Statement of the California Lawyers Association Criminal Law Section Executive Committee
The Criminal Law Section Executive Committee is keenly aware of this pivotal moment in the history of our nation and realizes that systemic change, reconciliation, and racial healing is needed to form a more perfect union.
We offer our sincere condolences to the family of George Floyd. But more than sincere condolences is needed to prevent further deaths of unarmed African Americans at the hands of law enforcement. Thus, we join the many diverse and powerful voices across our nation in demanding police reform and officer and departmental accountability. It is long past time to change our laws to eradicate the systemic cancer of racial discrimination.
As prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges, we have observed institutional racism and systemic inequality up close. Our Committee is comprised of people of all ethnicities, and our status as attorneys or judicial officers has not shielded us from experiencing racism and discrimination ourselves. Our members have been pretextually stopped by police. Our members have been questioned about their qualifications when entering courthouses. Our members have been told to “go back to your country.” Our members’ relatives have been victims of both police harassment and violence. The common denominator in each of these incidents was black or brown skin.
We know these issues have plagued our country for centuries, but with the proliferation of body cameras, cell phones, and the 24-hour news cycle, the nation is finally seeing it in real-time. The world is appalled, and so are we.
Despite the killings and brutality, our Executive Committee believes deeply in our criminal justice system. We recognize that most police officers are not racists or thugs. Rather, the vast majority are decent people who perform a critically important duty in protecting all of us. But wearing a badge does not provide one with license to abuse people verbally or physically, and those that do must be held accountable for their actions. The constitutional rights to due process and a fair trial must be ensured for all. A police stop should not be a death sentence.
It is long past time to reform police department practices and culture across our state and our nation. By changing use-of-force policies, demanding real accountability for misconduct, and ensuring that de-escalation becomes the norm rather than the exception, we can reimagine a system of policing built around respect, professionalism, dignity, and safety.
Our members fervently believe in the principles embodied in the Constitutions of the United States and the State of California, which ensure for every human being justice, fairness, due process and equal protection of the laws. We can no longer tolerate or ignore the threat that racial hatred and discrimination pose to these values. We can no longer curse the darkness of discrimination by ignoring it and offering condolences and empty promises afterwards.
More than forty-eight years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said:
We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.
Dr. King was assassinated exactly one year after he uttered those prophetic words. While some progress has been made in the decades since, racial injustice and unjustified police abuse persist.
We as prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judicial officers join hands not just to demand change, but to work diligently toward that change. We pledge to use our experience and unique perspective to support legislation that combats these systemic ills and to provide forums to engage, support, and educate.
Now is the time.
Executive Committee, Criminal Law Section