Since the death of George Floyd, legal aid organizations across the state have issued strong statements against systemic racism and called for collaboration and change. Their statements are below.
Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts
Community Legal Aid
Center for Law and Education
Center for Public Representation
De Novo Center for Justice and Healing
Disability Law Center
Greater Boston Legal Services
Massachusetts Advocates for Children
Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation
MetroWest Legal Services
National Consumer Law Center
Northeast Legal Aid
Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts
Victim Rights Law Center
The board and staff of the Children’s Law Center of MA extend our sincere condolences to the families, friends, and colleagues of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and the countless other innocent victims of racial injustice across the ages in America and beyond.
We stand with those of you whose voices are now being heard on the streets around the world in support of freedom and equality. In your honor, and on behalf of those for whom you march, the Children’s Law Center pledges to continue its fight for justice for our child clients whose path to equality will, we hope, have been paved by your voice, courage, and conscience.
A REMINDER: Only seven years ago, in August 2013, the Honorable John R. Lewis, member of Congress from Georgia, legendary civil rights leader, and a strong supporter of legal aid, made the following observation about the state of racism in our country, as pertinent and telling today as it was then, indeed as it has been over the centuries:
“The scars and stains of racism remain deeply embedded in American society, whether it is stop and frisk in New York or injustice in the Trayvon Martin case in Florida, the mass incarceration of millions of Americans, immigrants hiding in fear in the shadow of society, unemployment, homelessness, poverty, hunger, or the renewed struggle for voting rights.”
As we, sadly, add new chapters to Congressman Lewis’s poignant observation in the persons of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and others, we urge all to caution against simply “turning the page” on this most recent stain in our country’s history. Instead, consider one of the Congressman’s suggestions to guard against such complacency: “…find a way to get in trouble…good trouble…necessary trouble!”
CLA joins in mourning the death of George Floyd and all who’ve lost their lives as a result of injustice. We grieve for those put at risk by systemic inequality, and pledge to continue working with our local communities to dismantle structural racism and to fight for justice for all.
A MESSAGE FROM OUR BOARD PRESIDENT . . . .
Like many, I mourn the murder of George Floyd. But I am also frustrated by the current pattern of repeating the conversations we have had for years about police abuse of their powers with impunity. It is time for action: we know the problems and we know the solutions, at least enough to get us started and have an immediate impact. The issue is whether we have the WILL to take the necessary actions to solve the problems.
I have found the work of the Police Use of Force Project to be especially helpful in moving from discussion to concrete, often immediate, action proposals for local elected officials and police chiefs. DeRay McKesson, one of the founders of the project, has a great piece in this issue of GQ. They argue that the evidence suggests we can achieve up to a 72% decrease in police violence leading to death by implementing these eight policies.
Eight Policies to Reduce Police Violence
1. Ban chokeholds and stranglehold
2. Require de-escalation
3. Require warning before shooting
4. Exhaust all other means before shooting
5. Duty to intervene and stop excessive force by other officers
6. Ban shooting at moving vehicles
7. Require use-of-force continuum
8. Require comprehensive reporting each time an officer uses forces or threatens to do so
Especially useful is their tool tracking the 100 top departments in the nation and the extent to which they have implemented these policies. The project makes a critically important point regarding the need to defund police departments and to reallocate resources currently going to police to provide funding for the people who should be handling all the situations (the vast majority of police work) that do not require someone with a gun.
In addition to the eight policies they focus on, I would add a few to the list for consideration including:
– External civilian review boards for review of all allegations of misconduct for use of force
– Independent review of police misconduct by skilled investigators external to the local police and prosecutors
– State restrictions on hiring cops fired from one jurisdiction for abusive conduct by another department
– Police complaint records are public (without complainants’ names divulged to officer or public during investigation) and sustained charges against officers should part of the public record
– Police departments should be required to publish annual/semi-annual reports on the number of civilian complaints and the result of reviews and action taken for sustained charges
Those currently working on police and criminal justice reform probably can add many more. But this is a good launch pad for moving from protest to action.
