Dated: Tuesday, April 20, 2021
Dear Law School Community,
Like many of you, I anxiously awaited the verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin today. I now have cried tears of relief, and I expect that more are to come. As I type this message my heart is still beating rapidly and my hands are unsteady. I imagine that many of you are feeling the same way, especially our Black students, faculty, and staff. Many of my friends reacted to the verdict in disbelief. I, however, could not bear to conceive of the verdict going any other way than it did. I could not prepare my heart or my mind for the message a different verdict would have sent to the world—to me. I will pause for some time to appreciate this historic moment—to try to comprehend fully its significance.
As we readied ourselves for the verdict and as significant as it is, we know that the outcome does not change the ongoing need for racial justice and the need to re-imagine our institutions through an antiracist lens. Though we appropriately pause today, we must not sit back and rest on this verdict. Instead, we should accelerate our work.
As members of the legal community, we have a unique, important role to play. As I tell students at orientation, with this education comes great power and with that power comes great responsibility. We have responsibility to help transform biased systems and spark meaningful, widespread, and lasting change. We can identify and amplify strategies that have already begun to advance racial justice in our policies, institutions, and culture. We must reject the fallacy that punitive and even deadly law enforcement is the only response vulnerable communities deserve. For example, more cities are exploring models found in Eugene, Olympia, and Denver—public safety models that send civilian responders, not police, to mental health calls. Law enforcement is trained to respond in limited ways. We know that the human condition requires much more than the limited tools they possess.
What we do in these next few weeks, months, and years will shape the kind of society that we will pass down to future generations. The murder of George Floyd and the recent news of preventable police violence (e.g., Daunte Wright, Matthew Williams, Adam Toledo) remind us that these tragedies are part of a larger pattern. More of us are finally becoming aware of the systemic issues at play and waking up to the reality that justice is not served equally. We are re-committing to work towards equity and now taking steps to dismantle white supremacy within our respective communities and organizations. Together, we are pushing outside our comfort zones, building new muscles, and finding our voices to help change our society.
While the scope of this challenge is immense, we draw hope and resilience from past generations that our collective action can make new realities possible. And, the work we do now to improve our current processes and institutions need not impede or distract from the work needed to create anew and re-imagine the larger systems in place. Ultimately, we must strive to build a world where race no longer predicts life outcomes for people. With those sighs and cries of relief, let us start from where we are and move forward, as this work needs all of us.
Marcilynn A. Burke
Dean | Dave Frohnmayer Chair in Leadership and Law