I remember when, as a young lawyer, I first realized that I was more a member of a legal system than a justice system. The 800,000 police officers, 1,300,000 licensed attorneys, 1,770 federal judges and nearly 30,000 state judges spend our days determining what the law allows, what it prohibits, and how our clients can safely navigate the gray area in between.
This distinction is, in part, born of limitation. Justice challenges us to aspire to what is right. Justice demands some presence of equity – the fair balance of competing interests. It’s why the enduring symbol of justice is the scale.
In America, where we so embrace individual liberty that thousands can take to the streets to protest the wearing of facemasks even in the midst of a deadly pandemic, there is no competing interest that could ever balance the act of police officers bursting through a door and shooting a citizen while she sleeps in her own home and in her own bed. There could never be true justice for Breonna Taylor.
But when the ideal of justice is out of our reach, we look to the legal system to mitigate the harm, the pain, and the suffering. Think, for example, of a mother who loses a son to a drunk driver. Justice cannot bring back her baby – the scales will never balance. But the law can ensure that the drunk driver is imprisoned and made to pay for his crime. This is how our society can at least express its condolences to a family clearly wronged and try to prevent similar tragedies from occurring in the future.
Yesterday in Louisville was a failure of our legal system and of basic human decency. When presented with an opportunity to mitigate the harm and the suffering, to acknowledge a family clearly wronged, the system turned its back. The actions actually added insult to injury. My colleague, Sebastian Patino, shared with me a tweet: “the police were only charged for the bullets that missed.”
The grand jury decision is a hurtful rejection of the humanity of Ms. Taylor, her family, her neighbors, and by extension, so many of us. Furthermore, it was an invitation for similar conduct in the future. In a moment in time when many of us are sheltering-at-home because of COVID, our homes have never felt more vulnerable. Again, across the nation we are grieving.
We are grieving and we are hurting – hurting because what was once the numbing sounds of a dog whistle has become the piercing blare of a train horn. This week in Washington an executive order was signed to silence those who examine and seek to remedy structural racism in American history and institutions. Again, insult is added to injury as a system seeks to make invisible those who have been wronged and silence those with the audacity to call for change.
But what happens next is up to us. We can extend the dignity and respect to each other – even as it was denied by the legal system in this instance. We can take the steps to ensure the opportunity lost in Louisville is not also lost in our homes, offices, and communities.
Earlier this summer, when our nation had just witnessed the 100,000th death from COVID and the dehumanizing murder of George Floyd, I was reminded that during moments of grieving, community is needed more than ever. Community can see you when you feel invisible, and can hear you when you feel silenced. Through simple gestures, we can say “We see you, we see your pain, and the fact you’re in pain matters to me.”
Now, when our nation has just witnessed the 200,000th death from COVID and yet another reminder that some lives matter less than others, know that you matter to me, to the Partnership team, and to the entire Partnership Community. During these moments, we can never underestimate the impact of a simple gesture of community. These gestures can lift us up and keep us moving forward. So please reach out to a friend or colleague. If you’re a Partnership Alum, reach out to a member of your cohort and check-in on them. If you need to reconnect, let us know, and we’ll help you.
Please take care of each other during this moment, and if you have a friend or colleague in need of a greater community, please extend a hand and invite them to Join Us.
All the best,
Pratt N. Wiley
President & CEO