Justice for Everyone: Linda Chavez and Angela Davis - Justice for Whom?

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Linda Chavez, former staff director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights under President Reagan and a fellow at the Manhattan Institute; and Angela Davis, author and professor at the University of California-Santa Cruz, speaking recently at Hamline University’s Justice for Everyone lecture series. Both addresses are on the question, "Justice for Whom?" Larry Osness, president of Hamline University, introduces speakers.

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We are pleased to welcome to Hamline University today to distinguished Americans. Linda Chavez and Angela Davis The shop is a former White House liaison and civil rights official under President Reagan. Is currently a fellow at the Manhattan Institute. She speaks on civil rights issues across the country and writes frequently for major business and news Publications. She will speak first. Angela Davis is a well-known political activist writer organizer and the current professor of the history of Consciousness at the University of California Santa Cruz. She is the author of numerous books including a forthcoming publication on black woman's music and the shaping of social consciousness. Professor Davis is internationally recognized for her contributions to women's rights to Racial equality and World Peace. mischievous Thank you very much. President. Austin. Send thank all of you for inviting me here today. It's a particular privilege and indeed in some ways a special treat to be able to share the platform today with Angela Davis. I'm someone who grew up and whose social Consciousness was raised in the era of anti-communism. I am I reagan-era cold warrior and it is unusual in these days and age to be able to share the platform with someone who has been an activist in the Communist Party USA, even though she is no longer. We're here to talk about a very serious subject and that is racial Justice in the United States. I think we would all be fooling up ourselves. If we were to ignore the past Injustice in this Society indeed racial Injustice in American society dates back to the very beginning of this nation and it has plagued this nation for literally hundreds of years. We had Injustice not just in terms of the individual acts of one prejudiced person against another but we had institutional Injustice for most of the first 200 years of the history of this country. Racism was institutionalized not Justin Behavior, but wasn't institutionalize in our legal system up until the mid part of the twentieth century. And I think it is well to remember that and it is well to remember it when we try to diagnose our social problems today. It is not easy with an a. Of 40 years to erase the scars of hundreds of years of racial Injustice. Nonetheless, we are also a country that is dedicated and has always been dedicated to certain principles. We have not always live up to those principles in our and those ideals in the history of this nation, but the principles nonetheless have stood firm and I believe stand Us in good stead today our Constitution and most particularly in recent years are civil rights laws provide the largest broadest framework of institutional justice of any country in the entire world. We have the most comprehensive set of civil rights laws and civil rights protections of any country in the world and the largest enforcement mechanism for those civil rights laws of any country in the world. And that I think is not something to be trifled with and it is not something to be ignored. While civil rights laws are not always perfectly enforced indeed. We do have the mechanism in our society to be able to deal with Injustice when it occurs and that brings us to the discussion that in many ways was the impetus for today's discussion. And that is the Rodney King incident and more specifically the verdict handed down by a jury in California against four police officers who were accused of beating Rodney King. Now I think most of us have formed our own opinions about whether or not that verdict was a just verdict or an unjust verdict and if public opinion polls RB are to be believed those differences in opinion are not based on race most white Americans as well as most black Americans believe that Justice was not well served by the verdict in the Rodney King incident. None the less. I think we are very quick to condemn the system that produce that verdict and I believed in so condemning we raise dangerous to the future of Justice in this Society. I'm very curious and I'm going to ask you a question. How many of you watched any portion of the trial of those four officers as it was broadcast on cable television on court TV? A smattering a few I watched approximately 6 hours of that trial over the course of the last couple of weeks of the trial but interesting ly the morning after the verdict was handed down and it's the streets of Los Angeles had erupted in violence. I was on a television program called to the contrary which is broadcast on a public broadcasting system. And I was one of five panel members and I asked Mike. Hope analyst how many of them had watched any portion of that trial and not another single person on that panel had watched even 15 minutes of the trial despite the fact that it was easily available to anyone with cable television, and I found it very interesting that of those other five panelists. None of them felt any compunction about withholding judgment about the verdict despite the fact that they had not in fact meant very much time or paid much attention. And what took place in that trial room? The institution of Justice in America in the criminal justice system is based on the concept. That one is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. Now that sometimes produces anomalies in our system. And in fact many guilty people go free in the society many