U.S. Law and Race Discussion

Please respond to the post below and share your thoughts and views respectfully. This pertains to the George Floyd death by a white police officer and the numerous injustices suffered by African Americans throughout the years. Keep it professional. Do not put names or any information that can be disputed, debated or challenged.

For a very long time, American law was made by propertied white men exclusively, and as a result American law has deep and troubling roots in racism. From 1619 through the civil rights movement of the 1960s, American law formally enshrined white supremacy, first through slavery and then through Jim Crow. We can still read the slave codes and the judicial opinions that treated human beings as property based on the color of their skin. Indeed, the infamous 3/5 clause of Article I, Section II of the U.S. Constitution built slavery into the framework of American democracy itself. The legal system also protected racial hierarchy through purposeful inaction, by refusing to prosecute lynchings and otherwise defend black Americans’ rights.

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Even after civil rights activists won formal equality under the law, discrimination and abuse have persisted at every level of the system. Mass incarceration has ruined countless lives and inflicted severe damage on communities, even while prosecutors use their discretion to turn a blind eye to heinous crimes. Courts have shielded police from accountability for even severe abuses and undercut protections for voting rights.

Sadly, I cannot tell you that the legal system we are studying in this class is fair, just, reasonable, or honorable. I cannot tell you that American legislators always make laws with honest motives, or that courts and police always enforce the laws fairly. I cannot tell you that America has honored the Constitution’s promises of liberty and equal protection for all citizens.

But the fact that U.S. law has often been an instrument of oppression makes it all the more important to study U.S. law and know how it works. Just as a sick patient cannot be treated without an accurate diagnosis, so too the legal system needs clear-eyed and accurate diagnoses if it is to be reformed. By learning the details about how law and legal reasoning operate, we can learn how to better understand where the law is serving the American people and where it is failing them, how to offer informed critiques of the legal system, and how to exercise and protect the rights and privileges that we do possess.

The United States of America, for all its deep faults, is also capable of great good. The U.S. defeated the forces of slavery during the Civil War, and fascism during World War II. The ideals in the Bill of Rights continue to inspire people around the world and attract immigrants seeking a better life. It is still possible that we emerge from this terrible moment as a fairer, stronger nation, and I desperately hope that we will.

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