Racial Justice

Statement from the PLS Team, June 2020

No one can be a defender of human rights or proponent of freedom while standing on the sidelines watching others fight for racial justice. It has always been time to be an anti-racist, but the recent murders of multiple Black people at the hands of police and armed vigilantes serve as a strong reminder that now is an especially critical time for all of us to lend our voices, our resources, our leverage, our influence, our hurt, and our belief in something much better to this current struggle – to Black Lives Matter. We must propel it forward and make this a definitive turning point in history.

We cannot limit the scope of our advocacy efforts to only police violence, which happens to get caught on video. Brutality towards Black people happens every day in hidden areas of society, including prisons and jails. There, individuals are often victims of brutality at the hands of correctional officers. Unlike in the streets, no one is able to post and share video clips for the world to see the truth with their own eyes. Just a few months ago, in retaliation for assaults against three correctional officers, a month-long campaign of collective unprovoked violence was waged against dozens of incarcerated people held at Souza-Baranowski prison. These attacks were systematic and demonstrated a level of brazen orchestrated violence that Prisoners’ Legal Services had not seen in the almost 50 years of our existence. 

We received over 100 separate reports of assaults in less than 6 weeks. The assaults on incarcerated people disproportionately targeted Black and Brown people and in multiple cases officers cut off dreads and used racial slurs. Just last month, staff and the Sheriff himself assaulted immigrants in ICE custody at the Bristol County House of Correction. Several immigrants ended up in the hospital with injuries. One detainee almost asphyxiated on a rubber bullet shot down his throat.

Black and brown bodies bear the brunt of deep seated racism and violence before, during, and after incarceration. Structural racism, unconscious bias, selective favoritism – racism, in all its forms, is a disease that relegates too many black and brown children to an existence of degradation, divestment, dehumanization and death. The survivors, who are strong enough to tell their story and lead the movements and protests, are filled with pain. Many continue to fight anyway because there is no choice but to hope that this will soon end and that our children will be allowed to realize their dreams. We all pay for this cycle of trauma that we will pass on to yet another generation if we do not take this seriously.

We stand in solidarity with our clients, their families, and members of the Black and Brown communities who have taken to the streets to voice their anguish.  We stand against police brutality in all forms. We stand against mass incarceration and a criminal legal system that disproportionately impacts Black and Brown people. As an organization, allyship with Black and Brown communities is not only a moral imperative but a requirement of our agency’s mission. We challenge other agencies throughout Massachusetts to stand with us in solidarity and say: Black Lives Matter.

Rise up! Speak out! Invest in the movement! And let’s follow the lead of those who are directly impacted. Center this moment in your life and in your work now and for as long as it takes to eradicate this disease, and please don’t watch from the sidelines.

Statement from PLS Staff Attorney LaToya Whiteside

Part of PLS’ role in being an organization for social justice is to devote space to amplifying Black voices. In an effort to honor this, one of our Black staff attorneys has generously allowed us to publish her reflection on the current climate and murder of George Floyd.

Malcolm X said, “Of all our studies, history is best qualified to reward our research.”

In 1968, cities across America burned to the ground in response to the assassination of Dr. King. Washington, Detroit, Cincinnati, Chicago, Baltimore, and many more cities erupted in protest because after generations of police violence, government-sanctioned terrorism and the assassination of the one Black man calling for peace, Black people were tired. And today, fifty years after the assassination of Dr. King and as we marked the 99 year anniversary of the 1921 bombing of Black Wall Street, Dr. King’s fears are still alive, Black people are still tired and in many cases worse off. 

We are tired of our children being funneled through the school to prison pipeline. We are tired of biases in the healthcare system that contributes to the many health inequities suffered by members of our community; this is why Black people are dying at significantly higher rates from COVID-19. We are tired of being over policed and over criminalized because of our very existence.

We are tired of being hashtags.

Rest in Peace #DavidMcAtee, #GeorgeFloyd, #AhmaudArbery, #BreonnaTaylor, #SeanReed, #StevenDemarcoTaylor, #ArianeMcCree, #BothamJean, #Eric Garner, #TerranceFranklin, #MilesHall, #RickyBall, #WilliamGreen, #SamuelDavidMallard, #SandraBland, #TrayvonMartin, #TamirRice, #OscarGrant, #JohnCrawford, #MichaelBrown, #PhilandoCastile, #AltonSterling, #Atatiana Jefferson, #TerenceCrutcher, #FreddieGray, #WalterScott, #SamuelDuBose, #SeanBell, #AmadouDiallo, #Laquan McDonald, and the countless others whose deaths didn’t garner national attention but nonetheless were lost.

“[When you] live in a world where there is this presumption of dangerousness and guilt wherever you go…When the burden is on you [as a Black person] to make the people around you see you as fully human and equal, you get exhausted.”- Bryan Stevenson

LaToya Whiteside, Esq., Staff Attorney