people who have in fact been guilty of committing crimes walk away after being judged by panel of their peers and they do so because it is the burden of the state to prove Beyond A Reasonable Doubt their guilt and it was in the Rodney King trial also the burden of the state to prove Beyond A Reasonable Doubt The Criminal Intent of those four officers in inflicting harm. Now only about I would say 10 to 15% of you raise your hands when I asked whether or not you would watch the trial, but if I were to ask the same question about the videotape my guess is it virtually every single person in this room. In fact saw the tape of at least a portion of that tape of the beating of Rodney King by those police officers. and that is the basis on which most of us in fact formed our impression But we were not in that room and we were not participant's on that jury and I don't presume today to try to justify that verdict or to retry it because I don't believe that that particular trial and its outcome is as important in the larger framework as is the system which produces furtick's a system which in the long run and in the majority of cases produces in my view at least Justice in this Society. There is racism injuries today. There is racism a long white jurors who were confronted with persons who are accused of crime to wear black and there is an occasion racism among blacks yours when confronted with persons of their own race as well as other races in the commission of crime, in fact recent studies of the verdict handed down by jury suggest that black jurors are more likely to acquit criminal defendant regardless of the race about defendant. In fact, there was a Supreme Court decision handed down last year on just that case a white criminal defendant who challenge jury selection and challenge the exclusion of black jurors because of his view he would have had a greater chance of being acquitted had more blacks been on that jury there have also been incidents in the Recent past where racism on the part of some black jurors has in fact acquitted persons who were accused of crimes who later went on to commit other crime. And in one instance that has gotten a great deal of attention in Washington DC in 1990 and all black jury acquitted a black man accused of murdering another black man, because the black for woman of that jury argued to her fellow jurors that despite and I witness to the murder this man should not be put in jail because it was not right to put yet another black man in jail. And a mistrial I ultimately resulted in that particular case that man was let out on the streets and one year later was convicted of yet another murder. So racism and race interfering with one's judgment about guilt and innocence knows no color bounds in this society and unfortunately is increasing in my view. But the question again goes back to the institution of our criminal justice system and the institutional protections that exist and whether or not a system in which the burden rests on the state to prove guilt or innocence better protect the rights of all persons in that system than any other one that we can judge. in fact Those who are let go and who are free to walk the streets again who are guilty of crime. The fact that juries are less prone today to convicted Persons Of Crime does have its racial implications and those implications have far greater problems for those who are black in the society because blacks in this Society are far more likely to be the victims of crime than are whites. Increasingly this Society is torn by violence. Not just the kind of violence. We saw in Los Angeles when all of our attention was focused on riding in the street, but the kind of violence that goes on day in and day out in our inner cities. In fact for those who think that raising the issue of crime somehow marked one as a racist. In fact, the greatest victims of crime in the society are likely to be members of racial minority groups and first and foremost black Americans homicide is today the leading cause of death among young black man. But having acknowledged that our society is torn by violence and that sometimes a criminal justice system that gives the benefit of the doubt to the guilty and sometimes allows the guilty to go free having acknowledged that that sometimes has its worst consequences for our minority communities. The question is who's to blame who is to blame for the violence and the increasing violent crime in our society? Not many would point to racism as the cause for the increasing violence in the society. And yet if one looks back in history and one examines the history of violent crime in the United States, we find that in 1965. The violent crime rate in the United States was about one-third what it is today. I don't think anyone would argue that there is more racism today. Then there was a 1965 and 1965 is not even a particularly good year 2.2 in terms of Criminal Justice statistics because criminal justice because violent crime rather had in fact been on the upswing in the 1960s. If one were to look further back to the 1940s to the 1950s or to the 1930s one would find that the rate of violent crime today is exponentially higher than it was at those periods in our history and yet again, I think few would argue. That racism was less prevalent in America of the 1930s when black men were still being lynched in the Deep South than it is today. points to Poverty as an explanation for why there is more violent crime in today's society than there has been in the past. But once again, if one looks at history, and if one looks at the statistics poverty has been declining in the United States from that. In the 1930s poverty was roughly one-third one out of three Americans lived below the poverty line during the Great Depression in 1951 out of four Americans lived in poverty. From 1965 until the late 1970s the poverty rate in the United States took a dramatic downswing since the early or late 1970s and and