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Public Justice Statement on the Murder of George Floyd and Institutional Racism in America

Public Justice Statement on the Murder of George Floyd and Institutional Racism in America

Photo by Johnny Silvercloud, via Flickr

Over the past few days, we’ve been reminded – yet again – of an ugly truth about our country: Black people in America face violence, discrimination and even murder on a daily basis because of systemic racism and white supremacism. The murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and so many others are a heart wrenching reminder of a shameful legacy our nation has yet to overcome. This pervasive hatred has always been given safe shelter within our country’s institutions and legal system, from the first enslavement of Black people 400 years ago and its later enshrinement in the U.S. Constitution to the era of Jim Crow and right up to the present day.

We are not here to dictate the best solution for the Black community; we are here to listen and partner with Black leaders and advocates and to take action in the ways that they tell us will help them the most. Whether that means pro bono representation for those whose rights were violated by the police or the criminal justice system or for the families of those killed, we must be there in real and meaningful ways.

As a legal organization that partners with trial attorneys across the country to address issues of inequality, civil liberties and the disproportionate impact that police and other forces and institutions have on minority communities, Public Justice also acknowledges a difficult truth about our community, too: Only 5% of attorneys in the legal profession are African-American, according to a 2019 report from the American Bar Association. That lack of representation underscores just how disconnected the law is from the everyday experiences of Black people in America. It’s not just about denying one community a seat at the table; it is about denying them justice throughout the entire system.

We believe that we all – within Public Justice and within the legal community – must work to dismantle the practices and behaviors that have brought us here: We must be part of a solution that ends the racist policing tactics and institutional racism responsible for the murders of Black men, women and children.

Everyone in the legal profession must do better to address these issues, and we do not exempt ourselves from that criticism. At Public Justice, we know we do not have enough Black and brown people among our staff or our Board. We recognize that we, ourselves, have far to go in truly mirroring the communities we serve. And we acknowledge the role that systemic racism – in the legal profession and beyond – has played in the agonizing pain of the present moment and the persistent and pervasive wrongs of the past. We have a responsibility, both internally as an organization and externally as part of a professional community, to use the levers of our privilege in service to the cause of justice for all.

And whether you are a lawyer, an organizer, an advocate or an ally, we implore everyone to heed the advice Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison often gave her students: “If you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have power, then your job is to empower somebody else.”

We have work to do – here at Public Justice, throughout the legal profession and across the entire country – to free and empower those who are violently attacked and repeatedly disenfranchised. That work has been postponed, pushed aside and ignored for far too long. It is urgent that we all begin it now. The very lives of our Black friends and neighbors, the well-being of our nation and its quest for justice depends upon it.