As we move to take immediate, initial actions to end unbridled and unaccountable police behavior, we must recognize that police brutality does not operate as an isolated phenomenon but is part of a societal structure and supporting systems of oppression that permeate most aspects of American life. Especially important to understanding and addressing the treatment of Black people by the justice system is how policing intrudes into the educational process and constitutes one fountainhead of the “school to prison pipeline.”
As we consider the broader context in which Black people experience disparate economic and other life outcomes in America, we must sharpen our focus on quality education for all as one powerful anecdote to poverty and economic inequities, making it even more critical that we focus on education.
In the words of James Baldwin, “we are our history” and, therefore, we must work to actively adopt and implement an anti-racist agenda in our schools, from curriculum, instruction, and learning opportunities to school-based safety and climate. No longer can we accept the legacy of color and permit it to mute our voices in opposition to racism in schools; silence is complicity.
Just as there are immediate actions we must take to end police violence while we educate and deliberate on the structural changes needed to cure the disease of racism that infects that system, justice in schools is no exception.
First, we urge school districts to be informed by research showing that more security leads to more disciplinary infractions particularly for low-level offenses and for Black and Hispanic students.
Second, school districts should immediately decriminalize the school environment so that it is conducive to learning by:
1. Stopping criminalization of student behavior that should be handled as a school matter.
2. Ending the practice of suspending students for non-violent conduct and especially for highly subjective offenses like defiance of authority and disruptive conduct that disproportionately impacts students of color.
3. Redirecting funds from contracts with local police departments to hire bilingual, culturally competent mental health counselors, teachers and administrators who look like their students and other supportive staff to create safe, positive and supportive environments.
4. Investing in culturally responsive approaches to restorative and transformative justice, social-emotional learning, trauma-informed approaches, support for healing of students, especially those who have been victimized by aggressive policing that is known to lower educational performance.
I hope you will join me in pursuing these actions now.
Junious Williams, Board President
The Center for Public Representation denounces the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis – the latest in a series of Black deaths, including Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and Breonna Taylor in Louisville. We condemn the structural racism that has allowed this to take place.
We stand with protesters in the Twin Cities, Atlanta, Louisville, Columbus, New York City, Washington, Philadelphia, D.C., Los Angeles, Portland, and every community across this nation.
We harken to the words uttered by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1967:
I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear?
As disability lawyers fighting for change, we have a responsibility to change a system that has repeatedly failed to deliver justice for all. Even though our work challenges the status quo, we are still part of the system – the system that failed to deliver justice when Freddie Gray was killed in Baltimore, when Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, when Trayvon Martin was killed in Florida.
This racism is entrenched in American society.
And it is that same institutional racism that has led to Black and other communities of color being disproportionally impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, health care inequities and the long-term impact of poverty.
Racism underlies it all. And all of us must do more to combat it.
We are committed to standing with people from Black and communities of color and to condemn the racism and the killings that have horrified us. We commit to working to understand and address our own implicit bias, to address racism in our work – to listen, to hear, and to act.
Our hearts are filled with sadness and grief as yet again we witness the grave injustice experienced by the Black community. We, at De Novo, stand with those demanding justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, and all people of color who have been and continue to be subjected to racism, prejudice, violence and discrimination.
De Novo strives to increase access to justice and healing, and that must include dismantling systemic racism that targets Black people or any other group and excludes them from the protection of our justice system. We recognize and speak out against the racial disparities we see in our society and stand in solidarity with those demanding change. Thank you for partnering with us as we advocate for human rights and social justice for all.
On behalf of all of us at De Novo,
Our nation has been rocked by tragedy and pain during the past few months. We were shaken by the disparate impact that COVID-19 has had on the disability community and communities of color and the widespread economic devastation that followed. As if this wasn’t enough, during the past three months we have also witnessed the senseless murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and now – George Floyd. These murders are the most recent in a long line of injustices and indignities suffered by Black men and women and black transgender people throughout the Nation. As an organization committed to promoting the civil and human rights of all persons with disabilities – and in respect of the undeniable intersections that exist between disability, race, and socioeconomic status in this country – we stand in solidarity with the Black community during these difficult times. Our communities are in pain and we share the fear, anger, and sadness felt by so many. Please know that:
We See You.
