The news from Atlanta last night that eight people were killed, in a rampage directed at Asian and Asian American women and employees of massage and spa businesses, brings to the fore once again the depressingly significant part that hate plays in our society.
When I teach constitutional law, it is impossible to ignore the violence committed throughout American history based on factors such as race, religion, ethnicity, gender and gender identity, sexual orientation, and national origin. From the founding generation forward, our nation has demonstrated in many ways the best of our human nature; but it has also expressed and acted on the worst of our human nature to divide the world between “us” and “them.” The person who penned the aspiring words of equality in the Declaration of Independence was a slave owner, as were many of the nation’s founders.
The 19th century witnessed genocide against Native Americans, in which our own namesake participated, a nation divided and at war over slavery, and restrictions on immigrants from Southern Europe and Asia. The 20th century brought more discrimination and violence, with Jim Crow, Asian exclusionary laws, and continued cruelty toward Native American communities, among many other instances of violence and insults based on otherness. And the 21st century, once thought to be the time when the arc of history would finally bend toward justice, saw an upsurge of institutionalized prejudice, including among our elected officials. The last decade has seen the rise and normalization of white nationalism and attacks on the rule of law.
One abiding lesson throughout American history, for both ill and good, has been the role of the law in our society. It has been the principal weapon used to immiserate people and also the principal weapon to lift up those who have suffered. It is well for us to remember that we are involved in a profession that has the responsibility to advance justice, but has historically also been used to perpetuate injustice.
This pandemic year has seen the forces of justice and injustice struggle mightily. The trial of Derek Chauvin for the killing of George Floyd will be at the forefront of our attention in the weeks ahead. We are alarmed by the increased violence against the Asian American community and our hearts are broken for, and our thoughts go out to, the victims and families of those killed and injured in Atlanta yesterday.
There is no “us” or “them” when it comes to the value of a person’s life. When Breonna Taylor was killed, we lost a treasured member of our community. And when violence is inflicted on Asian-Americans, it is inflicted on all of us. We suffer together when anyone is victimized because of the color of their skin, the God they worship, or their ethnic or national backgrounds. When they suffer, we suffer. When they cry, we cry.
We must all recommit to employing the power that we have through our legal training to turn the tide on hate and prejudice. There is no simple solution to the crises our society confronts today. It will be through a multitude of small but meaningful measures that we can indeed turn the arc of history toward justice. Every one of us has a role to play in the struggle for a more just society, whether it be locally, nationally, or worldwide.
I write to tell you that I am fully committed to this struggle, here at UC Hastings, locally in San Francisco, and, where I might, beyond. I commit to do my part in whatever ways I might to advance the cause of justice.
Thank you to Deans Ratner and Hum for messaging the faculty about supporting our students in the midst of difficult news and challenging conversations. Thank you to the Office of Student Services for reaching out to student organizations most impacted by recent hate-motivated crimes. Students, remember that you can access mental health support services through Carbon Health at no charge. Faculty and staff can seek counseling services available through our Employee Assistance Program. My Office Hours also remain available to anyone who would like to discuss any issues one-on-one.
Do not hesitate to report (anonymously or not) any hate or bias incidents through our discrimination complaint form or our Comment Boxes on MyHastings as every incident will be responded to accordingly.
I wish you all the best, and please stay safe and healthy.
David L. Faigman
Chancellor and Dean
John F. Digardi Distinguished Professor of Law
University of California Hastings College of the Law