The tragic events of the last few weeks have again highlighted the great distance that our nation must go in order to achieve its promise of liberty and justice for all. We grieve with Minneapolis, Louisville, and the many other communities that have lost black lives to violent manifestations of racism. We acknowledge that far too many of our clients, colleagues, neighbors, and loved ones do not – and cannot – feel safe in our city and our country.
We seek to amplify the concerns of those protesting the death of George Floyd and the over-policing of communities of color; these concerns are real and have grave consequences. The death of another black person in police custody should be of great concern to all of us. That these deaths happen repeatedly and that the victims are overwhelmingly people of color points to a more significant problem than the occasional “bad cop” or a single “rogue” police precinct.
We also know that the core issue illuminated by George Floyd’s death goes beyond people dying. If the deaths we hear about in the news are the tip of the iceberg, it points to a much larger issue involving regular and casual discrimination facing communities of color at the hands of police officers and in courtrooms across the country.
The Southwest Detroit Immigrant and Refugee Center believes, first and foremost, that everyone deserves justice. The Constitution and our social contract promise justice for everyone in the United States, not because of who they are or where they come from but because of who we are. As we have walked countless miles alongside our clients in their search to find that justice, we have seen that it is not equally available to all. Justice is much more available if you speak English well, if you are educated, if you have the means to afford an attorney and, most profoundly, if you have white skin.
The population of our prisons alone suggests that if you are white, you are less likely to need an attorney’s help. But, if you happen to be white and in prison you are more likely able to afford a good attorney than a person of color. These realities are not opinions, they are truths born out in statistics and in the bodies of people of color who suffer daily in tangible ways, sometimes with the loss of their lives.
As an organization, we recognize the power of white privilege and the access that it has granted our staff and volunteers who are white. Being white has helped them gain easier access to education and career opportunities. It allows them to walk comfortably into any city institution and be taken seriously. It empowers them to see law enforcement officers as colleagues and those who serve and protect them. Our clients, on the other hand, are overwhelmingly people of color. Serving them offers us all the opportunity to educate ourselves about the daily injustices faced by people of color in our community. We put our white privilege to service in advancing justice and seek to dismantle systems that give us this privilege. We are humbly grateful to our clients who trust us with the honor of walking with them through this struggle.
We continue to stand with vulnerable communities in Southeast Michigan, providing legal help and advice on critical issues large and small. We take inspiration from and invite others to consider the words of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr: “Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a better person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in.”
We can create a better world together. No one gets a pass to sit on the sidelines. We can do better together, and it’s going to take all of us, but it starts by listening to a different voice and letting someone else drive for a change. Thank you to all who are striving to end structural racism. We stand with you.
The Southwest Detroit Immigrant and Refugee Center provides free and low-cost legal services to those who need them most in the Detroit area, with a focus on recent immigrants and refugees.
We were founded in 2014 by Kevin Piecuch, our Executive Director