We Hear You.
We Stand With You in the fight to eliminate racism and advance racial justice.
Yours in the struggle,
GBLS stands in solidarity with those who are calling for justice and protesting the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, and others who have died as a result of injustice. We speak out against racial disparities in the justice system, the health care system, the immigration system and other systems that impact access to basic human needs. We believe that all people have an inalienable right to justice and fairness.
GBLS’ work includes advocating for systemic change to create equal access to justice, the removal of barriers keeping people in poverty, and disruption of racial inequities that impact many in our community on a daily basis. Today, that includes standing with those raising voices for change. Justice delayed is justice denied.
“To look around the United States today is enough to make prophets and angels weep. This is not the land of the free and it is only sporadically the home of the brave.”
– James Baldwin
In recent weeks, the devastating deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd (SAY THEIR NAMES!) have lent tragic relevance to the words of James Baldwin, written over a half-century ago. These devastating acts are three more links in a torturously long chain of racial violence in our country. This chain is wrapped around and around the heart and the lungs of our nation to the point that it threatens our collective asphyxiation if we cannot break it.
The structural racism baked into our nation at its birth made the murders of Breonna, Ahmaud, and George deaths foretold. It was not, however, an institution or a law that pressed down on the neck of George Floyd for eight minutes and forty-six seconds. It was the knee of a racist police officer, aided and abetted by the indifference of the three colleagues who lifted not a finger to protect George’s most fundamental right, the right to live and breathe. In each of these cases, structural racism provided the context in which savage racist acts by individuals robbed Black people of life.
Massachusetts Advocates for Children condemns these acts of racist violence and adds our voice to those of the thousands who have taken to the streets to express outrage over these murders. But is our condemnation and our outrage enough?
As we condemn the violence that took the lives of Breonna, Ahmaud, and George, we recognize an intimate familiarity with this violence through our work to remove the barriers to educational and life opportunities for Massachusetts children and youth. Make no mistake: that violence may take different forms in the everyday life of schools in our Commonwealth, but it is not a different racist violence that denies Black and Brown children their right to an education that could open a whole world to them. Our indignation at these recent senseless killings leaves us with an obligation to name that same violence where we live and work and do everything in our power to transform it.
Fashioned of flesh and blood, the prophets weep, often profusely. But what distinguishes the prophets among us is that, not content to condemn, they find, even in the most difficult of circumstances, the inspiration and the courage to act. In so doing, their tears join rivers of transformation. The times demand that even we mere mortals follow their example.
One of our prophets, MAC’s founder Hubie Jones, reflected recently on this moment, in the context of the riots he lived through in Boston in the 1960s:
“This…dynamic quickly comes in an indecipherable bundle that destabilizes everyone caught in its grip. It is almost impossible for leaders on all sides to think clearly and act effectively. The window of quasi-attention given by white elites, with the power to forge constructive economic and social changes, suddenly closes, even though verbal pseudo commitments and some investments make some people believe that the window is still open.”
Our challenge is to find the strength and the support to think clearly and act effectively. This can only be done together with friends and allies who share our commitment to change, you among them. It is in that spirit that we ask our friends, allies, and supporters to first allow ourselves to feel deeply the pain of this moment and support others as they do the same. But even as we feel this pain, we ask that you demand of us that we take the risks implied by disrupting business as usual. Only through such disruption can we hope to take advantage of the “window of quasi-attention” that Hubie reminds us will not be open forever. Leaping through that window will mean something different for each of us and it may well mean danger, but there is danger in letting the window slam shut, as well.
Our hearts bleed and our tears flow with the families of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd. Let us honor their memories by doing what we can to attack the deep roots of racism in this country.
The Deadly Plague Destroying Our Nation
A deadly disease has infiltrated our nation and will slowly destroy us unless and until it is addressed and eradicated. This disease has, for well over 200 years, destroyed countless lives, killed countless people, diminished our moral fiber, and degraded the founding principles of our nation. It is a disease that cannot be cured by a vaccine, but rather by conscience and action.
