After attacks on a Native-American woman’s house, an African-American church and a Jewish family’s home, the entire town refused to be silent and fearful. They stood up together. They said, “Not In Our Town.” That story gave rise to Not In Our Town, a PBS film documenting the heroic efforts of ordinary Billings Montana citizens who stood up for their neighbors.
Diversity. What does this word really mean? According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, it signifies “the inclusion of different types of people … in a group or organization.” Depending on the context, it can also refer to a range of opinions.
Many people use the term as a synonym for the concepts of multicultural coexistence, tolerance and open-mindedness. Diversity is, however, more than just the inclusion of different people in a group. It is also about the acceptance of and respect for individual differences, whether those differences are based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, age, disabilities, religious affiliations, or political beliefs.
Hate and bias against a particular group of people are exactly the opposite of what we believe a diverse society should be. In the month following the election, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) counted 1,094 bias-related incidents. Anti-women incidents represented the greatest share of these incidents. Anti-immigrant violence came in second and included those attacks at an Islamic Center in Colorado.
On December 11, 2016, The New York Times published a lengthy article about the alt-right movement. While many members of this movement no longer use the swastika because they want to be viewed as mainstream, their message of intolerance remains self-evident.
Unfortunately, bias against certain peoples exists everywhere, and Colorado is no exception. The Denver Post recently published an article about a man shouting racial comments to a group of schoolchildren working at a nonprofit center in Denver. Now the media publishes stories on a regular basis about the derogatory comments that are made by a small group of citizens against women, people of color, the LGBT community and Muslims. We have the obligation and opportunity to stand up to bigotry and bias. It is important for the legal community to show that the law does not tolerate people who engage in this type of conduct.
Ralph Carr — lawyer, former U.S. Attorney of Colorado and Governor of Colorado during WWII — recognized the dangers of hatred and intolerance. Probably at the cost of his political career, in 1942, Governor Carr urged Coloradans to welcome the Japanese-Americans evicted from the West Coast and reminded hostile audiences that an American citizen of Japanese descent has the same rights as any other citizen.
The DBA has made significant strides toward inclusivity and diversity but still has room for improvement. Last year, the DBA amended its vision statement to recognize that cultivating an inclusive and engaged legal community is vital to the organization and good for the Denver community at large. The DBA values diversity and inclusiveness at every level, and different views are allowed to flourish.
Sadly, in this country and in Denver, there has been a history of intolerance and hatred toward groups of people because of who they are and how they see the world. While I believe this country has made great strides toward tolerance, these last couple of months have shaken this belief. We are a country built on the Rule of Law. Now is the time to stand up for this concept and for all persons. Our community is looking to lawyers to lead the way. I applaud those who are taking action because they have hope and believe that the Rule of Law will prevail. To have hope means taking action, even if the results seem unattainable. Denver lawyers need to be like Governor Carr and stand up to people who espouse hateful messages. We and the DBA need to be like the citizens of Billings Montana and say, “Not in Our Town.”
The DBA is holding a reception on February 22 at the law firm of Rathod Mohamedbhai (2701 Lawrence Street) for CBA President Patricia Jarzobski’s presidential visit. The reception’s theme is “Breaking bread together breaks down barriers!” Dr. Robin Yasui will speak about her uncle Minoru Yasui, a lawyer who refused to go to the internment camps during WWII. Dr. Yasui will also discuss the Minoru Yasui Tribute Project (minoruyasuitribute.org), which reminds us that if we do not learn from the past, history will repeat itself.
I look forward to seeing you at the February 22 reception. Let’s break down some barriers while having a taste of other cultures! D