through the early 1980s poverty remained relatively out of plateau. There have been slight increases and slight decreases but it is remained statistically at roughly twelve to fourteen percent of the population less than half the rate it was in 1965. So poverty does not in fact offer at least out of statistical base much. Have an explanation for the increase in violent crime in this Society. If one looks throughout the social indicators the one area where there has been an increase in a social indicator that is correlated with the increase in violent crime. It has been in the dissolution of the family in the United States. in 1965 In 19 in 1965 the out-of-wedlock birth rate among black Americans with roughly one-in-four today the out-of-wedlock. Birth rates among black Americans is two out of three two out of three children in the black community are born into homes in which no father is present one out of five white children in America today are born into homes in which there is no father. Now I hear reaction to that in the crowd. But for anyone who has studied the correlation between the presents in the home of a father figure and the likelihood of criminal activity of the children born into that home. There is a direct and distinct correlation between the two children born into homes and raised in homes without a father are five times more likely to become involved in the criminal justice system that are children born into a home with two parents. It's so if we are looking for explanations the difference in crime against violent crime against individuals the kind of crime that makes our inner cities today more difficult to live in than they were at times when poverty was higher and discrimination greater than it is today. So, what's the answer? What is the answer we're talking about violent crime and it is some point later in this discussion. You will have an opportunity to ask questions, but we are talking right now about violence. We are talking right now about what it is that leads. Black children growing up in inner cities today to have less of a chance to make it to adulthood than they did during the Great Depression. And we are talking about ways in which we can come to grips with this reality. So what is the answer the answer in my view is not to stick our heads in the sand in to ignore the social problems that we face. It is not to point fingers at others when the community itself must begin to examine its own values and its own responses to this Challenge and it is most certainly not to abandon a system which provides for institutional redress of wrong. It is most certainly not to abandon the rule of law as the ideal of this Society. It is most certainly not to abandon the jury system because we do not like the outcome in particular trial. It is to provide more opportunity. But also to accept greater responsibility and if we choose to ignore this warning signal then I think we will see not only more Riots of the kind that we saw in Los Angeles, but we will see an even greater intensity of racial mistress in this society and racial fear which grip this Society our challenge is to begin to look clearly and without hesitation. At those conditions which are more likely to lead to Greater violence and to begin to come to grips with what each of us can do as individuals to help change that reality. Thank you very much. Well, of course as I sat here listening to mrs. Ms. Chavez his presentation, there were a number of points that I found myself wanting to respond to. But I think what I will do is leave that for the discussion. Because my presentation approaches the issue of Justice sub from a somewhat different vantage point. and I wanted to begin first by looking at the seeing Justice for everyone and I imagine I hope that the formulations of the theme for the program intentionally shows the word everyone as opposed to all because we're so accustomed to repeating the words with liberty and justice for all and all in that context is lost all meaning. So I've been asked to present some responses to the question Justice For Whom particularly considering the verdict last spring and the case of the police officers who beat Rodney King and remember it was a verdict in the case of police officer. That was not a verdict directed toward Rodney King and of course by the uprising in the aftermath of the verdict. As I reflected on this topic and ask myself Justice For Whom what immediately came to mind was that personification? We almost inevitably associated with Justice. The blind blinded figure holding the scales up. goddess with veiled eyes eyes that cannot see We are in the habit of insisting that Justice be blind. and I'm not suggesting that I was robbed of sight are always eyes without Vision because many visually impaired people are capable of a vision and that is far more profound than those of us who can see I want to begin with this concept of Blind Justice and the historical insistence in this country. That something should not be seen. Because if they are seen somehow they will produce disruptions and inequalities of their own accord. Which is to say that the recognition of difference is considered to be enough to produce partiality and that's too sure the process of Justice. So the question I want to pose is what is Justice afraid of seeing? Why must there be this imagined how much an IAT in order for equality to prevail? The veil that covers the eyes of Justice perhaps prevents Justice from seeing the Hue of a person's skin the texture of her agenda the trappings of wealth or poverty signs of her possible sexual orientation. Does Blind Justice amount to color blindness gender blindness class blindness sexual blindness? Is it an order that the person? Who is to be the recipient of Justice Be Imagined as a well-to-do straight white male? But then of course, it may be the case that the veil covering the eyes of justice is a pagan. So that it covers the eyes of justice so that