The disease is called racism.
Here is a very hard and painfully difficult truth: The United States has lost any moral authority to condemn human rights violations in other countries because our own nation is, and has been, violating human rights for a very long time.
There are many examples of how we have failed:
– the killing and targeting of unarmed Black and Brown men and women
– the ravages and glaring consequences of decades of institutionalized racism and economic disenfranchisement in communities of color (that have become glaringly apparent during the Covid-19 pandemic)
– the incarceration of Black and Brown men and women based on an unfair, racist criminal justice system
– the demonization of immigrants
– the detention of immigrant children in cages and in deplorable conditions
– the general contempt, lack of compassion or understanding for people living in poverty
And there are, sadly, many more examples.
As a nation, and individually, we must take a hard look in the mirror and ask: Are we proud of ongoing, unabated injustice? And are we living up to our foundational values as a nation based on fairness and equal justice for all? The answer is no.
This is not a partisan issue. No one has clean hands. Racism did not suddenly materialize in 2017 when the current administration took office. Neither did xenophobia or disregard for the lives of poor people or any of the long list of societal plagues that have haunted us for decades. As many have said: the intolerance of the Trump Administration is not the cause, but rather a glaring symptom of longstanding, underlying societal biases that have now come to the surface.
The tragic murder of George Floyd, the most recent in a long line of tragedies, injustices and indignities suffered by Black men and women, has mobilized our nation. That is because people of conscience, regardless of race, can no longer simply proclaim “outrage, dismay, disgust, horror, sadness, shock” when ongoing acts of racial injustice occur – because words without actions are meaningless. Words alone never cured a disease. Silence in the face of injustice is complicity.
Implicit systemic racist policies have infiltrated a range of public policies – from housing to criminal justice to health care access – and so many more. Our words of outrage ring hollow and are meaningless unless they are backed by initiatives and actions that dismantle policies that result in inequity and injustice.
For many years, legal aid programs, social justice advocates, civil rights organizations, and community activists have done the important work of highlighting how incidences of injustice are much more than just isolated events but are instead indicative of systems that defend abuse and oppression (and also protect the abusers and oppressors).
Part of that oppression is poverty. Decades of explicit discriminatory laws and policies and implicit racial biases embedded in laws, policies and practices have resulted in the denial of rights and opportunities that have kept communities of color in conditions of poverty. As a poverty law program, MLRI recognizes that poverty and systemic racial injustice go hand in hand, and we cannot meaningfully address one without the other. The legal aid community has a long tradition of fighting for and together with vulnerable and marginalized communities – and we have a critical role and a special obligation to identify, address and end the implicit bias and institutionalized racism that has poisoned and influenced our social and public policy.
We call upon all people who claim to stand for, fight for, believe in justice – whether labeled as “progressives” or “conservatives” or anything else – to live up to our nation’s promise of justice. The path forward is to acknowledge and face our societal failings, to listen to communities that have been devastated by racism and understand their pain, frustration and anger – and to work together productively to advance a policy agenda of equity and fairness.
Words alone never eradicated a disease. The disease of racism has plagued our nation for many decades. It is time to collectively and finally say that we will not tolerate racial injustice any longer – and to back those words with concrete actions to bring about systemic reforms that dismantle racist policies.
MLRI stands in solidarity with, and will continue to fight alongside with, our legal aid, community-based, civil rights, human rights and other organizational partners – and with all people who believe in our nation’s foundational value of “justice for all” and seek to eradicate the plague of racism in our Commonwealth and in our nation.
We have a lot of work to do. Let’s get to it.
The core tenet of civil legal aid is the pursuit of equal access to justice for all. The senseless deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless other Black lives, the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on communities of color, and continued systemic racism across the country are the most recent reminders that equal access to justice remains only a promise – not a reality – for Black people. The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation recognizes the pain caused by these events and stands in solidarity with all who demand racial justice. We must do more than express our frustration. We must collaborate to end racism. It debases every community in America and inflicts particular repeat trauma and suffering on Black communities.
