This reflection was originally posted on November 24, 2014, shortly after the non-indictment of Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown. My direct explanation of my disagreement with the non-indictment is posted here.
I grew up in a town that is 94.6% white. Although I was always concerned with the little guy (I did once throw a tantrum over my third-grade teacher trying to kill a bee in our classroom), racial issues were far from my mind as I went through grade school, through college, and through grad school into the workforce.
I went to law school because I thought it would be a way for me to effect change upon the education system. This is not the only cause that I believe is worth devoting your life to, but it was my issue. I knew racism was real and problematic, but I knew that other people that I thought were incredibly smart, dedicated, and passionate had a better handle on those problems. I could deal with the schools over here, and they could deal with other issues over there.
I’ve now had the opportunity to work not only directly with school leadership and in litigation directly opposed to school leadership, but also in completely unrelated fields: consumer protection, voting rights, criminal appeals. It is impossible for me, as a result of these experiences (no matter how brief they are), to conclude anything other than the following:
Race and racial bias, both implicit and explicit, are inextricably intertwined with every social cause that you can imagine. Any attempt to claim otherwise is, whether intentional or not, a perpetuation of these longstanding social structures that result in continued racial oppression and a failure to achieve justice.
“Post-racial society.” “Black-on-black crime.” “Voting rights laws are no longer needed because we have made enough racial progress.”
Remember that the success rates of prosecutors with grand juries are typically clocked somewhere between 99.5% and 99.9% at absolute minimum. (Some statistics have it as high as 99.993%, depending on what jurisdictions you look at.) Felony convictions, which are the prosecutor’s expected goal when going to the grand jury, generally affect Black men at several times the effective rate of the rest of the population (and multiple orders of magnitude more than whites).
If this seems like a disconnect to you, you’re not alone. You’re not the only person who stares at a prosecutor using defense-attorney rhetoric and can’t piece together a reasonable explanation. You’re not the only person who doesn’t understand how this can happen when equal opportunity is constantly elevated as a core principle of the country. You are not the only person who does not see justice when the buildup to a return of no true bill is a ten-minute diatribe against the people (a title, ironically, given to prosecutors in court, one that still makes me derisively laugh after having used it in court earlier today) who have stood up and taken notice of the events unfolding in Missouri and used it to kick off yet another national discussion about race, one that has persisted just a little bit longer and a little bit more deeply than anything has since at least Rodney King.
Do you know why? Because black lives matter. Although what has been done cannot be reversed, we have a duty to ourselves to see what needs changing and change it. Our job does not end with outrage. It should only just begin there.