Last weekend, our town was invaded. White supremacists, chanting Nazi slogans and carrying torches, marched up the Lawn and climbed the steps of the Rotunda. Riots broke out on Market Street, where people dressed for war openly attacked each other. And then, when we thought the worst might be over, a blaze of hate tore down Fourth Street, across our outdoor pedestrian mall, stealing the life of a vibrant young woman and shattering the souls of millions. The day ended with the further tragic loss of two of the Commonwealth’s finest state troopers whose lives and work were devoted to public safety.
Perhaps we had become complacent – hadn’t this battle been fought and, for the most part, won? Especially in Charlottesville, with its reputation for diversity and inclusiveness? We are here to bear witness that racial violence and hatred were very much alive this past weekend. Not on the fringes of our society or in the far corners of the internet, but right now, in the middle of places that we hold dear.
We are in shock. As surreal as it seems, we awoke to a dark scene reminiscent of some of history’s most harmful and destructive times. It’s as if the lessons of the 20th century were suddenly forgotten by many, including our president.
We cannot and will not forget. This must be a call to battle. Not to guns, knives or clubs, but to the influence and skills we possess as trial lawyers. We have been granted powers and a platform that enable us to fight not just for ourselves, but also for others who are unable to do so. Our hearts are keenly aware of what happens when society is not governed by the rule of law and violence is not mitigated by good people standing to defend what is true and just. As lawyers, we can stand up to the bullies, we can call out the cowards, and we can shine a bright light on those conspiring in the shadows.
As we struggle with a mix of lament, anger, disbelief, and the deep desire to make a difference, we can be proud to be a part of a fellowship of trial lawyers who are united in this struggle. As lawyers and leaders in our community, we have more power and influence than many. With those benefits comes the responsibility to stand up in small and big ways as opportunities present themselves, and to counter the destructive forces that threaten innocent people and even the very fabric of our civilized society.
Wednesday night in Charlottesville, we felt hope as thousands gathered by candlelight for a vigil on the Lawn. We feel empowered when we read our own Lauren Ellerman’s specific examples of what we can do to fight back. And we feel emboldened when we look back on what the generation before us accomplished and how far they came in the establishment of basic civil rights for all. Now it’s up to us.
The struggle against racism, oppression and violence is a war that will not likely end in our lifetime. Our country was founded on justice. We work every day to ensure that equal justice under law is not a hollow promise and that disputes are settled in courtrooms, not with violence. When we engage our significant talents and resources, as well as our strong hearts and wills, we can help ensure that justice and equality ultimately prevail.
– Lee Livingston, VTLA President
Bryan Slaughter, VTLA President-Elect