MLAC has a more than 35-year commitment to advancing justice. It is now more important than ever for us to demonstrate that commitment by holding ourselves accountable, modeling the change we wish to see in the world, engaging in difficult conversations, challenging our biases, and keeping racial justice at the forefront of our mission in the weeks, months, and years ahead.
We must ensure that Black and Brown communities and other communities that have been historically underserved have access to civil legal aid and other legal representation. We are committed to expanding the reach of legal services and working to direct it to the people and communities most in need.
As individuals, we must work to become anti-racist, and to take the time to listen to people who have experienced the pain of racial injustice, to speak out against individual and institutional racism, to take care of ourselves, and to work and stand in solidarity with our Black and Brown staff and community members.
Toward those goals, we are committed to helping MLAC staff and partner organizations to rededicate ourselves to racial justice, and to rethink policies and practices as we fight both explicit and implicit bias and systemic racism. We must do this to fulfill our mission of providing equal justice to all people.
We invite you to join us in this journey to recommit to our core tenet—equal access to justice—to make that a reality for all.
Lynne M. Parker
The Silence of Our Friends: Statement of Support for Peaceful Protests of Racial Injustice
It has been our mission for over 45 years to help the most vulnerable and disenfranchised people overcome institutional barriers and obtain justice. We stand in support of those protesting across the nation in response to the brutal and unjust death of George Floyd and the history of racial injustice.
We believe strongly in breaking the silence and challenging the racial and economic inequities that continue to inflict hardship and suffering on our clients and our society. Access to justice is heavily impacted by systemic racism, lack of economic justice and implicit bias, and this is visible in all areas of our daily work, including immigration, housing, and family law.
Our advocates strive to make the promise of “justice for all” a reality. It is our hope that we can come together as a nation and address the painful inequalities and deep-rooted systemic racism leading to the protests. As Dr. Martln Luther King, Jr. said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” As allies of those seeking an end to racial injustice, we voice our support of peaceful protests and will continue working for access to justice for all.
The tragic death of George Floyd is just the latest in a long and repugnant history of unarmed African American deaths at the hands of police officers. We mourn the loss of his life and the lives of so many others like him in the history of this country. The repetition of such horrific events reflects the widespread, institutional, and deeply ingrained racism that exists in all aspects of American society.
The destructive impact of racism is everywhere to see. Witness the COVID-19 crisis where communities of color, which are suffering the highest rates of infection and death, are also now dealing with the highest rates of unemployment and financial instability. On every measure of individual or community well-being and security – economic, educational, and health – communities of color are overwhelmingly worse off and face tremendous barriers. The data is shocking in its consistency and reveals staggering levels of economic inequality.
If we are to ever move forward as a country and end the cycle of racism, violence, and oppression, we must all do our part in the fight. It is a fight that is vital to the very lives, dignity, and futures of millions of our fellow citizens.
The National Consumer Law Center’s pursuit of economic justice is a vital part of the struggle for justice and equality. We have established a Racial Justice and Equal Economic Opportunity Initiative to ensure that issues of racial equity are front and center in our work. The Initiative addresses the profound injustices present in every type of consumer transaction: mortgages and foreclosures, auto finance, debt collection, toxic land installment contracts, student loans and for-profit schools, criminal justice debt, credit reporting and scoring, access to broadband internet, and more. To make matters worse, people, families, and communities of color are suffering the most widespread consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic crisis.
We stand in solidarity with those risking their lives and their health to protest racial injustice, and urge our supporters to do the same.
As an organization and as individuals, we must all work to fight bias and racism wherever we find it. We cannot rest until we have made our society one where all people are treated with equal dignity and respect and have equal opportunities to provide for themselves and their families.
We also call on our community of consumer lawyers and advocates to join the fight for racial justice. Attorneys have a special responsibility to use their privileged position to achieve justice for the most vulnerable and victimized. No matter the focus of your practice, you can help attack systemic racial discrimination that denies individuals access to credit, affordable housing, and financial services on fair and equitable terms.
