President's Message for June Marin Lawyer
“REPAIRING OUR WORLD ONE STEP AT A TIME”
This month’s Marin Lawyer theme began as “the environment,” and after the arrival of COVID-19, fittingly evolved to be primarily about the pandemic. For my monthly message, I planned to write about the unintended, and sometimes positive, impact of the pandemic and shelter-in-place orders on environmental health. Then, several days before this writing, as has happened so many times before, a horrific video spread across the internet. Who would have thought possible that we would witness actions even more disturbing than so many times before? Images of the murder of George Floyd stunned the country. Peaceful protests have been followed by violence and destruction across the United States. At the very moment when we were beginning to feel hopeful by some loosening from the grip of the pandemic, we are now facing another challenge from an epidemic that has gone on far, far longer than this, or any previous coronavirus.
On May 25, an employee at a Minneapolis deli called 911 to report that an African-American man bought a pack of cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill. Seventeen minutes after the first squad car arrived, George Floyd was unconscious, with no signs of life. He died after a Minneapolis police officer held a handcuffed and prone Floyd down with his knee to Floyd’s neck for a total of 8 minutes and 46 seconds, nearly three of which were after Floyd lost consciousness. A bystander’s video captured the horrific act for all the world to witness.
Law enforcement authorities across the country unanimously condemned the actions in the video. As stunned as many of us were, we were sadly not shocked at yet another video of such brazen cruelty. Racism and injustice have always been part of our nation’s history. Our society and criminal justice system remain plagued by systemic racism and inequality. As much as we know injustice and inequality exist, it is easy to feel powerless in the face of such an overwhelming problem. Videos like these can reinforce that powerlessness. Or they can spur us to action.
As lawyers, we naturally seek to right wrongs and prevent injustices. We are tasked with the protection of constitutional rights. We feel the need acutely to make our society more just and fair. Governor Gavin Newsom stated that, “The black community is not responsible for what's happening in this country right now, we are.” All of us have an obligation to expose and eliminate systemic racism in our institutions, organizations and businesses. How?
President Obama recently suggested that lawful protest is only the first step in promoting reform. Our voices also need to be heard in voting booths and through political engagement at all levels of government. Obama reminded us that because change often begins at the ground level, we need to make our voices heard in local elections—where lawmakers directly responsible for local political reform are elected. Sadly, local elections have been experiencing historically low turnout, especially among younger voters. They are a vital step in social and criminal justice reform. So, one thing we can do is vote. And help get out the vote, especially in communities where voting rights are threatened, which is perhaps everywhere today.
Another thing we can do is volunteer our time and our expertise to individuals and organizations that promote social justice. Reach out to MCBA’s Pro Bono Committee to see how you can help. Or check out the Marin Pro Bono Network to match your skills and interests with communities in need.
And, of course, we can help by providing financial support to front-line organizations. The Bar Association of San Francisco has created a list of several national and local groups that are in need of our help, which we reproduce below.
These have been difficult months. We have been coping with the reality of a global pandemic and its effects on our physical, emotional and financial health. It has wreaked havoc on our daily lives and our businesses. Against this backdrop, we must now grapple with the shock of witnessing a brutal killing, and the resulting anger, frustration and violence gripping our country.
I believe that by choosing to act, rather than simply observe, we will feel empowered and begin to heal. In Hebrew, the phrase Tikkun Olam signifies performing acts of kindness to repair the world. Often used in the context of repairing our physical environment, today these words call upon us to repair our social and political environment as well. We must respond to the call, and we can do it better together.
Stay well, stay connected, and stay engaged,