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200 miles from Selma

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“We honor those who walked so we could run. We must run so our children soar.” – President Obama honoring the 50th anniversary of the marches in Selma that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act.  A riveting, must-watch speech.

In December, students held the largest demonstration on Harvard’s campus since apartheid.  The Black Lives Matter protest blanketed Harvard Yard with students, of which I was one, wearing hoodies and staging die-ins.  It shut down the roads in Cambridge.

My criminal law professor first semester, Ron Sullivan, is a man I deeply admire and a key advocate of the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as minority rights broadly.  The former head of the DC public defenders, he famously testified in front of the Senate on the Trayvon Martin case: the jury got it right, but the Stand Your Ground law was wrong.  There should be a fundamental duty to retreat when safely possible, otherwise we as a society are signing up for vigilante justice.

In class, we began discussing the stop and frisk laws in NYC, which historically have disproportionately targeted minorities.  Professor Sullivan asked a simple question to the 80 of us:

“How many of you have been stopped and frisked anywhere in the US? I don’t just mean patted down, but actually frisked.”

4 people raised their hands.  Two were African American males, one was a Sikh male, and one was me.

“Talk about stereotypes.  4 men of color,” Professor Sullivan said.

As a country, we have come a long way.  Just ask Congressman John Lewis, who marched 50 years ago in Selma, if he ever thought he would be holding the hand of a black President 50 years later on that same bridge.  Just ask Congressman Mike Honda, whose family was sent to a Japanese-American internment camp after Pearl Harbor, if he could ever dream of representing the community from which he was banished 70 years before.

But as a country, we have a long way to go.  When my black classmate gets unfairly harassed or frisked, that hurts my civil rights.  When my Muslim friends get ‘randomly selected’ for extra security screenings 100% of the time by the TSA, that endangers my religious freedom.  And when an Indian grandfather visits Madison, a place 200 miles from Selma, and ends up partially paralyzed for being ‘suspicious’, that threatens my safety.

The march began 50 years ago, but must go on.


Written by sheeltyle

March 8, 2015 at 11:41 am