As a criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor, I have seen systemic racism in play almost every day. While I don’t believe all members of law enforcement are overtly racist, my experience means that I have seen a system that, despite the best efforts of many, is biased towards non-white individuals.
While I truly believe that the Massachusetts criminal justice system is one of the best and most equitable systems in the country, it is still far from perfect. People of color are arrested at a higher rate than white people. People of color are convicted at a higher rate than white people. People of color are sentenced to incarceration at a higher rate than white people. These aren’t opinions. There are facts.
Watching the national news has been depressing and scary for many of us. It should, however, be a glimpse into the what many of our fellow Americans have to deal with every single day of their lives. I have seen videos of Black Americans being arrested for doing nothing but peacefully speaking. I have seen videos of Black journalists being arrested while doing their job. I have seen videos of Black people being indiscriminately attacked while doing nothing of a criminal nature. None of this is acceptable. I have also seen police officers, prosecutors, attorneys, and judges speak out against these terrible acts. That is a good start. But, as the Supreme Judicial Court has stated, we must all continue to be better and do better.
Those of us that are part of the criminal justice system are in a unique position to do this. We see the problems every day. We can educate those who do not walk into a court room every day. When your neighbor says that they are upset that a person who was arrested didn’t get a high bail, educate them on the bail statute. When a friend mentions that George Floyd had a criminal history, point out that he had served his sentence and that his criminal past doesn’t give mean that he should have been murdered, or that his death should mean any less than that of someone who had never come into contact with the criminal justice system. When your uncle tells you that all cops aren’t bad, agree with him, but, also tell him that even though the vast majority of police officers are good people the culture of silence must change. Because, very few of us who are part of the criminal justice system can honestly say that we were surprised that none of the three officers stepped into to stop what has happening to George Floyd.
We must all do better. And, that starts with self-examination and the realization that saying “Black Lives Matter” isn’t an affront to police officers or people of any other race. Instead, it is accepting the fact that the system is far from perfect and we all have to do our part to help change it. I believe that Black Lives Matter, and will do my part to continue the efforts in correcting the systemic inequities that impact Black people. I have made a donation to the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and continue my own learning, and I encourage you to do the same in your own lives and professions.