Citing failures of courts and justice systems to address racial inequities, Indiana Chief Justice Loretta Rush on Friday issued a statement promising change as protests over the death of George Floyd continued in streets in the Hoosier state and across the nation.
Rush issued a Statement on Race and Equity that begins, “The gravity of the events across the country and here in Indiana demanding equity — both peaceful protests and violent outbursts — require a response from the judicial branch. The courts play a vital role in our society’s aim toward justice for all. Courts are the hallowed halls within which justice is sought. It is guaranteed by due process and equal protection rights. But, if their power is abused, courts can be complicit in perpetuating the bias and inequity that are carved in our nation’s history. As Chief Justice of Indiana, I want to make known that we can and must do better.
“Despite all we have worked to pursue, justice remains elusive to many persons of color in matters across the legal spectrum. There is a disconnect between what we aspire for in our justice system and what we have achieved. That may be hard to hear for all of us who work every day for fairness, but we must hear the voices that cry out in our streets and towns. We must acknowledge and confront the reality that our fellow community members say is their experience. And it is imperative we take action to change that experience — not ignore, justify, or disparage it,” the statement said.
Among other things, Rush’s statement called for:
- Elevating the role of implicit bias training and education about disproportionality and racial disparities in the justice system;
- Courts to treat victims of biased hatred and racism with dignity and hold accountable those who stoke the fires of hatred and racism;
- Fairness and compassion for families affected by poverty, no matter their color. “The disadvantaged and vulnerable must be protected by our legal system, not left to fend for themselves and crushed under its weight and its complexity.”;
- Improving the pathway for more people of color to become lawyers and judges; and
- Equitable treatment for children in the court system. “Children, individuals, and families of color have at times been treated more harshly and punished more severely than their white counterparts. It is a fact, and it must stop,” Rush’s statement said.
“To be sure, the complexities of race in America will not be solved by simply saying we will try to do better. Rather, we must take action for all of us to live in a better world. I charge our courts, our justice system partners, our lawyers, and our law schools to do so. I demand the same of myself.”
Rush urged those with ideas to improve state courts to share them at on.in.gov/innovate.