Several days ago, I published a brief statement on Illinois Lawyer Now that has resulted in substantial response from our members. Several nights ago, we as a nation viewed federal troops in uniform clearing out peaceful demonstrators in Washington D.C. As an ISBA President who has focused on the rule of law and the legal process, I felt a statement was important. The focus of that statement missed the mark in a number of important ways. For that reason, I apologize. It is important that a few additional words be said, which go to the heart of our values as an association focused on justice.
The shocking and brutal death of George Floyd on camera, at the hands of a police officer sworn to serve and protect life, has shocked our nation to its core. For some of us, it has brought up old wounds that date back decades and indeed centuries. For others, such as myself, it has underscored a point of reference to understand that which is not part of my individual experience and does not get enough mention: that minority communities are too often treated unequally at the hands of the law.
My agenda as President has been to focus on the “rule of law.” This cherished principle, however, becomes merely a truism when those charged with enforcing the law―police officers, lawyers, judges, or politicians―fail their duty. Too often the “rule of law” is slanted in favor of some, at the expense of others. This must change. The tragic and senseless death of Mr. Floyd must not be in vain. Now is the time for us to heal, listen, and learn. Let’s have the long overdue conversations.
As an association, the ISBA has in the past several years pushed forward on diversity initiatives, policies, civil rights, mentoring, and avenues for further inclusion. We have made much progress, and yet it is not enough. Institutional racism will not be dismantled by policies alone. Surely, we cannot and should not erase or ignore the wrongs and oppression of three hundred years. What we must do as a society is use this important moment in history to listen to each other with hearts of empathy and understanding. We must use this time to find common purpose in creating a spirit, a society and an ideal that fulfills the ideals of our Constitution, in its best sense. As lawyers in Illinois, as judges in Illinois, and as citizens in our communities we have a choice: We can move on to the next item of business or we can start the process of real change, individual to individual, one conversation at a time.
I am challenged, and I challenge our new Illinois State Bar Officers, Board of Governors and our 29,000 member not to move on, but to recognize what is wrong, what is unequal, what is racist, and, most importantly, what is needed. We must for our society. Former President George Bush in his recent statement called upon each of us to go “the way of empathy, and shared commitment, and bold action, and a peace rooted in justice.” We all must do better, myself included. This is the better way.
Finally, a quote from Martin Luther King is all that needs to give us guidance:
“The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
David B. Sosin