In Memory George Floyd is laid to rest
It was the last day of 11th grade at Jack Yates High School in Houston, nearly three decades ago. A group of close friends, on their way home, were contemplating what senior year and beyond would bring. They were black teenagers on the precipice of manhood. What, they asked one another, did they want to do with their lives?
“George turned to me and said, ‘I want to touch the world,’” said Jonathan Veal, 45, recalling the aspiration of one of the young men — a tall, gregarious star athlete named George Floyd whom he had met in the school cafeteria on the first day of sixth grade. To their 17-year-old minds, touching the world maybe meant the N.B.A. or the N.F.L.
“It was one of the first moments I remembered after learning what happened to him,” Mr. Veal said. “He could not have imagined that this is the tragic way people would know his name.”
The world now knows George Perry Floyd Jr. through his final harrowing moments, as he begged for air, his face wedged for nearly nine minutes between a city street and a police officer’s knee.
Mr. Floyd’s gasping death, immortalized on a bystander’s cellphone video during the twilight hours of Memorial Day, has powered two weeks of sprawling protests across America against police brutality. He has been memorialized in Minneapolis, where he died; in North Carolina, where he was born; and in Houston, where thousands stood in the unrelenting heat on Monday afternoon to file past his gold coffin and bid him farewell in the city where he spent most of his life.
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Say it Louder America, this is your chance
Michelle Alexander is a civil rights lawyer and advocate, legal scholar and the author of “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.”
Our democracy hangs in the balance. This is not an overstatement.
As protests, riots, and police violence roiled the nation last week, the president vowed to send the military to quell persistent rebellions and looting, whether governors wanted a military occupation or not. John Allen, a retired four-star Marine general, wrote that we may be witnessing the “beginning of the end of the American experiment” because of President Trump’s catastrophic failures.
Trump’s leadership has been disastrous. But it would be a mistake to place the blame on him alone. In part, we find ourselves here for the same reasons a civil war tore our nation apart more than 100 years ago: Too many citizens prefer to cling to brutal and unjust systems than to give up political power, the perceived benefits of white supremacy and an exploitative economic system. If we do not learn the lessons of history and choose a radically different path forward, we may lose our last chance at creating a truly inclusive, egalitarian democracy.
The Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky famously said that “the degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” Today, the same can be said of our criminal injustice system, which is a mirror reflecting back to us who we really are, as opposed to what we tell ourselves.
Millions of us watched a black man in Minnesota lie on the ground for nearly nine minutes, begging for his life and calling out to his dead mother, while a white police officer pressed his knee into his neck, killing him, with his hand casually resting in his pocket — all in broad daylight in front of people screaming for the officer to stop.
Everyone knows that the police officers who killed George Floyd never would have been fired or arrested if a courageous black girl had not filmed the incident on her phone and posted it to social media. Deep down, we already knew this kind of thing happens to black people. All of us knew it when we watched Amy Cooper call the police on a black man who calmly asked her to put a leash on her dog. We knew it when we watched two white men in a pickup truck ambush Ahmaud Arbery and shoot him to death while he was jogging in a neighborhood outside Brunswick, Ga. And we knew it before George Zimmerman stalked and murdered a black teenager named Trayvon Martin.
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More of This Justices issue an extraordinary letter urging lawyers to fight racism
The nine justices of the Washington Supreme Court on Thursday issued an extraordinary open letter to the legal community urging lawyers to take steps to confront racial injustices in society and in the law.
“Recent events have brought to the forefront of our collective consciousness a painful fact that is, for too many of our citizens, common knowledge: the injustices faced by black Americans are not relics of the past,” the justices said in their letter. “We continue to see racialized policing and the overrepresentation of black Americans in every stage of our criminal and juvenile justice systems. Our institutions remain affected by the vestiges of slavery: Jim Crow laws that were never dismantled and racist court decisions that were never disavowed.”
The court—Chief Justice Debra Stephens and Justices Charles Johnson, Barbara Madsen, Susan Owens, Steven González, Sheryl Gordon McCloud, Mary Yu, Raquel Montoya-Lewis and G. Helen Whitener—said “the legal community must recognize that we all bear responsibility for this on-going injustice, and that we are capable of taking steps to address it, if only we have the courage and the will.”
The letter continued: “As judges, we must recognize the role we have played in devaluing black lives. This very court once held that a cemetery could lawfully deny grieving black parents the right to bury their infant. We cannot undo this wrong—but we can recognize our ability to do better in the future. We can develop a greater awareness of our own conscious and unconscious biases in order to make just decisions in individual cases, and we can administer justice and support court rules in a way that brings greater racial justice to our system as a whole.”
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More of This Too If you want to dismantle racism, bring back affirmative action
Dismantling systemic racism has suddenly become a popular idea in the California State Capitol. Hopefully, Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, will have no trouble attracting strong legislative support for Assembly Constitutional Amendment 5. It needs support from two-thirds of legislators to pass.
A yes vote on ACA 5 would allow Californians to vote on a ballot measure to repeal Proposition 209. The 1996 ballot initiative banned affirmative action in all state institutions. Opponents of Prop. 209 say the measure has significantly harmed women and people of color by depriving them of crucial opportunities.
