This isn’t the column I was planning to write, but given the events of the last few months, it’s the one I must.
The killing of George Floyd isn’t a singular event, and that’s the tragedy. It is but part of a continuum of tragedies steeped in racial injustice that has plagued us since before we were even a nation.
The day of his death, I was sitting on my front porch, having just finished cutting the lawn. It was perfect Memorial Day weather and a rare moment to simply sit and relax. From my perch, I could watch my neighbors and their many dogs pass by.
As I sat, two shirtless 11-year-old boys came jogging down our sidewalk. One was black, the other white. It was a happy moment, as one of them waved to me with a “Hi Uncle Larry” shout-out. I could not help but think that in just a couple of years, one of those two boys, my nephew running through our neighborhood, will be viewed very differently because he is black.
There are those who will not see the sweet little boy I know who likes to dress up as his favorite super hero or ride over on Christmas morning to show off his new bike and stay to cuddle as we open gifts. Rather, for some, they will only see a person who doesn’t fit into the scene, a potential threat, wondering what he’s doing in “our neighborhood.”
I love my niece and nephew. Their lives matter to me. All black lives matter to me. That is not a statement that denies the value of others, but a simple recognition of the enormous challenges and hurdles that – from the day my family members were born – they experience in ways far different from me as a white man.
One of my colleagues shared an analogy I had not heard before. When a house is on fire and the firetrucks rush to that house, it does not mean that the other homes on the street that are not on fire are unimportant. It just recognizes that only one house is on fire.
Over the last several weeks, several members and staff have asked what the State Bar of Wisconsin is doing. It’s a fair question. The short answer is that although we have made progress in areas such as advancing criminal justice reform legislation; diversifying the State Bar’s elected and volunteer leadership; and promoting greater diversity of voices, ideas, and images in our programming and publications, it is not nearly enough.
In the coming weeks and months, your State Bar will continue to listen, learn, and discuss. But let me be clear, we will act. There is so much more that the State Bar needs to do to address issues of institutional and systemic racism and ensure that justice in our society is truly equally applied. We need to reexamine our own actions, processes, and efforts, while at the same time using the unique expertise and perspective of the legal profession to advocate and fight for broader societal reform.
But this challenge is not to be borne only by those you have elected as officers and board members, those who volunteer, or our staff members who work for you. YOU are the State Bar of Wisconsin, and we will need your active involvement, personal commitment, and efforts.
Please visit WisBar.org/racialequity to get involved for ways you can help.
Let’s move forward together. There is much to be done.