The list of outrages is long. There is no shortage of work to do. We urge you to jump into this fight and join us in building a more just and inclusive economy and society. To succeed, we must all join the struggle, together.
In these difficult times, marked by the tragic death of George Floyd, Northeast Legal Aid and its affiliate Northeast Justice Center express their heartfelt concern for all those throughout our community and elsewhere in the United States who endure racial injustice and discrimination or are deprived of equal opportunity or other fundamental rights.
We pledge to turn the current anguish suffered by so many into a recommitment to our principal goals–equal justice for all under law and a fair opportunity for all to enjoy the blessings of liberty.
We welcome all our clients, community partners and supporters to join with us to steadfastly pursue these goals. Thank you.
To Our PAIR Family:
PAIR’s mission is to provide justice, hope, and safety to immigrants seeking freedom and refuge in the United States.
Through our work, we are consistently confronted with the reality of racial bias, xenophobic bias, and class bias deeply embedded in our society and immigration policy. Our role as legal advocates is to empower our clients, provide access to representation to immigrants when they would otherwise have none, and fight for them to have an opportunity to live in safety.
Racism, at all levels, has denied justice, hope, and safety to black people in America. The recent killings of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police, Breonna Taylor by the Louisville Metro Police, Tony McDade by the Tallahassee Police, and Ahmaud Arbery by armed vigilantes who were not even charged until over 2 months after his murder are horrific examples among too many others.
PAIR stands in solidarity with our staff members, clients, and our communities who are speaking out about the systemic racism that communities of color face on a daily basis.
We care deeply about racial justice.
We stand against the police brutality inflicted upon our Black community.
We stand against a criminal justice system that disproportionately targets Black Americans.
We stand against the mass incarceration of communities of color.
We stand against the widespread disempowerment of Black and Brown communities.
We continue to reflect on the ways in which we can support Black and Brown communities at this time, amplify and uplift black voices, and work to dismantle white supremacy and systems of oppression.
No one can be a defender of human rights or proponent of freedom while standing on the sidelines watching others fight for racial justice. It has always been time to be an anti-racist, but the recent murders of multiple Black people at the hands of police and armed vigilantes serve as a strong reminder that now is an especially critical time for all of us to lend our voices, our resources, our leverage, our influence, our hurt, and our belief in something much better to this current struggle – to Black Lives Matter. We must propel it forward and make this definitive turning point in history.
“I can’t breathe.”
Our hearts are shattered as another black man pleads, “I can’t breathe” in the final moments of his life as he is killed by police. We are sickened by this tragedy. We are enraged at the racism and white supremacy that make this – and far too many other murders – possible.
Black Lives Matter.
We grieve and mourn George Floyd’s death, but that is not enough. We remember and honor George Floyd and the countless other black people killed, not just by police brutality but by the entrenched and pervasive racism that is the bedrock of this violence. We see the injustice in the justice system.
At the Victim Rights Law Center, we stand in solidarity with our black communities. This is not simply a statement; it is an acknowledgement of our commitment to the long-term, hard work of racial justice. We know the shared roots of racism and gendered violence run deep. We see it with the disproportionate impact of sexual violence on black, indigenous, and other people of color; economic inequities; mass incarceration; harsher prison sentencing; and impoverished access to justice.
What can we do as a nonprofit law center? We commit to using a racial equity lens in providing legal services for sexual assault survivors. We commit to centering and listening to black voices. We commit to examining privilege and power; to naming how our work combatting rape, sexual assault, and gender-based violence is inextricably linked to the battle for racial justice. We commit to working towards dismantling white supremacy. We commit to using our privilege, power, and influence to speak out, and stand up as allies. We commit to work to end the scourge of racism that infects our systems and perpetuates police violence.
We demand police accountability and justice. George Floyd. Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. Matthew Ajibade. Paterson Brown. Eric Harris. William Chapman. Walter Scott. Christopher Whitfield. Atatiana Jefferson. Botham Jean. Countless more. Say their names with us. Honor their lives. Pursue equity relentlessly. Demand justice. Take action. We cannot let their deaths be in vain.
Black Lives Matter.
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