In a searing dissent, the supreme court justice set out how targeting people of color corrodes all our civil liberties
My father was an amateur gardener. Nothing special basic landscaping at our home on the lawn his mother never had when he was growing up on Chicagos south side.
Whenever Id help him, he always gave me the simplest task: pulling up the weeds. He explained to me that weeds, if left to fester, will choke everything around them. And he taught me what every gardener, amateur or professional landscape artists knows: if youre going to get rid of the weed for good, you have to get to the root. That lesson has lasted far beyond his time on Earth and our our days on the lawn.
In its Utah v Strieff ruling Monday, the US supreme court failed to follow my fathers most basic principle of getting to the root. By validating police seizures obtained after illegal stops in the case of outstanding traffic warrants, the court ignores that this is not about the discovery of a traffic warrant, which came second, but about the illegal stop that came first.
And even deeper: this decision will do nothing to eradicate the violence that black and brown communities like mine have suffered for centuries. The roots of police violence lie in the dirt of systemic racism and oppression.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor reiterated this in a brilliantly stinging dissent on the majority decision using piercing language that conferred dignity upon those of us who can be choked by the root at any time by virtue of the color of our skin:
For generations, black and brown parents have given their children the talk instructing them never to run down the street; always keep your hands where they can be seen; do not even think of talking back to a stranger all out of fear of how an officer with a gun will react to them They are the canaries in the coal mine whose deaths, civil and literal, warn us that no one can breathe in this atmosphere.
In that moment, in soaring rhetoric and bold statement, Justice Sotomayor spoke for all of us. She sees us. She knows us by name her reality as a Puerto Rican girl from the Bronx is not that much different from ours. Her presence and her platform prove that not only is the inclusion of diverse voices critical, but the amplification of marginalized truths is the responsibility of those with a seat at tables of power.
She did this she got to the root, saying plainly, I see you. In this dissent, our scholarship matters. Our pain is valid. Our lives have value.
And our value must be reflected in our public servants. They must not pervert their power and use it against the people they serve. And yet, it is exactly this kind of perversion that the court codified today, and that Sotomayor identifies without equivocation.
The countless people who are routinely targeted by police are the ones who recognize that unlawful police stops corrode all our civil liberties and threaten all our lives, she writes.
Like the many powerful women of color before and behind her, she carries the burden not just for our kind, but for everyone who desires freedom as our mantle. Because when women of color lead, everyone benefits. Because when our high courts and highest offices truly reflect our communities, we are seen and spoken for. Because when bravery shows up across generations, we are wise to listen.
Like Dr King before her, I hope Justice Sotomayors words will ring out louder than the injustice that inspired them. King said that an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. In her dissent, Sotomayor says, until their voices matter too, our justice system will continue to be anything but.
Justice must be at the root. And indeed, none of us are free until we all are.