Message to the Community After the Death of George Floyd

June 3, 2020
UCLA School of Law Dean Jennifer Mnookin

Dear Law School Community,

This is an enormously painful and tumultuous moment. You likely already saw the message sent last night by Chancellor Block and our collective UCLA leadership, but I also wanted to write to you directly. First and foremost, I want to reiterate the message of that earlier email. To the Black members of our community: we see you. Black Lives Matter.

The recent killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Brionna Taylor are outrageous, deeply troubling, and still worse — far too familiar. Floyd, struggling to breathe, killed with a police officer’s knee on his neck, an officer about whom others had already complained; Arbery shot and killed while merely taking a jog in his neighborhood; Taylor, unarmed, shot numerous times in the middle of the night, by plainclothes officers who entered her home. Meanwhile, more than 100,000 are dead in this country because of COVID-19 and here, too, Black and brown communities continue to be disproportionately harmed by the ongoing pandemic, as well as by the ensuing economic crisis.

Racial disparities — and ongoing structural racism — are vividly and disgracefully present in so many aspects of our society: policing, of course, but also income inequality, health care, and access to education. National and local incidents are layered upon these disparities, and I recognize the immense emotional toll these events can take, especially on our students, faculty, and staff of color. I also recognize that these burdens are felt unequally. No one should have to be afraid of jogging while Black, driving while Black, or living while Black. And I further know that here at UCLA, though we certainly aim and aspire to be an inclusive and equitable community, we are not exempt from racism and other invidious biases. Here too, just as in our city and our nation, we need to engage in serious and ongoing work to truly address these problems.

As members of a law school community in particular, we must recognize and grapple with the complicity of the legal system and law enforcement in acts of racism and violence. These recent horrifying instances are, sadly, not aberrations; our legal system has been part and parcel of our nation’s shameful history of institutionalized racism. We know, all too well, that law can be a tool for oppression. We know that great wrongs can be done under the cover of law and that all too often law provides no adequate remedy for great injustice. Our history shows as much, over and over. But that same history also shows that law can be a powerful, albeit imperfect, instrument for change. That law can create rights where none previously existed or were enforced. That law can meaningfully protect the vulnerable. And that a legal system can, at its best, be a tool through which the world can be made better, fairer, and more equal. Equality is made meaningful when it is respected and secured by the laws and legal institutions that structure our everyday lives.

So many of our students came to UCLA Law in order to help move our legal system in a better direction. To build on its progress, dismantle its oppressive tools, and lift impacted communities. So many of you are motivated to make a difference. That gives me hope, and perhaps it gives you some hope too, even in the midst of feeling, understandably, deeply angry, exhausted, and in pain. Even in these dark times, I hope, perhaps unreasonably, that you are each able to hold on to the light of possibility, the belief that we can make tomorrow better than today. I do believe that your legal education and training can contribute to making this possible, but I also recognize that we have a long path in front of us. Those struggles can and will be led by all of you, by a community that is moved to act and to protect.

Come the fall semester, we as a school will come together to engage on these issues, and we will be able to draw on the experience and perspectives of faculty, students, and alumni who are on the front lines fighting racial discrimination and disparities in our criminal justice system. In the meantime, I ask you to take care of yourselves and those you love in this painful, terrible moment.

Sincerely,

Jennifer L. Mnookin
Dean and Ralph and Shirley Shapiro Professor of Law
Co-Director, PULSE@UCLA Law

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