By: Chassidy E. Mitchell
Henry W. Grady High School
It seems like just yesterday I sitting in my 5th grade classroom at Centennial Place Elementary School and preparing for our mock trial through the Holland and Knight Justice Project. For three weeks straight my peers and I focused on making sure that justice was served for the Three Little Bears in their case against Goldilocks. In order to ensure that justice would be served, we first had to determine the difference between right and wrong. At that moment when I learned the difference between what was just and unjust something clicked within me. From that point on, the desire to make sure that justice always be served in my community was instilled in me. As I grew older, I constantly observed the laws and issues around me and questioned whether they were just or unjust.
Dr. Martin Luther King, who was a drum major for justice, has always been an inspiration to me. In his “Letters from Birmingham Jail” he stated, “How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.” In today’s society there are many laws that I feel are unjust. One law in particular that I find to be unjust is the “Show-me-your-papers” provision to the immigration law. This law degrades human personality thus qualifying it as unjust.
In Georgia alone, unreported injustice occurs each day. When laws are implemented it is impossible to gain approval from everyone. There is a fine line between justice and injustice, but there are a few laws in my community that cross that line. The “Show-me-your-papers” law that Georgia recently implemented is a prime example of this. This law allows police to check the immigration status of certain suspects and detain those they determine to be in the country illegally. While at face value this law may seem like an effective measure for solving the immigration issues, it actually is not. Police have the option to investigate the immigration status of suspects they believe have committed state or federal crimes and who cannot provide identification or other information that tells police who they are. All it takes is for someone to “look” like an illegal immigrant and an officer has the right to question them. The problem is that there is no way to determine if someone is an illegal immigrant based off of their appearance. By definition, racial profiling is “the use of race, ethnicity, religion, or national origin by law enforcement agents as a factor in deciding who to investigate, arrest, or detain, except where these characteristics are part of a specific suspect description.” Under this law, officers are indirectly given permission to racial profile.
The unjust factors of this law were first brought to my attention when a classmate of mine shared his experience with it. He and his father were pulled over for no crime at all except for “driving while Hispanic”. During a class discussion he shared that one day they were driving down the street in their family pick-up truck when they were startled by the sound of sirens and directed to pull over. Puzzled and confused about what they had done wrong, they complied with the officer and pulled over. He said that when the officer approached the car and asked to see proof of citizenship, he and his father were both extremely offended. Both having been born and raised as US citizens, they felt that the officer had no right to question them. While one can argue that it was necessary to pull them over because there was a 50% chance that they were illegal immigrants, I find that racial profiling, even if it is unintentional, for any reason is inhumane.
This law is an issue that does not just affect my community, but my entire country. Laws similar to Georgia’s are unfortunately implemented in places like Alabama (HB 56) and Arizona (SB 1070). While illegal immigration is a serious problem around the United States, precautions should be taken in order to insure the dignity and respect of all races when dealing with the issue of racial profiling. Although protest and civil disobedience have been effective methods in the past when fighting for justice, I feel that the best way to fight unjust laws is through the courts. However I also believe that protest against unjust laws should still continue to take place in order to raise awareness on issues. When an outcry is made across the nations on an issue something is more likely to be done about it. What affects one today can affect thousands tomorrow. Dr King once said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” What will be important years from now will not be the unjust actions taken to hinder, but the actions taken by others to help. It is up to my generation to advocate for alternatives to the injustice that openly takes place each day. Dr. Martin Luther King once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Although things have improved since these powerful words were spoken, it is important that we continue to hold them to be true. Just like Dr. Martin Luther King, I vow to be a drum major for justice, and it is my hope that I can inspire others to do the same.
“Judge OKs ‘show Me Your Papers’ Provision of Arizona Immigration Law SB 1070.” KNXV. N.p., ad. Web. 01 Mar. 2013.
“Letter from a Birmingham Jail [King, Jr.]” Letter from a Birmingham Jail [King, Jr.]. N p., n.d. Web. 01 Mar. 2013.
“Southern Poverty Law Center.” Alabama’s Shame: HB 56 and the War on Immigrants. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Mar. 2013.
DERUY, EMILY. “Georgia Police Can Choose Whether to Enforce Immigration Law” ABC News. ABC News Network, 14 Dec. 2012. Web 03 Mar. 2013.
“Racial Profiling: Face the Truth Campaign.” Home Page.
N.p., n d Web. 03 Mar. 2013.
The opinions, comments, and sentiments expressed by the participants are not necessarily those of Holland & Knight LLP or the Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation, Inc.