Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Martyrs to Decency

On April 29, I posted a blog about an organization in New York City that was training citizens on how to respond if they see citizens being accosted on account of race, religion, etc.  In that post,

I quoted the organization doing the training:

But before you speak up, Brandt says it's important to stay level-headed. Then, figure out what's the safest way to take action.[1]

On May 26, an alleged white supremacist was harassing two young Muslim girls on a commuter train when at least three other passengers intervened to protect the girls. The harasser, 35-year-old Jeremy Joseph Christian of North Portland, stabbed the three men, killing two – an army veteran and a recent college graduate.  The two are being hailed as heroes – a reminder this Memorial Day weekend that while all men and women who wear the uniforms of our military services are heroes, but not all heroes wear military uniforms.

Ricky John Best, age 53, who died at the scene; and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche, 23, who died later in the hospital, can be described as martyrs to decency, humanity and respect.

Isn’t it sad that in our society we have martyrs to decency?

I have written a couple of times about moral courage, encouraging all of us to exercise this moral muscle in case we are faced with a situation that would call for action.  The incident in Portland reminds us that exercising moral courage can be risky.  So, I’m adding the five “D’s” of Bystander Intervention:[2]

1.    Direct – Is it safe/advisable to directly confront the harasser?
2.    Distract – Ignore the harasser. Engage the target, without reference to the harassment – ask for directions/time/etc.
3.    Delegate – Find person of authority.  Make report, if safe for yourself and the target.
4.    Delay – If you can’t act in the moment, you can still contact the victim later, expressing sorrow, support, assistance.
5.    Document – If someone else is already using one of the first four D’s, you can record the incident.  But be sure you and the target are safe before doing so.  Be sure to have the target’s permission before sharing the recoring.

I encourage you to read the article in the footnote below.

And, let’s remember the families of Ricky John Best and Taliesin Meche in our prayers. 

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Race Bias Task Force Dedication

In 1993, The Minnesota Supreme Court Task Force on Racial Bias in the Judicial System issued its final report.  It was dedicated to United States Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, who had died just a few months before the report was issued.  The dedication was important to read then, and its message is just as important to us today.  It is reprinted below.[1]

Justice Thurgood Marshall

The death of Justice Thurgood Marshall saddens and diminishes us all. The passing of this great Justice, lawyer, and man, has left a tremendous void in the struggle for equal justice in the law.

No one can deny that Justice Marshall was the greatest lawyer of the Twentieth Century. As an attorney, to a greater extent than any single member of his profession, he knocked down the racist walls of segregation in American society. As Justice on the United States Supreme Court, he was the champion of the rights of the excluded and oppressed.

Justice Marshall was America’s great Constitutional watchdog, insisting that this nation live up to its most sacred principles.

Justice Marshall is a constant reminder to all of us that we must continue to create institutions that make the principles of our Constitution meaningful in the lives of ordinary citizens.

In that spirit, the Task Force adopts Justice Marshall’s July 4, 1992 challenge to America:

“I wish I could say that racism and prejudice were only distant memories. .. and that liberty and equality were just around the bend. I wish I could say that America has come to appreciate diversity and to see and accept similarity.

But as I look around, I see not a nation of unity but of division – Afro and white, indigenous and immigrant, rich and poor, educated and illiterate.

Even many educated whites and successful Negroes have given up on integration and lost hope in equality. They see nothing in common – except the need to flee as fast as they can from our inner cities.

But there is a price to be paid for division and isolation, as recent events in California indicate. Look around. Can’t you see the tension in Watts? Can’t you feel the fear in Scarsdale? Can’t you see the alienation in Simi Valley? The despair in the South Bronx? The rage in Brooklyn?

We cannot play ostrich. Democracy cannot flourish amid fear. Liberty cannot bloom amid hate. Justice cannot take root amid rage. . . . We must go against the prevailing wind. We must dissent from the indifference. We must dissent from the apathy. We must dissent from the fear, the hatred and
the mistrust. We must dissent from a government, that has left its young without jobs, education, or hope. We must dissent from the poverty of vision and the absence of moral leadership. We must dissent because America can do better, because America has no choice but to do better.

The legal system can force open doors, and, sometimes, even knock down walls. But it cannot build bridges. That job belongs to you and me.

We can run from each other, but we cannot escape each other. We will only attain freedom if we learn to appreciate what is different and muster the courage to discover what is fundamentally the same. Take a chance, won’t you? Knock down the fences that divide. Tear apart the walls that imprison,
Reach out; freedom lies just on the other side.”

[1] To see the full report, including the dedication, click here. 

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Implicit Bias

For years, the Minnesota Supreme Court has supported its Committee for Justice and Equality, as well as the Supreme Court Task Force on Racial Bias in the Judicial System.  For over 25 years, the courts of Minnesota have formally studied and debated its mission to ensure equal justice to all who appear before them. 

The Courts have, more or less successfully,[1] addressed overt racism and bias.  It has now turned its attention on implied bias.  At our 2016 Fall Judges Conference, we were presented with a session on Implied Bias. 

The session asked us all to recognize that each one of us has biases, explicit and implicit.  We need to understand the cultural and biological influences on our decision-making:  How might our implied, perhaps unrecognized, bias impact our decision making?  Finally, we were asked to identify strategies that could reduce the impact of bias on our decision making.

Explicit bias is a conscious preference (which may be positive or negative) for a social category.  Implicit bias is such a preference that operates outside of our awareness – like stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination. 

We were told about the Implicit Attitude Test, which is available to anyone to test their implied biases.[2]

The Mission of the Minnesota Judicial Brand is ““To provide justice through a system that assures
equal access for the fair and timely resolution of cases and controversies.”   To that end, a Judicial Council Policy provides, “In support of the fundamental principle of fair and equitable treatment
under law, the Minnesota Judicial Branch strives to eliminate from court operations bias that is based on race, gender, ethnicity, age, disability, socioeconomic status, religion, sexual orientation and any other status protected by law.”

Which all sounds good, but each judge knows that how that policy is implemented in his or her courtroom is his or her responsibility.

We judges were given a Bench Card to keep with us as we preside in Court, to remind us of the lessons learned in our session on implicit bias.  We were given specific ideas on how to guard against implicit bias in our work in three general areas:  Act Consciously and Deliberately; Be Self-Aware; and Create Processes to Serve as a Check on Unintended Bias.

Presiding in Court or participating in society, these are good lessons for each of us to keep in mind. 
For more information on implicit bias, check out the website at The Ohio State University:  http://kirwaninstitute.osu.edu/research/understanding-implicit-bias/

[1] For a really good and interesting discussion of the power and the pitfalls of implicit bias and snap judgments, see Malcolm Gladwell, Blink: The Power Of Thinking Without Thinking
[2][2] To learn more about this test, and participate yourself, go to https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/demo/