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MLRI Statement on Systemic Racial Injustice

Hello everybody, 
 
I'm writing to pass along the statement of Georgia Katsoulomitis, MLRI's Executive Director, on the murder of George Floyd, and the systemic racial injustice and oppression that has plagued our country since its inception. 
 
As Georgia says, words are not enough, we must "back those words with concrete actions to bring about systemic reforms that dismantle racist policies." This is especially true in the health advocacy work that we do. We know that racial injustice is a social determinant of health; continued police violence against Black people and Coronavirus' disproportionate impact on communities of color are just some of the latest undeniable proofs of that fact. There is much that we can and must do to advocate for change (see this report from FamiliesUSA), and we look forward to working alongside you to dismantle the impact of racial injustice and inequity in health.  
 
 
Georgia Katsoulomitis' statement:  
 
 

The Deadly Plague Destroying Our Nation


A deadly disease has infiltrated our nation and will slowly destroy us unless and until it is addressed and eradicated. This disease has, for well over 200 years, destroyed countless lives, killed countless people, diminished our moral fiber, and degraded the founding principles of our nation. It is a disease that cannot be cured by a vaccine, but rather by conscience and action.

 

The disease is called racism.


Here is a very hard and painfully difficult truth: The United States has lost any moral authority to condemn human rights violations in other countries because our own nation is, and has been, violating human rights for a very long time.

There are many examples of how we have failed:
  • the killing and targeting of unarmed Black and Brown men and women
  • the ravages and glaring consequences of decades of institutionalized racism and economic disenfranchisement in communities of color (that have become glaringly apparent during the Covid-19 pandemic)
  • the incarceration of Black and Brown men and women based on an unfair, racist criminal justice system
  • the demonization of immigrants
  • the detention of immigrant children in cages and in deplorable conditions
  • the general contempt, lack of compassion or understanding for people living in poverty
And there are, sadly, many more examples.

As a nation, and individually, we must take a hard look in the mirror and ask: Are we proud of ongoing, unabated injustice? And are we living up to our foundational values as a nation based on fairness and equal justice for all? The answer is no.

This is not a partisan issue. No one has clean hands. Racism did not suddenly materialize in 2017 when the current administration took office. Neither did xenophobia or disregard for the lives of poor people or any of the long list of societal plagues that have haunted us for decades. As many have said: the intolerance of the Trump Administration is not the cause, but rather a glaring symptom of longstanding, underlying societal biases that have now come to the surface.

The tragic murder of George Floyd, the most recent in a long line of tragedies, injustices and indignities suffered by Black men and women, has mobilized our nation. That is because people of conscience, regardless of race, can no longer simply proclaim “outrage, dismay, disgust, horror, sadness, shock” when ongoing acts of racial injustice occur – because words without actions are meaningless. Words alone never cured a disease. Silence in the face of injustice is complicity.

Implicit systemic racist policies have infiltrated a range of public policies – from housing to criminal justice to health care access – and so many more. Our words of outrage ring hollow and are meaningless unless they are backed by initiatives and actions that dismantle policies that result in inequity and injustice.

For many years, legal aid programs, social justice advocates, civil rights organizations, and community activists have done the important work of highlighting how incidences of injustice are much more than just isolated events but are instead indicative of systems that defend abuse and oppression (and also protect the abusers and oppressors).

Part of that oppression is poverty. Decades of explicit discriminatory laws and policies and implicit racial biases embedded in laws, policies and practices have resulted in the denial of rights and opportunities that have kept communities of color in conditions of poverty. As a poverty law program, MLRI recognizes that poverty and systemic racial injustice go hand in hand, and we cannot meaningfully address one without the other. The legal aid community has a long tradition of fighting for and together with vulnerable and marginalized communities – and we have a critical role and a special obligation to identify, address and end the implicit bias and institutionalized racism that has poisoned and influenced our social and public policy.

We call upon all people who claim to stand for, fight for, believe in justice – whether labeled as “progressives” or “conservatives” or anything else – to live up to our nation’s promise of justice. The path forward is to acknowledge and face our societal failings, to listen to communities that have been devastated by racism and understand their pain, frustration and anger – and to work together productively to advance a policy agenda of equity and fairness.

Words alone never eradicated a disease. The disease of racism has plagued our nation for many decades. It is time to collectively and finally say that we will not tolerate racial injustice any longer – and to back those words with concrete actions to bring about systemic reforms that dismantle racist policies. 

MLRI stands in solidarity with, and will continue to fight alongside with, our legal aid, community-based, civil rights, human rights and other organizational partners – and with all people who believe in our nation’s foundational value of “justice for all” and seek to eradicate the plague of racism in our Commonwealth and in our nation.  

We have a lot of work to do.  Let’s get to it.

In solidarity,
Georgia Katsoulomitis
Executive Director
Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (MLRI)

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