From: Bharati Narumanchi
Sent: Tuesday, August 13, 2013 12:48 PM
To: ALAA MEMBERS
Subject: ACLA Statement on the ALAA emails regarding Trayvon Martin
The Attorneys of Color of Legal Aid (ACLA) was founded in 1990 by staff attorneys of color from all practice areas to address the dismal record of hiring and the retention of attorneys of color throughout Legal Aid. As a caucus of ALAA, we sit on the Executive Board, and actively participate in contract negotiations and other union issues. Our members also participate in community trainings, outreach and educational seminars.
We are aware of the many injustices our clients endure in society because we have experienced them firsthand. We stand against this in our work, and we are proud to work alongside our colleagues who recognize this struggle and fight with us.
The Zimmerman verdict was a legal and moral failure. And many of us have felt disheartened and disappointed regarding the existence of the type of laws that allowed an armed George Zimmerman to pursue and kill an unarmed 17-year old Trayvon Martin and to use deadly force without retreating. As people who work in the public sphere, we are keenly aware of the overwhelming disparities in the legal system that are predicated on race. Communities of color deal with a troubling duality — the over-enforcement of laws in their community as well as the under-enforcement of laws when it comes to victims who are people of color.
Historically, attorneys of color within Legal Aid have faced racism within this organization. In the past, we have been kept from promotions, certifications, and have often dealt with a hostile work environment.
Many people of color at Legal Aid felt that the ALAA emails that were circulating among fellow union members were insensitive and disrespectful. The email discussion created an environment where attorneys of color felt alienated by a lack of respect for our experiences. The email communications left many of the attorneys of color, and particularly newer attorneys of color, feeling silenced and left with anger, confusion, and a deeply sincere sense of pain.
The labeling of a dead, unarmed child, Trayvon Martin, as a “thug” or “trouble-maker,” and the viewing of an armed adult, George Zimmerman, as a “victim” demonstrates how laws and facts have historically been misapplied and misconstrued when race is a factor, especially when men of color are involved. We were deeply saddened to see some of these racist beliefs echoed in some of the emails circulated within ALAA.
For many attorneys of color, Trayvon Martin’s death was deeply personal. Trayvon Martin’s death evinces a historic, continued victimization and devaluation of the lives of the members of our community – a devaluation that began with our ancestors and continues today. These disparities are not only an affront to justice and an embarrassment to the legal profession, but they directly effect our brothers, sons and fathers – our families.
As ALAA members, we call for ALL to stand with us and change the culture within ALAA. Our vision for the Legal Aid Society is to have a positive environment that rejects the dominant messages that society sends of racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia. We seek to destroy that paradigm within ALAA as well, and we hope that by doing so, we will create a space that is truly egalitarian.
We hope that as brothers and sisters within this union that you will help us fight against injustice within the Legal Aid Society. We will continue to lead this fight, but we call on our colleagues to take a stand with us to continue to promote an inclusive environment at the Legal Aid Society.
ACLA therefore calls for anti-racism training for all attorneys at the Legal Aid Society. The Society conducts important and necessary trainings for staff which raise awareness about the needs of diverse populations we serve, and a comprehensive anti-racism training should become one of the mandatory staff trainings. Therefore, we call on our colleagues to join us in demanding a mandatory anti-racism training for all Legal Aid Society staff.
We hope that you will stand in solidarity with us.
The Attorneys of Color Caucus