we should be the first to call out these bad behaviors. Take a lead from Justice Sotomayor, who did not hold back in her amazing dissent and acknowledge how racism and biases play a part in our criminal justice system. I plan to follow her lead to call out problematic behavior and comments from friends and family by enlightening them to the reality of the justice system and how it’s not so truly equal.
Educating also includes confronting our own biases and calling out the anti-blackness that exists within our communities. Because that ish is real, and it’s real ugly.
Most importantly, there’s real action you can take other than just talking. You can protest, or you can protect protesters’ constitutional rights as a legal observer. You can donate your services to represent indigent clients, or you can donate to groups and programs that will further our communities and protect them from this imbalanced system. The point is that we can all do something–and for those of us charged with upholding this system, we truly have a duty to do the most we can to create real justice and equality for our people.