Tuesday, June 5, 2012
I have always felt an intense drive to help others who have been affected by societal injustices. Even more recently I have been focused on my abilities to advocate for others.
This previous semester, while sitting in court another day, for another hour, in another week of my internship with a defense attorney, emotional fatigue ravaged me like a helpless bystander witnessing, with little ability to contest the blatant, unjust atrocities that are so engrained in our American system of “justice.”
Throughout my months in the courtroom, I watched with immense sadness the majority of men charged be African American or Latino and poor. The majority of the attorneys, judges, or bailiffs are white men, and the system is constructed to reward the powerful and condemn the meek.
This is what I have seen. I have watched men cry while their lawyers pat them on the back and assure them that everything will be okay. I have watched those same lawyers rush off to expensive lunches to shoot the bull and enjoy the fruits of their indifference, their clients sitting on the curb and waiting for the bus, or sitting in cold cells waiting to tell their family that the money wasn’t enough, that being black or Latino or poor constitutes different definitions of “equal”, “justice”, “free”; that the weight of the shackles that have never been removed tips the scale towards a definition of justice in a lighter shade.
What I am describing here is a tree of injustice, the same tree Billie Holiday sang about in “Strange Fruit,” the tree that men hung from early in the previous century. Oppressive policies and routines attempt to guide individuals towards justice, but loopholes contrived by habitual practices and societal bias undermine the possibility of fairness. Little has changed since men were hanged for the color of their skin.
I completed my internship this semester, and my time observing the actors within the court system vehemently intertwined with frustration, rage, and sadness. Many days I left court in tears, driving home or back to campus weighed by conviction for these people and their families. Anger birthed by vexation screamed loudly for relief, but I knew my tears wouldn’t make things better or change outcomes.
I would leave court feeling so conflicted. Heartache and the reel of strife projected in the courtrooms compelled me to continually find ways to help fight the inequalities and injustices within our complicated system, but I now believe that I must fight for change rather than grieve.
Think of the symbol of our justice system: a woman, cast proudly and immortally in stone with turned cheek and blinded eye, firmly embracing a scale representing an eternal duty to justice. This façade portrays a utopian, idealistic view of equality. In reality, the woman is heavy with burden. Her back is bending. She is stone because she is hardened by the continual practice of injustice towards citizens of her beloved country. Her cheek is turned and her eyes are blindfolded because she is ashamed to see the contradictions within the system she represents. Her face is solemn because her scale tips towards the lighter and whiter side of “right.”
As citizens within this system, it is our duty to liberate ourselves from fear and silence to advocate for our fellow human beings. It is imperative that we fight the debilitating ugliness of injustice and bias, whether they be conscious or unconscious, to lift ourselves towards a strong, cohesive and mutually respectful community. It is imperative to question ourselves and each other on our own prejudices, demanding that the covenant of silence that obscures these faults be broken and reconstructed through policies of visionary equality and justice.
As a colleague of mine resoundingly stated, “It’s time to ask ourselves, Where’s the outrage?”