Justice for all Americans

Larry Sutton Contributing columnist

March 2, 2014

When it comes to the issue of race and justice in America, there is no doubt that we have made great strides in becoming a “more perfect union,” acknowledging that we, as a nation, have taken many steps in the right direction. Those of you my age and older have lived through some critical years of the American experience, being an eyewitness to history in the making. We know what progress has been made, realizing that America’s promise of true equality and equal justice remains “a glass half-full,” as the American journey continues, seeking justice for all Americans.

As a society, after considering where some people live, how they look, how they dress, we sometimes view them as having less value, as Americans who don’t count as much. We tend to forget that America’s history has evolved from all demographic groups, enriching each other.

Still, we have some extreme conservatives who want us to believe that violence is natural among certain racial minorities, “framing” them as violent thugs. The most recent example of that sad reality, which captured the national spotlight, was the trial of Michael Dunn vs. the state of Florida, involving Jordan Davis, the 17-year-old African-American who was fatally shot following an argument over loud “thug music.” The adult behavior exhibited by 47-year-old Michael Dunn should be alarming to all of us, pointing out the sins of intolerance and indifference.

Going forward, it’s time we start to value each life equally as important as the next. For some of us, that may require more attention to be given to what goes on in our minds, making sure we are free of any social, racial and class biases. Many things that plague our community today are symptoms of a problem that is rooted in our nation’s history — racism, which didn’t just grow out of the soil.

One hundred thirty-one years ago, on April 16, 1883, while commenting on race and justice, civil rights activist Frederick Douglass declared, “Justice is often painted with bandaged eyes …, but a mask of iron, however thick, could never blind American justice, when a black man happens to be on trial.”

Just forty-nine years ago, the August 1965 special issue of “Ebony” first published in book form in 1966, stated, “the white American created, invented the race problem and that his fears and frailties are responsible for the urgency of the problem.”

Today, we are still having to address racial disparities in our criminal justice system, with our minority citizens believing they often get a different kind of “justice.” These disparities exact a heavy price and have a profound impact on the lives they touch, stigmatizing one for life in the areas of employment, housing, education, public assistance, jury duty and the right to vote.

Being an eyewitness to the last 63 years of history, I grew up with a healthy skepticism and an awareness of the systemic racial inequality in the nation’s justice system, being that it was discussed around dinner tables, in local barbershops and in the churches on Sunday. And I have witnessed black parents discussing basic rules of “survival” with their young sons, helping them to stay alive.

Lastly, there is still a great need for reconciliation, dialogue and healing, ensuring that we will continue to make progress on the question of race and justice, while continuing to develop bonds of community.