we do not see the eyes so that we cannot see behind the bed so that we do not see the hidden workings of the system so that we are led to believe that all of us regardless of race class gender sexuality will be treated equally but then Justice knows and see and indy discriminates. What I want to suggest is that perhaps this Paradigm of a blind Justice is seriously flawed. Because in fact we can be seen. And as a matter of fact we deserve to be seen. I'd like to address some of those blind places in our society that deserve to be seen. I'm considering the fact that recently. law was overturned here in this area that how to do with hate crimes I want to address the issue of hate violence. Which until very recently was not even considered important enough to deserve a name. This is 1992. And I'd like to look at the significance of this year. Course, it's the year of a presidential election. As Murphy Brown has informed us. and that's a very interesting discussion about the new and more creative ways that family configurations or develop because families have had a particular configuration in a particular culture does not mean that this is to be acknowledged as the Necessarily dominant family form a matter of fact in African American families. We've never had nuclear families. Families of always been creatively constructed with one or two or three or four or five parents. and with play mothers and play fathers and other mothers and and so to suggest that the family structure is the root of our very serious social problems is I think somewhat problematic but 1992 is not only the year of a presidential election. It is also the year in which the majority of people in this country are being summoned to celebrate the quincentennial of the arrival of Columbus's crew in the Americas. As a matter of fact 1992 is a year Laden with historical significance for many of our communities. The 500 years since Columbus has invasion. It's actually the 50th anniversary of the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. It is the 10th anniversary of the murder of Vincent chin. And if you aren't aware of the significance of some of the events, I suggest that you do some research. And if you allow me to interject a little bit of my own personal history is the 20th anniversary of my own acquittal on charges of murder kidnap and conspiracy. And of course people insisted that Justice was done in my case and I ask myself will you know, what were those? Many many months in solitary confinement about and the years that that that I lost from my life having to deal with the charges that were raised against me, but of course, I was found not guilty the system work and Justice was done. But returning to the theme of historical anniversaries, they they often shopping out the consciousness of contemporary history, which is in the process of constituting itself, but I remember 1976 which was the bicentennial of the American Revolution. For those of us who are old enough to have been around and conscious and politically aware doing that. There was one image that seemed to capture the hypocrisy of celebrating the so-called Triumph of democracy a white man, assaulting a black man using an enormous American flag as weapon the flag of the colonialist and the slave became a murderous. Go back and look at the newspapers of that. You will see that image everywhere and 1992 as the so-called discovery. Of America is celebrated when who was discovered was Columbus? He lost Columbus was discovered. by the inhabitants of this continent but Leonard Peltier who was a descendant of the original inhabitants of this land is well into his second decade in prison Norma Jean. It's in prison. During the last 18 months in the state of California. The Japanese-American Citizens for justice has recorded more than 80 reports of hate violence and harassment. and although I don't have the particular figures for Minneapolis think I know that the Supreme Court struck down design two people in the process of achieving Justice and of course Clarence Thomas who was confirmed in 1992. Took sides with the forces that voted down the hate crimes what in it? Gay and lesbian bashing has reached unprecedented. anti-semitic violence violence against Jews and violence against Arabs has risen dramatically. Roe v. Wade is being gradually eroded by Supreme Court decisions, which send a message out to organizations like operation rescue to forcefully prevent women from exercising their Reproductive Rights. These are some of the things that don't seem to get seen. These are some of the things that don't seem to count within the system of justice as it exists in the United States of America. 1992 of course is the year of the south-central uprising in response to the verdict absolving the police of responsibility and the Rodney King beating. And what is the meaning of that verdict? And what is the meaning of that Uprising Uprising was not produced by the verdict? That verdict was the to use a cliche the straw that broke the camel's back. Anything could have served as a catalyst is also remember the black community Central Los Angeles. 