VHFCNBA Statement on the Aftermath of George Floyd's Death
The mission of the Virgil Hawkins Florida Chapter National Bar Association is “ensuring access to the justice system; increasing economic parity for the less fortunate and disadvantaged of our society; and educating the community, particularly the Black community, on the need for empowerment and self-determination. In so doing, regardless of race, sex, or creed, the objective of the Association is to promote the administration of justice, preserve the independence of the judiciary, uphold the honor and integrity of the legal profession, encourage economic empowerment for all American citizens, protect the civil and political rights of the citizens of the United States of America as guaranteed by the Constitutions of the United States and the State of Florida, and promote legislation and initiatives to further this mission.”
Even during the midst of a global pandemic, we must confront that violence against Black communities persists and will not end unless there is a transformative shift in the way that we operate as a society. The heinous and inhuman nature of George Floyd’s death at the hands of law enforcement is heartbreaking, preventable, and the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. It has sparked moral outrage across the world. We must support the First Amendment rights of those who peacefully march to demonstrate that change is required now. We can no longer wait for a better society. We cannot allow this latest moment to pass us by without genuine reforms or we have failed.
I am reminded that Charles Hamilton Houston, the father of the civil rights movement in America, famously stated that “a lawyer is either a social engineer or a parasite on society. A social engineer [is] a highly-skilled, perceptive, sensitive lawyer who [understands] the Constitution of the United States and [knows] how to explore its uses in the solving of problems of local communities and in bettering conditions of the underprivileged citizens.”
As lawyers, we must lend our expertise and our voice to marginalized and oppressed communities, following the example of the founders of the Virgil Hawkins Bar. One opportunity to create enduring change is to advocate for greater African American representation in law enforcement, prosecutorial agencies, and the judiciary to reflect the composition of our community. These groups are vested with extraordinary powers to make life or death decisions so we must insist on the diversity of thought and experiences to improve the quality of these decisions.
Civil rights organizations, such as the NAACP, are already calling for common-sense reforms to law enforcement tactics, including a ban on knee holds and chokeholds. Importantly, the NAACP is also calling on the United Nations to classify law enforcement’s mistreatment of blacks in the United States as a human rights violation.
As you formulate ideas for how we can create a better tomorrow, please do not hesitate to contact leadership within the Virgil Hawkins Bar for potential opportunities to work cooperatively on reform measures. At our upcoming quarterly meeting on June 20th, we will continue our discussion on voter suppression and other tactics that disenfranchise African American communities. Now more than ever, we recognize that a free and fair electoral process is vital to creating systemic changes in our democracy.
Grasford W. Smith
Immediate Past President
Virgil Hawkins Florida Chapter National Bar Association