Mar 15

On the Criminal Justice System

by Sargent Shriver Peace Institute | 03/15/2021 12:18PM

QuoteOfTheWeek03152021

Our Quote of the Week prompts us to reflect on a legal system that lacks the mechanisms to ensure that all members of society receive the justice and protection that the system pretends to uphold. As we mark the one-year anniversary of the police shooting of Breonna Taylor, we must come to terms with the reality that all too often and for too many of us, justice does not prevail.

Sargent Shriver spoke these words almost 50 years ago in his Address to the Trial Lawyers Association. Shriver mentions criminal justice and the legal system with an eye towards addressing the greater injustices of society. He makes the point to his fellow attorneys that all of the systems we have built, and not just the legal system, are rife with injustice:

"I suggest that we need to extend our basic awareness of justice and injustice into institutions where courts and lawyers rarely wander. To the public schools where children are often subjected to abusive and arbitrary treatment in the name of discipline; to hospitals and mental institutions where patients are neglected or experimented upon or deprived of benefits; to governmental bureaucracies where people who blow 'ethical whistles', as Ralph Nader says, are subjected to subtle or not—so—subtle retaliation; to unions where jobs are denied because of race or sex; to corporations which exert as many controls on our lives as any governmental power, but stand outside the sphere of public accountability."


He stresses that such injustice is society's primary challenge to overcome, stating:

"... injustice, rather than lack of food or health or housing or education, becomes the number one problem of our nation and of our times".


Given that his audience is made up of attorneys, Shriver then emphasizes that they have a responsibility to stop ignoring all injustices of society, from poverty to racism to discrimination of all types, and he proposes solutions that include a National Institute of Justice, which would aim to address injustice at all levels of society, both inside the legal system and outside of it.

In the Quote of the Week, he addresses some fatal flaws of the criminal justice system that we still deal with in 2021. Shriver mentions "no-knock searches", a new law enforcement tactic that was being considered at the time. No-knock searches were born out of President Nixon's War on Drugs, and they are still in use in most states today. A no-knock warrant grants officers permission to enter and raid a property unannounced. Such a raid can result in excessive use of force and violence, as was seen in the case of Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old African American emergency services workers who was shot and killed during a no-knock raid in her home in Louisville, Kentucky on March 13, 2020. Although Ms. Taylor had no role in the case that was being investigated, the officers involved in the raid shot into her home 32 times. Six of the bullets hit Ms. Taylor, and she was pronounced dead at the scene. To date, none of the police officers involved in the shooting have been charged in her killing.

As this week's speech shows, creating a just society was vital for Sargent Shriver. From his early work in civil rights to a focus on poverty law which led to the implementation of the Legal Services program during the War on Poverty and beyond, Shriver was guided by the principle that we could not have peace without universal justice. In 2021, we are still guided by that principle, and our Quote of the Week reminds us that there is still much work to do.

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