40% of those who were arrested Wichita nose and Latinos And I wonder why that situation has been constructed as a black white situation. And black people's relationship to other. People of color and we are commonly called minorities, which I resent. because if we use the concept of race, which is itself A and ideology and a concept produced by racist ideology the notion that all of the peoples of the world can be divided into a certain number of races. I mean, we have cultures and ethnicities, but I know I have racism exists, but I have no problems with the racialization. of our society and relationships between peoples of color or African-Americans and other people of color have been constructed as antagonistic the Black versus the Korean situation. When as a matter of fact many black and Korean people have worked together and constructed. Add at the same time. We do not interpret the Rodney King beating in a way that reflects the history of hate violence not only in the black community, but any other communities that share a similar history of brutal State instigated. Snapper haps like justice, we ourselves have been blinded. Activist around the Rodney King case need to talk about the police beating in San Francisco of Dolores Huerta. Who is a longtime leader of the Farm Workers Union with Cesar Chavez? And I didn't hear anything in the news reported around the verdict surrounding the Rodney King beating of the police Invasion and beating of a Samoan family that had gathered to celebrate a wedding in Los Angeles. The police were told that there was noise. And there are racist stereotypes of some more that's being large and violent. I saw video tapes. which were actually partially shown on television of the police disrupting this wedding and brutally beating women and men were the police killing of two Samoan brothers that poopy in Italian to a lady in Los Angeles around the same time, Samoan community and I want to know why Certain kinds of things are privileged over others. Even if we are willing to recognize all the various manifestations of hate violence. We tend to look at it as a problem that will be eventually eliminated by our present system our not mine their system of justice. By the laws and by those who enforce the laws and therefore we do little to expose the role of the police in legitimizing and perpetrating the role of the state. in perpetrating and perpetuating hate violence I'm considered sometimes this is what people called me a veteran activist. I mention this because I was one of the many young people and older people over two decades ago who tried to push the campaign against racist anti-semitic 8 anti-semitic instigated violence is about two decades ago. And of course eventually as our analysis of hate violence, that's what we came to call hate violence develop. We recognize that there were many other forms of bias related violence misogynist homophobic violence. And so we began to demand that there be prosecution of crimes as racist anti-semitic homophobic homophobic massage for example should not lead to a prosecution of the Ku Klux Klan for burning without a permit. Which is the way it used to happen when there were indeed prosecution's those were the laws that were applicable? Eventually, of course like Minneapolis-Saint Paul many cities and states will pressure to formulate specific ordinances and laws. But once these laws were passed it seems that many of us relinquish them to the state as if the law enforcement structure in and of itself would assume the responsibility of identifying. Hey Violet bringing the perpetrators of hate violence to trial and then eventually eliminated There has not been a single prostitution of a policeman a woman under any of the existing hate crime laws anywhere in the country. It's a matter of fact the relationship of the police do these laws is to enforce them? I wonder why when the Rodney King beating occurred why no one had the idea of perhaps investigating the possibility of Prosecuting the police under the bay neck, which is the hate crimes law in California the state hate crimes law. For one I think it's about our failure those of us who consider ourselves Progressive people to try to build on the victories that we have one. It's about the extent to which the structure of state power still mystified. In the United States of America state power a rose out of the genocide of violence inflicted upon the indigenous people in the Americas. beginning with the Columbus invasion in 1492 native people continue to suffer the brutality of State hate State hate violence. when a white civilian what police officer assaults a Native American and ask people who have had who live in areas with reservations are surrounded by communities that have a tradition of assaulting native people. When a white civilian assault a Native American the genealogy of that violence goes back to the government. And so there's a difference between the Native American person this liking the white person. assaulting a perhaps attempting to assault that person because the Native American person does not have a whole state structure behind him or her When a white person or an Asian person or black person has no problems talking about the Washington Redskins or the Atlanta Braves and most of us use those words without even thinking about the implication don't we tell the truth? Don't we don't we I know it had to be called to my attention. Even though I was aware of the racism inherent in the term. I had not yet learned how not to save Washington Redskins without feeling very angry A Native American person said to me while how would you like it? If the name of that team where say you know the Washington black skins? Or the Washington Zulus. How would you feel? So what I'm suggesting is it perhaps we can come together around this. But I'm suggesting that power. We'll have to rise out of processes of empowering ourselves and we could not depend on the state. I'd like to end with I'd like to end with a passage of few words written by a man by the name of Robert Allen Warrior who is a Native American activist here in Minnesota. I recently read an anthology call without discovery, which is anthology of writings reflecting native people's responses to Columbus. And he said after five centuries Indian people are still here resisting and surviving and whatever ways we can The year 1992 can be a time for all of us Indian and non-indian to begin learning how to be in solidarity with each other mutually empowering our struggles for justice and peace if we stand together in defiance of the self-congratulatory celebrations, perhaps we can see the way towards standing together and constructive Praxis respect and hope for all Humanity. Thank you.


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