Dear Members of the Duke Law and Duke University Community,
Overnight, another black man’s identity was transformed into a hashtag, adding his name to a long list of individuals slain at the hands of those charged with the responsibility to protect and serve. On July 5, 2016, Alton Sterling was detained by the police in Baton Rouge, pinned on the ground, and shot repeatedly. For those who want to read more about his murder, please see this article
, but be warned, the videos are graphic and upsetting. While we wait for the facts of this incident to unfold, we stand in solidarity and acknowledgement of the utter disturbance of what we have all witnessed. Regardless of what we may learn about who Alton Sterling was, let us not forget that, first and foremost, he was a person, deserving of the same human dignity as any other person. His life mattered.
To our Black Law Students Association
family, though we are not physically together, we hear your cries via social media that our #blacklivesmatter. We acknowledge how close this death feels to you. We stand with you, we value you, and we ache with you, the Sterling family and the nation at large. Please let us know how we can provide further support in this traumatic time.
To members of the Duke Law community at large, we implore you to find the courage and the compassion to change the “black criminality” narrative. It is time to hold officers responsible for these heinous crimes against the black community accountable. It is time to stop allowing those who have abused their power to hide behind their badges, benefiting from feelings of security their victims were never privileged to enjoy. It is time to recognize the irony that the same men who robbed their victims of due process will likely never have to go before a jury due to the presumption of innocence our system places on incidents that involve officers of the law.
Many of us will go on to become esteemed judges, prosecutors, attorneys, and leaders in our communities. It is our responsibility to ensure that we fix this system that forgets the 14th Amendment is supposed to protect the due process rights of all people and that includes people of color. As law students, let us think critically about this situation and how we may personally prevent these situations from occurring.
Sadly, we know that Sterling will not be the last person to suffer this grave injustice. In fact, while we were contemplating our response to his murder, another black man’s last moments were captured on video after he was shot by a police officer. Philando Castile
, your life mattered and your death shows us that even when we comply, we are not safe.
Every time something like this happens the great lamp of hope flickers and our candle of faith runs low. Our belief in a system that should provide justice for all wanes, but we must carry on the fight, we must work to ensure that this terrifying and recurring real life nightmare eventually comes to an end.
We are frightened, yet we will not be silenced. We are heartbroken, yet we are strong. We are exhausted, yet we are ever vigilant.
Please note that this statement was crafted prior to the senseless murder of Dallas police officers. We do not condone or support violence against any people and wish to also honor the lives lost in Dallas.