WisBar News: 'Duty to Act:' 15 Ways to Combat Racism:

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  • WisBar News
    June
    19
    2020

    'Duty to Act:' 15 Ways to Combat Racism


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    You can combat racism with steps both large and small, say leaders in Wisconsin's legal community. Find out more about the steps you can take as a lawyer and as an individual, as well as in your firm or organization, to build and maintain momentum toward equal justice.
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    June 19, 2020 – To fight racism and institutional inequality, the path to change requires the legal community’s commitment. Lawyers “must play a stronger role” to combat systemic racism and discrimination, say State Bar leaders.

    In a recent statement, State Bar leaders called on Wisconsin lawyers to “take collective action to help right wrongs (and) play a stronger role” to combat systemic racism and discrimination.

    “Whether we realize it or not, all of us are negatively impacted by the long history and sustained legacy of oppression of Black Americans. As lawyers, we have a duty to act,” wrote State Bar President Jill Kastner, President-elect Kathy Brost, incoming President-elect Cheryl Daniels, Past President Chris Rogers, and State Bar Executive Director Larry Martin.

    What Lawyers Can Do

    Three presidents of the Wisconsin Association of African American Lawyers (WAAL), in a recent video interview, offer concrete ideas for lawyers to help effect continual change.

    “Throughout American history, lawyers have been part of every civil rights movement that has occurred,” said WAAL president Makda Fessahaye, including civil rights, women’s suffrage, and marriage equality for LGBTQ communities. “The legal community is part of these movements – in fact, it is our work that really moves the needle along.”

    According to William Sulton, WAAL president-elect, “The fight for civil and constitutional rights and equality for African Americans is not limited to African American lawyers. … Lawyers must play a bigger role than simply appearing in court.”

    “Members of the legal profession can and should implement small steps to enact change within the profession,” said Kristen Hardy, WAAL past president.

    Kristen Hardy, Makda Fessahaye, William Sulton

    The three presidents of the Wisconsin Association of African American Lawyers (WAAL), (from left) Kristen Hardy, past president; Makda Fessahaye, president; and William Sulton, president-elect, recently offered concrete ideas for lawyers to help effect continual change.

    What can lawyers do right now, short-term and long-term, to move the needle forward against racism?

    As individual lawyers:

    • Be a legal observer: Observe protests for violations of constitutional rights.

    • Offer legal help to organizations that support change.

    • Volunteer: Serve as a pro bono attorney for protestors arrested while exercising their First Amendment rights.

    • Advocate for change: Learn about priority issues and how to take action via the State Bar of Wisconsin Advocacy Network.

    • Challenge the lack of diversity in the profession, and work to improve diversity as well as inclusion.

    As a member of your firm or organization:

    • Review your organization’s leadership: What does it look like? Is it in line with your personal diversity and inclusion philosophy?

    • Watch out for passive racism. Ask: Do your black and brown employees feel supported, and are they receiving promotions within your organization on par with other employees? Are your hiring policies fair?

    • Add regular unconscious bias training for employees, and attend training with an open mind.

    • Support employee participation in protests or other activities that support equal justice.

    • Review the history of prosecutorial charges, if you work in a district attorney’s office. Is there disparate treatment in who and how defendants are prosecuted?

    As a citizen of your community:

    • Read, listen, and learn about racism and unconscious bias.

    • Be a good ally: Talk about the discrimination you witness and hold people accountable for bad behavior.

    • Support organizations combating racism as a volunteer and/or by donating money.

    • Become involved in local and state politics to boost the process of community change.

    • Exercise empathy for people of different backgrounds than you.

    “We are tired and exhausted – this is trauma for people having to experience this day in and day out over the years. Research, listen, and learn, and know we don’t have the answers for the oppression that has been put on us,” Fessahaye said.

    “Lawyers must play a bigger role than simply appearing in court,” Sulton said. “Communities need lawyers, to step outside of their usual practice areas and help people who are being abused right now by government officials.”

    “This is not a problem we’re going to end in a week, 10 years, or even 30 years. This is work we have to do every day,” Hardy said.

    Watch the Interview

    <iframe src="//www.youtube.com/embed/ryIo4y1kJ0I" width="525" height="295" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

    Three presidents of the Wisconsin Association of African American Lawyers (WAAL), in a recent video interview, offer concrete ideas for lawyers to help effect continual change.




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