Apr 22

The Fight for Justice

by Sargent Shriver Peace Institute | 04/22/2021 4:32PM


Our Quote of the Week reminds us that to bring about justice in our systems and in our communities, we must act from the top down AND from the bottom up. In other words, it is up to all of us to bring about a just society.

Sargent Shriver spoke these words in Montgomery, Alabama on April 28, 1973, in an address entitled "In the Wake of Watergate: A Return to Justice". He made this appearance during a period of instability and uncertainty for the country. In addition to the public's growing mistrust in our political leaders and a democratic crisis, the country was experiencing a backlash to the civil rights gains of the 1960s and was dealing with the aftermath of the Vietnam war. In a fiery speech that addresses all of these issues, Sargent Shriver encouraged his audience to pursue what he called "the American strategy": justice and equality in the courts and also "in the schools, on the streets and farms, and in the neighborhoods of this nation."

It must be said that this is a strategy Shriver worked hard to implement throughout his career: to create stability by ensuring that all of us, particularly our most vulnerable brothers and sisters, could have the opportunity to live a safe, prosperous life on our own terms. It is a strategy on which the institutions that uphold Sargent Shriver's legacy are built: the agencies of Head Start, Community Action, VISTA, and organizations such as the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law. Rooted in Sargent Shriver's work on the War on Poverty and poverty law, these institutions continue to provide access to justice and opportunity in underserved communities. And they continue to provide examples that we can follow in our own pursuit of justice and opportunity for all.

It is undeniable that the many leaders and dedicated citizens who focus on justice make a difference in our society. From the tireless efforts of groups who fight for voting rights in states like Georgia, to the citizens who continue to protest and put pressure on our political leaders to effect positive change, to the staff and volunteers at institutions around the country who work tirelessly to create more stable and just systems, we see examples of people fighting for justice each and every day. But despite the efforts of many institutions and individuals to implement this comprehensive "American strategy" for justice, we are a long way from achieving it. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the criminal justice system. Last week, we witnessed a rare moment of accountability, in which a jury in Minneapolis delivered guilty verdicts in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former police officer who killed George Floyd last May. But the truth is that no one is held accountable in the overwhelming majority of extrajudicial killings of citizens by police. In the wake of the Chauvin verdict, we've continued to learn of citizens, and particularly young people of color, including Daunte Wright, Adam Toledo, Ma’Khia Bryant, and Andrew Brown, Jr., dying at the hands of police officers. We've seen anti-protest legislation be introduced around the country, including a law in Oklahoma that defines protests as "riots" and protects motorists who cause injury or death to protestors with their vehicles. And last but not least, we've seen the Supreme Court rule in the Jones v. Mississippi case, which will allow states to impose life sentences without parole to people under the age of 18.

To achieve a just society, we must all engage in the ongoing fight for justice. No matter our role in our communities, there are skills that we can offer and there is work that we can do. To be sure, the work can be difficult, but the pay-off will be worth it: an America in which all people, in Sargent Shriver's words, "are created equal and have equal rights -- before the law and in the courts, but also in the schools, on the streets and farms, and in the neighborhoods of this nation."

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