Letter: All are not equal under the law
All are not equal under the law
I would like to respond to the comments of Melanie Sturm appearing in the July 18 edition of The Aspen Times (“Genuine justice goes beyond ‘Justice for Trayvon,’” commentary).
In short, Sturm believes that race was an irrelevant factor in the murder of Trayvon Martin and the subsequent acquittal of George Zimmerman. To punctuate her point, she quotes President Kennedy: “Race has no place in American life or law.”
Sturm has missed the boat; she also missed the entire rest of Kennedy’s speech. The quote she used as justification for race being separate from law was taken out of context. The speech, from JFK’s Civil Rights Announcement of 1963, was in response to the forced desegregation of the University of Alabama and the necessary presence of the Alabama National Guardsman required to carry out the order. Kennedy’s following speech implored citizens to understand how deeply entrenched racism is, not only in our society but also in the laws that are used to up-hold our society.
The quote that Sturm misused actually began like this: “Next week I shall ask the Congress of the United States to act, to make a commitment it has not fully made in this century to the proposition that race has no place in American life or law. The federal judiciary has upheld that proposition in the conduct of its affairs, including the employment of federal personnel, the use of federal facilities, and the sale of federally financed housing.”
Not only was Kennedy acknowledging that race is embedded in American life and law, but he was spelling out all the ways in which our justice system discriminates on the basis of race. Fifty years ago, the president of the United States was urging those in power to understand that part of the reason they enjoyed such privileges was due to their access to education, socioeconomic upbringings, opportunities in the workforce, ability to buy and finance a house and the ability to use a decent restroom — all of which were possible because of the color of their skin. We still live in a racially diverse and racially segregated country, with a violent and oppressive history of discrimination on the basis of race. It is because of this that our justice system must acknowledge this history but also place laws that prevent such discriminations from happening.
Just last month the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which required federal approval for changes to voting rules. Hours after this ruling, both Texas and Alabama said they would enact a new voter ID law which was previously blocked by the Voting Rights Act as it discriminated against African-American and Latino voters. It was after this decision by the Supreme Court that George Zimmerman was found not guilty of the shooting of unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
I urge us all not to be surprised by the ruling of the state of Florida and the Supreme Court’s decision. Those decisions are a result of embedded racial discrimination within our society and within our justice system. It is a mistake to think that the children we are raising in the Roaring Fork Valley are growing up in the same world Trayvon Martin lived in. The only way we can stop being “surprised” at the results of Zimmerman’s trial and the Voting Rights Act is if we acknowledge that race is still very much paramount within the American identity.
If we wish to not undo what began fifty years ago, we need to educate this next generation as well as ourselves to this point: avoiding the discussion of race erodes our understanding of law and of society. We must embrace and fully acknowledge our prejudices before we can expect to live in a country where “all are equal under the law,” because equality under the law is the goal, it is not our reality.
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