That’s why Asm. Weber — along with a coalition of 250 organizations and individuals — wants to give a new generation of Californians the chance to undo Prop. 209. A previous effort, in 2014, failed to garner enough votes.
Weber is more hopeful this time, especially after ACA 5 passed out of the important Assembly Committee on Public Employee and Retirement (PER) on a 6-1 vote.
“I was a little bit concerned … because PER is kind of a conservative committee, and coming out of the pandemic we weren’t sure we could actually get it out of committee — and most had predicted that we would not,” said Weber.
Weber said the 6-1 vote, which included a vote from Republican Asm. Randy Voepel, R-San Diego, “shocked” some people.
“This has got to go before the people of California of this generation,” said Voepel, according to a story by CalMatters. He noted that “he had not yet decided how he would vote if the proposed constitutional amendment comes before the entire Assembly.”
Supporters of the repeal effort say Prop. 209 has caused significant harm to women and people of color. They say it has kept African Americans and Latinos from having proportional representation in University of California schools. While total enrollment numbers have increased, those numbers still don’t reflect California’s Latino and African American populations.
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Less of This The Supreme Court as shielded police for decades
Amid nationwide protests over police killings, the Supreme Court is facing pressure to reconsider the legal immunity that often shields officers from being sued for using excessive force, including brutal arrests and the shooting of innocent people in their homes.
The high court has been sharply criticized from the left and the right for rulings in the last decade that have made it nearly impossible for many victims of police brutality or wrongful shootings to sue the officers for violating their rights. Since police officers are rarely charged with a crime, the court-created doctrine of “qualified immunity” from civil lawsuits has meant no redress for victims and little accountability for those who abuse their authority, according to the critics.
In recent weeks, justices have been considering several appeals from victims urging the court to reverse course and allow these claims to go before a jury.
Lawyers behind the appeals say the images of a Minneapolis police officer pressing his knee onto the neck of unarmed black man who is handcuffed and gasping for breath should weigh on the justices.
“It makes for grim coincidence,” said Jay Schweikert, a lawyer for the Cato Institute, which has waged a campaign against police immunity. “The senseless violence committed by [police officer] Derek Chauvin — and the stunning indifference of the officers standing by as George Floyd begged for his life— is the product of our culture of near-zero accountability for law enforcement. I expect the events of the past week will increase their sense of urgency, because the justices are culpable for this doctrine that they have expounded.”
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Interview of the Week The law has never been neutral
Angela Onwuachi-Willig is the dean of Boston University School of Law and renowned legal scholar and expert on critical race theory, employment discrimination, and family law.
Dahlia Lithwick: One of the things that really struck me about your letter is that I’m the mother of two teenage boys who swan around Crown Heights in Brooklyn and Manhattan as though they own the place. And the conversations I’ve had with them are utterly different from the conversations that you have with your kids. And more pointedly, I am really struck by the silences. You flag our silences, and you also flag your own silence and how hard you had to struggle to even write this. And you are the dean of this unbelievably prestigious law school. I wondered if you could reflect for a minute on that struggle to not be silent and to speak knowing that there could be repercussions. What was the thinking around that, and how do you feel now that you’ve said what you needed to say?
Angela Onwuachi-Willig: There were a million things going through my mind. As the dean of the law school, I represent everyone in the law school when I represent the institution and that’s a body of people who have a wide variety of views. Even as I look at what I perceive as the murder of George Floyd and see no other way to view that tape, there might be other people in my community, including my alumni community, that would look at that tape and see it differently. So I’m expected to resist those kinds of broader statements. Then there are also the myths that we tell ourselves in law that we’re supposed to be these completely neutral beings and that the law itself is completely neutral, without recognizing the actors that wrote the laws, without recognizing who was left out of the creation of those laws, without recognizing how precedent reifies the exclusion of certain voices from the creation of case law. And how it reifies the continuing exclusion of particular perspectives because of people viewing their experiences as normative.
I was struggling with that and yet thinking about all those, including my own students, who were feeling voiceless, who were asking themselves the same question that I was asking: What’s the point of my being in this position if I can’t speak? And ultimately that was what pushed me to speak. What’s the point of my being in this position and being a black woman and having people laud it if I’m going to be silent in the same way that perhaps a white man would be silent in this position. It didn’t make sense. Whatever the repercussions were, I was fully open to them and would be fine with them, absolutely welcome them.
So it was more important to speak and it was more important to acknowledge not only that this was something that affected all African Americans but that this has effectively affected all people, that this was something that they should be upset about and that it happens all the time. I think one of the things that you worry about when you’re in these positions is that you get used as sort of an example of why racism doesn’t exist anymore. You see, we have a black dean, things aren’t as bad as they used to be. There’s no more racism or there’s a lot less racism. And I didn’t want to be used in that way either.
For all those reasons, it was important not to be silent. It’s important to speak for my students, and particularly my black students, who I knew were in a lot of pain. It was important to speak so that people who were not aware that people in my position were feeling the way I was feeling knew how I was feeling. That people knew that I feared for my own children, that people knew that people with my education and standing also suffer harassment from the police. All those things are really important for everyone to understand.
Read the interview on Slate