Collective View on Recent National Events

The following reflection was posed to the members of the Law Practice Division’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee:

Please share your thoughts regarding systemic racism in America, including that within our police departments, in light of recent acts of violence and injustice that have been documented and the continuing protest movements nationwide.

Stewart L. Levine, Immediate Past Co-Chair

It has been a time of serious concern, reflection, and learning. The 21-day challenge has been a great education. As a person of great privilege, it’s been both reinforcing and eye-opening. I keep learning more and engaging in places I can learn more. Every day seems to peel back another layer of privilege I took for granted. I’m experiencing a great deal of reverence, sadness, compassion, and sacredness for the privilege of learning. It’s bringing up some of my own history, having been raised Jewish and enslaved in Egypt. But that seems distant. Especially on July 4, I’m very cognizant that everyone has not been free for 400 years, in fact, many people are still struggling today. I’m aware of the segregation built into the US Constitution, and as a lawyer, I’m realizing how much de facto segregation exists today and has existed for my entire lifetime. I’m incredulous that a myth of freedom has been perpetuated when it’s patently false, and I’m wondering how I’ve not done more. I’m also relating this to the Rule of Law issues and remembering that I’ve always felt that until we in some way deal with slavery and Native American genocide, the foundation of this country is made of sand. It is time for truth and reconciliation, and reparations. In some ways because of the perpetuation of myths the US experience is much worse than the apartheid of South Africa.


Hong Dao, Member

As I see the images of Black Americans getting murdered by the police and harassed in their daily lives, I reflect on the privileges I have as an Asian-American. Although my family and I, as a child, fled our homeland of Vietnam as boat refugees after the war with America, my life as a person of color in the U.S. was still one of privilege. I am privileged that my body will not be harmed for wearing a hoodie, for driving, or for walking down the street. I am privileged that the racism I experience of being called “ching chong” or told to go back to China or wherever I came from is nothing compared with the racism experienced by my fellow Black Americans. I have the Model Minority Myth to shield me—a myth based on stereotypes about Asians that has been weaponized and used against Black people, Mexicans, and other immigrants. The stereotypes that Asians are smart, submissive, hardworking, and quiet are used to contrast Black people as violent, strong, uneducated, loud, and lazy. The stereotypes are used to rationalize the plights of Black people—that their suffering is caused by a flaw in their character and lack of work ethic, rather than by the institutions and systems that have oppressed and discriminated against them for centuries.

I am painfully aware that the privileges that white Americans and a few racial minority groups have are built on the oppression of Black Americans. I am also aware that my self-reflection is not a one-time thing. It’s not enough to reflect on our privilege and racism only when there is a major protest out there. It must be a sustained activity that we all need to do because each of us has benefited from the normalized oppression of our fellow Black Americans.


Phillis Morgan, Current Co-Chair

If we widen the lens, we see that human’s ability to treat other humans with such hate and brutality has happened over the course of human history. So, this is a human problem that happens to manifest in America’s particular brand of cruelty. It looks different in other countries, but it exists there, too. I’m happy for this awakening. People are waking up to the reality that so many fellow Americans are living in a world that’s different in so many ordinary and extraordinary ways if you’re not white. What flows from this waking up remains to be seen. There is already the impulse to “do something” to change things. That’s a beneficial impulse. Yet, we need to be skillful in our “doing.” We can’t legislate our way out of this, for example. If that were true, this problem would be solved already. Don’t get me wrong, passing laws to correct the most egregious forms of bias is warranted. But the profound doing that needs to happen right now is inner work. This inner work gets at the root cause. How have we become so alienated from, and fearful of, our neighbors so that we feel comfortable in not seeing them and treating them as the dreadful “other”? If more people were willing to do this sort of work, we’d have more of a chance at truly deep and transformative change.


Ramón Viñas, Member

The tragic events taken place recently are a reminder of how our system of justice has allowed systemic racism and abuse to flourish, specifically through the judicially created doctrine of qualified immunity, and the lack of appropriate disciplinary measures against offending police officers. We all suffer when “to protect and to serve” becomes a pointless slogan, as a militarized police force turns against its own citizens. Members of the legal profession should take a renewed look at how our governmental policies have resulted in the disproportionate incarceration of minorities, and the unfounded, generational abuse against the black community in particular. America needs to come to terms with these long-standing struggles now if it seeks to continue forward.


Lori Hymowitz, Current Co-Chair

Unfortunately, systemic racism has existed for centuries in America and around the world. Every generation or so an event occurs that (re)awakens people as a call to action. Recently, the flame of awareness reignited with the horrific death of George Floyd. I have been bearing witness to protests and marches around the country. Like many others, I have been alternatively horrified and hopeful. I am horrified at the brutality. I am hopeful as I witness young black women and men stepping forward and organizing marches, food banks, and live-streaming. I am hopeful when I see my fellow cis-gendered, white, nondisabled, educated, heterosexual women and men stepping aside and helping to raise the voices of our black community. I am lucky. I have spent most of my life living in racially diverse cities (New York and San Francisco). I was the only white person in several of my classes in college. I went to a high school where you could literally spin a globe, throw a dart and the dart would land on a place where one or more of my fellow students were from. This experience colors how I view the world. I was raised in a church where the first tenet is to recognize the inherent dignity of all human beings. I grew up seeing Black people in leadership roles.

But I also grew up not having a single Black teacher—in New York City—until college. I grew up knowing that I had to hail cabs for my Black friends. I witnessed my better dressed Black friends being trailed by security guards at stores. I currently live in a city where several years ago our public schools lost federal funding for their disparate discipline of Black and brown students. I also worry about Black gay and transgendered people who experience higher levels of homelessness. Black transgender people are murdered for just existing. It is so easy to be overwhelmed and not act. There are so many ways to help. We can take on as much or as little as we can. We also need to not beat ourselves up when we need to step back and regroup. The easy steps include bearing witness and sharing live streams of local protests, supporting Black-owned businesses, donating to charities with time or money. We need to listen with open ears and hearts for change to happen. As attorneys, we can also work towards dealing with the bigger issues such as the school to prison pipeline, salary discrepancies, as well as improving access to affordable and quality childcare and healthcare. We can also mentor, encourage, and hire more Black attorneys. We can support Black students from preschool onward to ensure that they can succeed in whatever field they choose. We can (un)learn what needs to happen to truly be inclusive and supportive. We need to engage with Black people and ask and listen to what and how we can be a help and not a hindrance or an extra burden in our help.

Carol Ann Martinelli, Immediate Past Co-Chair

To achieve goals of diversity and inclusion is a challenge, but much easier to do on the surface than from within the heart of an organization. Fundamental change involves the development of an appreciation for the richness of the other and no tolerance of biases or pre-conceived understandings of the other. It involves a freeing of self from structural limitations—visible and invisible. It involves liberation from unequal and unjust structural and systemic frameworks developed throughout our society’s history. Leadership must nurture the desires to rise above these structures by contributing to their naming and the development of methods to confront and dismantle them. People working within the legal system, lawyers in particular, and those enforcing the law at all levels have the highest standard of responsibility to lead in the effort to eradicate systemic racism. For both groups accountability and transparency are central for living up to this responsibility and both must act in support of those who peacefully protest and speak out in order to achieve change in pursuit of social justice.




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