“Why Truth Matters”
On the cornerstone of the Law School at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, the phrase “Truth will set you free” is engraved. It was a reminder to future lawyers that the work of law was about truth. Today, however, there seems to be a separation between truth and law.
On Wednesday night, there was a confrontation between police and protesters in Los Angeles. About 300 people started the march, and they weaved through various parts of downtown. What happened in the 3rd St. tunnel reveals the misuse of power, and the subsequent statement by the LAPD shows intentional misrepresentation of the truth. To block two ends of the tunnel to trap peaceful demonstrators and then to arrest them for not dispersing upon the police order is a misuse of power. The police action had nothing to do with public safety, but it was an act of personal hatred of those who were speaking up against injustices in society.
At times the truth is painful because it either reveals the failures we want to keep hidden or it exposes the dark side of ourselves that we do not want to admit. We all know this because, as children, we had to stand and answer for our actions to our parents as they tried to teach us the difference between right and wrong.
Society’s truth-telling is also painful because it reminds each of us of our complicity in the system of injustice. To admit the truth may mean we have to pay the price for privileges we had been given by the unjust system or see for ourselves the pain the injustice had inflicted on others. South Africa went through one of the most amazing social reckonings when they ended apartheid and looked into the depth of their soul through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. While it did not solve everything, it allowed them to start the process of communal healing.
The truth is that racism is everywhere in the U.S. While we talk about systemic racism, we also have to admit that the culprit is not someone else, but it is us. We have to look deep within our soul and admit the truth that we have implicit biases. The following are real-life examples. The police shooting an unarmed Black man seven times as he reached into his car to talk to his kids, a Black college professor forced to prove her residency in her own home at Santa Clara University to campus security, and a Black reporter being stopped by police for driving while being Black and asked if he had been incarcerated in the past.
The truth is that when the police kill a man in a traffic stop, it is a racist use of power. The truth is that no court would impose capital punishment for simply being near a place where someone had used a counterfeit $20 bill. The truth is that when an officer thinks he has the right to stop a person because a Black man “looks out of place” to him on a college campus, the security officer is a racist.
The truth is that when a politician stands up and says that there is no racism in the U.S. it is a statement of a racist. The truth is that when politicians pass a tax cut for the 1% while cutting the safety net for the poor, it is systemic racism. The truth is that when a country invites immigrants from Norway but denies entry to immigrants from Central America, it is a racist policy, and those who promote such an idea is a racist.
Truth hurts, but it is the truth. We must accept the truth because the truth will set us free. We all want to live in a peaceful society, and to do so we must accept the truth that U.S. is a racist society and look deep into our souls and reckon with racism that is called us. Until we admit the truth we will live in the bondage of lies that we tell ourselves to protect our ill-gotten privileges.