New York Law School

#ALLLIVESMATTER: Speaking Out Against Injustice

Most people are aware of the cause behind the social media hashtag #BLACKLIVESMATTER; the movement began as a response to the brutal attacks on Black men and women by police officers and has ballooned into a multitude of movements that span across racial and cultural lines[1]. The movement has taken on several different permutations including #MUSLIMLIVESMATTER, #MIGRANTLIVESMATTER, #GAYLIVESMATTER and, most inclusively, #ALLLIVESMATTER. The #ALLLIVESMATTER movement in particular has sparked more than its fair share of controversy. Many believe that those who use the hashtag #ALLLIVESMATTER are hoping to diminish or counter the #BLACKLIVESMATTER movement. Huffington Post’s Politics Intern, Julia Craven, wrote an article titled “Please Stop Telling Me That All Lives Matter”[2] arguing that “race brings on individual issues for each minority group [and] saying “all lives matter” causes erasure of the differing disparities each group faces.” Similarly, New York Times opinion writer, George Yancy conducted an interview[3] with Judith Butler and posed the question “What’s Wrong With ‘All Lives Matter’?”[4] In response she stated “It is true that all lives matter, but it is equally true that not all lives are understood to matter which is precisely why it is most important to name the lives that have not mattered, and are struggling to matter in the way they deserve. [W]e cannot have a race-blind approach to the questions: which lives matter?” Others believe that the #ALLLIVESMATTER movement could be a way of asserting that people from all different racial and ethnic identities have obstacles and barriers that should be equally recognized.

On April 16, New York Law School’s Impact Center for Public Interest Law hosted a panel discussion titled “#ALLIVESMATTER” which delved into the various hashtags and the inequities that sparked them. Panelists, Taa Grays, President of the Metropolitan Black Bar Association, Neysa Alsina, Regional President of the Hispanic National Bar Association Region II, Yang Chen, Executive Director of the Asian American Bar Association of New York, and Amol Sinha, Director of the Suffolk County Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union and Vice President of Public Relations for the South Asian Bar Association of New York, all provided unique insights into the hurdles faced by minorities and other marginalized groups in America. The discussion began with a call for a safe space by Payal Thakkar and Devi Patel, the student organizers of the session, to be open to discussing these personal topics and able to ask difficult questions. With this invitation, the panel quickly turned from general introductions to addressing a wide-array of hot-button issues centered on race and public opinion.

One student wondered how to respond to the #ALLLIVESMATTER movement being construed to mean that America is a post-racial society. Further, she asked panelists to address this issue and advise attendees on the best way to combat the erroneous school of thought. In response Grays, stated that we definitely do not live in a post-racial society. She explained that the public may have believed this was the case when President Obama was first elected; however in his tenure as President they have been proven wrong. She said that when others have recognized the enhanced scrutiny placed on Obama and compared it with that of past presidents, the only reason they can seemingly come up with is race. This new society we are living in is not post-racial, but it is not the overt racism of the Selma March and slave-owner days. Grays said “It’s different, more like neo-racial society.” Chen went on to agree with her reasoning, but said that when looking at society as a whole and the amount of discrimination that still takes place he would prefer to call it a “sub-racial” society. He elaborated on the point by illustrating the tension of being considered a “model minority.” As an Asian-American, you are stereotypical thought to be extremely smart, get into the best schools, and have good jobs; however this “positive” stereotyping makes it difficult for the public to recognize the challenges faced by Asian people. Asians suffer similar marginalization as other races and the plight of the Asians in America is the basis for much of our civil rights law today[i][5], yet people cannot seem to bring this topic up.

Sinha added that the only way to deal with the issue is to talk about it. He emboldens students and lawyers not to be afraid to open forums and have these difficult, and sometimes unwanted, discussions. He acknowledges that sometimes being the person to bring up these topics may be perceived as polarizing; however he emphasizes the importance of continuing the conversation. To illustrate his point, Sinha reflected on the shooting of Akai Gurley in Brooklyn, New York by Officer Peter Liang. Liang was quickly arrested and indicted in the case and Sinha said that is what puzzled him. Initially it was great to see an officer being swiftly prosecuted for his wrongdoing, but he realized that unlike other cases of police brutality there was no public backlash from supporting officers. There were no response protests like the “I Can Breathe” t-shirts worn by officers after the Eric Garner shooting[6]. He thought to himself, could it be because the other offending officers were White and Officer Liang is Asian? The realization made him face a difficult question: “Cops have a blue line which seems impenetrable to us all, but what if behind that blue line there is a White line?” When asked for advice, he stated “don’t be timid about these conversations.” Sinha also suggests that civic engagement and promoting people who are not just like-minded, but also from similar backgrounds can help stave off this post-racial thinking. He states that the minority mindset of a White male objectivity is a myth that needs to be debunked and encourages minorities to vote and run for office.

One student asked the panel for a way to get involved, declaring an urgent need to assist in the issues that are charging these movements. In response, Grays stated that one of the best and easiest ways to get involved is through social media. She emphasizes that this is the way people communicate making it an excellent platform to start or join movements, express your voice, and find solutions. She noted that Metropolitan Black Bar Association currently has a campaign on Facebook called “I Am a Solution” which asks people to post videos with their solutions to police brutality, in hopes of raising awareness and creating a hub for ideas on how to change the system. Alsina replied that we are already a part of the movements by being law students and lawyers. She calls for more minorities in the professional sphere. She emphasizes that even those who come from difficult circumstances should aim to become people who can advocate for themselves and others. Her thoughts were echoed by the panelists who hoped to create a pipeline into the legal profession, in order to create opportunities for lawyers from diverse backgrounds.

Student, Sam, pointed out that it’s not just a race issue or movement, and asked what was being done to raise awareness on LGBTQ issues. Chen and Alsina both responded that their organizations have committees focused directly on LGBTQ issues and that they are always open to students who want to get involved. In addition the panel referred to resources and organizations like Lambda Legal whose work directly addresses the inequalities faced by the LGBTQ community.

The outcome of the event was open discussion on many different movements that have taken over social media outlets and are based on critical issues faced by all different races and ethnicities. The takeaway is that no matter which hashtag a person uses, the most important decision is to advocate on behalf of the groups in need and to find a way to facilitate informed and thoughtful discussion amongst colleagues, friends, and strangers, in hopes of forming a better society.

[1] http://blacklivesmatter.com/a-herstory-of-the-blacklivesmatter-movement/

[2] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/julia-craven/please-stop-telling-me-th_b_6223072.html

[3] http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/01/12/whats-wrong-with-all-lives-matter/?_r=0

[4] Butler is a Maxine Elliot Professor at the University of California, Berkeley and is currently writing a book about racial identity.

[5] Chen cited the Chinese Exclusion Act, and the case of Korematsu v. Unites States as background for this statement.

[6] http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/nyc-crime/suspect-arrested-assault-cops-brooklyn-bridge-article-1.2051361

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