Statement from our Board of Directors
George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. Ahmaud Arbery. Rayshard Brooks. These are among the latest in a long list of names—both well known and unknown—of black Americans unjustifiably killed (even murdered) either by police or by private citizens with police acquiescence. In each case, the victim’s primary—often only—“crime” was simply being black. It’s hard to imagine a graver injustice than either being killed or murdered—often with impunity—by the very people sworn to protect you or being the victims of their callous acquiescence.
As the leaders of Legal Aid of North Carolina, a civil legal aid program dedicated to providing equal justice to the poorest, most oppressed, most disregarded and most vulnerable people in our state, justice is our watchword. It is our guiding light, our North Star—it is the concept which fuels our everyday work and it is the goal towards which we continuously strive.
Today, we confront yet another series of innocent black people being killed or murdered and the violent crackdown on those who dare protest it. As a result of these events, that goal—justice—seems farther away than ever before. As a civil legal aid program, the criminal justice system is outside our purview. Our fight for justice involves securing protective orders for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, or saving families from homelessness by fighting evictions. This is critical work, no doubt.
However, the life of our fight for justice lies also in racial justice: Unsafe housing conditions, predatory and abusive lending practices, dangerous working conditions, a school-to-prison pipeline. In our work, we see these often-fatal perils every day. They fall overwhelmingly, and heavily, on people of color.
What kind of message is being delivered to our constituency and community—half of whom are black—if we save them from a domestic abuser one day but they are killed or murdered by undisciplined, vindictive or even racist law enforcement officers the next? What dichotomy is presented when Legal Aid saves children from homelessness by defending their parents in landlord-tenant court, only to see those same innocent souls dumped into the foster care system because their parents were either killed or murdered? These injustices all serve to hinder, impede and often nullify the otherwise thoughtful, hard and arduous work which Legal Aid professionals perform each and every day.
This is intolerable. We say stop racism. We shout stop the killing. We loudly and boldly proclaim BLACK LIVES MATTER!
We stand for justice!
To paraphrase Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. slightly:
A person dies when he or she refuses to stand up for that which is right.
A person dies when he or she refuses to stand up for justice.
A person dies when he or she refuses to take a stand for that which is true.
We stand because words—including these words—are no longer enough. Speeches and statements alone, although important, have proved inadequate. Acts—actual deeds to dismantle systemic racism—are now the currency required to validate our words.
Legal Aid of North Carolina has not the power of the masses in the streets, nor the freedom to confront the system in every way—federal regulation prohibits us from political and policy advocacy, and grassroots organizing—but we have power. As a legal organization, we know how the system works, and we know how to change it. And we intend to, to the best of our ability. That is our promise.
Board of Directors,
Legal Aid of North Carolina
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Statement from our Executive Director
Every day in our work we witness lives in peril. The silent, yet invidious and persistent, racism we witness every day—every single day—in our work here at Legal Aid is lethal.
We summon the strength every single day to struggle, and it is a mighty struggle, to find answers for clients, who have the scales of racial, social, and economic justice woefully tilted against them. We ourselves are often beaten down in the process, with only intermittent and modest interludes of exhilaration to sustain us. Yet we courageously persist.
But now this.
The racism we confront on behalf of our clients has not the brutal lethality of the pistol or the chokehold, but make no mistake, it is lethal. Predatory and abusive lending, unlawful evictions, unhealthy and dangerous housing conditions, capricious bureaucracy, sexual harassment, unfair employment practices, the school-to-prison pipeline, among many others, are race-motivated and endemic. These pathologies not only deny to our minority clients equal opportunities to flourish, to raise their children in safe and healthy environments, and to work and live with dignity, they attenuate and foreshorten lives.
We all are committed to struggle. La Justicia es una lucha constante. Justice is a constant fight. These events, and the national outrage and anger, indicate that our work and the work of others are still required on the long path to fight inequality in our communities and to approach racial and economic justice.
It continues to be our duty to create the space from the adversity of injustice that our clients need to flourish, to lead lives of dignity, and to reach their fullest potential in their lives, however they may see it. We must continue to work for systemic change.
But the mighty struggle impacts each of us differently.
Over the past few days, I have heard from colleagues who are sorely disheartened, disillusioned, and literally reeling at the enormity of the abhorrent violence of late. Another unnecessary, unjust, and completely incomprehensible killing of a black person through excessive and brutal force.
Heartbreak abounds, mixed with shock and fury, for George Floyd. He joins Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Philando Castile, and too many others on a list of tragic victims of race that shows no sign of abating. And the near-tragedy of Chris Cooper, colliding with conscious white privilege in Central Park the other day.
This latest bare, haughty, and open brutality, simultaneous with lockdown and pandemic, is too much. George Floyd’s tragedy is unbearable too because the injustice he suffered is the injustice that could be waiting for each of our black clients. It mocks our quaint notion, the one that sustains us, that our daily struggles actually could make a meaningful difference in both our clients’ lives and to racial understanding and equality in our communities. It beats us down, yes. But it beats down our black and colleagues of color even more.
As a progressive organization, we are not immune from the microaggressions and implicit biases of the larger, less-enlightened, deplorable parts of society. We see ourselves as a diverse and inclusive community, flawed, but seemingly willing to find new paths. What can we do better as individuals and as an organization to bridge the racial divide? Can our practices be more purpose-driven to advance racial justice?
I am committed, as I know all our supporters are, to answer these questions.
Our dedication to justice has not wavered.
You may notice that some of our offices have had to have windows boarded up or entrances changed – but, make no mistake, across the state our offices remain open.
We are committed to continuing our work to increase access to justice, housing, health care, education and economic stability for those who struggle to make ends meet—no matter the obstacles we face.
We thank all of our supporters for helping us foster justice in our state. We ask that you continue to take care of yourselves and your loved ones during this difficult time. We each react differently to injustice but know that you are not alone in the struggle for justice and equality.
George R. Hausen Jr.,