Slavery: An Essay on Equal Justice and the Freedom to Protest
BY JACK LEVINE
Like so many members of my advocacy network, I have been absorbed by the intense level of the passionate debate focused on the violent actions perpetrated by law enforcement officers resulting in the deaths of Black men and women in our nation. While the circumstances of each fatal episode vary, one consistent reality is the tragic use of deadly force when more restrained actions might have been employed.
We should not ignore nor ever excuse the horrible abuses of power which evoke justified community outrage and demands for reform. It is important to understand that the law enforcement profession has a special obligation to be lawful. Please do not forget, however, that the great majority of law enforcement officers are decent public servants, dedicated to the safety of our communities.
Leaders in our nation, states, and communities have a duty to set clear, strict standards re: use of force, and every officer should be screened, trained, and monitored for racial prejudice to prevent tragedies. When evidence dictates, officers should be prosecuted to the full extent that the law prescribes.
In a broader view of today’s social justice debate, listening and learning are two essential activities which can bring a new understanding of how racial prejudice is an evil reality that poisons society. Peaceful exercise of our right to gather in protest and express our outrage with unjust policies or acts of injustice is a hallmark of our nation’s free speech principles since our founding.
I have been enthralled to read about the history of slavery, a brutal system of violent subjugation for economic gain which was legally practiced in our nation for more than 250 years. I was impressed to learn that the 2020 Pulitzer Prize was awarded to Nikole Hannah-Jones for her groundbreaking New York Times Magazine series exploring the legacy of Black Americans starting with the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in 1619.
In his iconic address to a gathering of some 600 abolitionists in Rochester, N.Y. on July 5, 1852, social activist Frederick Douglass posed this compelling question: “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”. This Frederick Douglass speech, portrayed here by James Earl Jones’ five-minute delivery, would be remembered as one of the most poignant addresses by Douglass, a former slave turned statesman. Douglass delivered the address on July 5, refusing to celebrate the Fourth of July until all slaves were emancipated.
For further analysis of the inequities of our nation’s historic system of injustices suffered by Black Americans, I recommend the compelling writings and legal advocacy work of Bryan Stevenson founding director of the Equal Justice Initiative. I have been captivated by the power of Stevenson’s brilliant analysis of centuries’ old precursors of today’s grossly unfair and unjustifiably punitive criminal justice system.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR – JACK LEVINE
Jack Levine, Founder