A Message to Our Carolina Law Community

May 31, 2020

Dear Carolina Law Community,

Last week, when I first saw the video of a white Minneapolis police officer’s knee pressing into George Floyd’s neck as he begged for the breath of life, I felt the worst revulsion and horror I have felt in many years. Those feelings gave way to burning anger. How could the cries of a pleading child of God whose life was worth as much as mine be so callously ignored?

When watching Thursday night’s PBS Newshour, I heard Minneapolis Councilwoman Andrea Jenkins say the scene “felt like it was a symbol for a knee on the neck of Black America.” 

Her expression is what broke me. As a white man who has long felt guilt and shame but done far too little to lighten the burdens of the Black community, I cannot stay silent now. As I watched the sufferings of George Floyd, I could not comprehend how, in the midst of the gravest health crisis this country has faced in a century — an event that I thought was drawing us together – my Black neighbors are still  experiencing this kind of brutality.

My thoughts immediately turned to my Black colleagues and students. I would never compare my anger or grief at this week’s events to yours. But I cannot allow the death of George Floyd, in all its despicable heartlessness, to go unheeded. For too long, as the lamentable catalogue of shameful acts of cruelty and injustice towards my fellow citizens has unfolded, I have remained quiet.

I am worried that some of you may have experienced this terrible week isolated and alone, with no family member to hug or to cry with. Maybe you just graduated and are trying to figure out how you are going to study for the bar – much less enter a world that does not seem to value your life. Maybe you have another year or two to go in law school, and just started a summer job where you don’t know if you’ll do well (though I know better). Maybe you lost your summer job to the pandemic. As you experience these burdens, I worry you may have watched George Floyd dying and seen yourselves in him, vulnerable and suffering at the hands of those responsible for safeguarding your country.

At a time when our community is forced to be physically distant, we need to be emotionally and spiritually close. We are all members of the world’s noblest profession, a profession charged with bearing the torch of justice forward. By necessity, that must mean doing everything in our power to eradicate injustice, root and branch. As lawyers and lawyers-to-be, we must be united in fulfilling this obligation.

You are deeply valued. You are not alone. I want to stand with you. My anger, grief, and despair is immense. I can only imagine the depth of your own. Above anything else, leaders must listen. I would like to work to create a safe space at the law school where students can voice their concerns and suggest ways we can support you better and do more to change what is so horribly broken in our country that such things are allowed to happen. I welcome your thoughts and ideas (martin92@unc.edu). I would be glad to convene a Zoom conversation if you feel that would be helpful.

Martin H. Brinkley ’92
Dean and Arch T. Allen Distinguished Professor of Law