a letter to Justice Sotomayor

Dear Justice Sotomayor,

You wrote something moving a few weeks ago in your dissent in the 4th amendment case Utah v. Strieff which protected evidence obtained from an unconstitutional search. I won’t pretend to understand all the nuances of this 5-3 decision, and I’ll leave it to the SCOTUS blog and legal experts to unpack the ramifications, but in the meantime, I’m still reflecting on these words from your dissent:

We must not pretend that the countless people who are routinely targeted by police are “isolated.” They are the canaries in the coal mine whose deaths, civil and literal, warn us that no one can breathe in this atmosphere…They are the ones who recognize that unlawful police stops corrode all our civil liberties and threaten all our lives. Until their voices matter too, our justice system will continue to be anything but.

You say unlawful police stops corrode all our civil liberties. Unlawful police stops threaten all our lives.

When one human can’t breathe, none of us can.

Alton Sterling. Philando Castile. They are not breathing today. We’ve already been warned that no one can breathe in this atmosphere, and the number of casualties keeps increasing. Our world is toxic.

Dr. King said “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” What I love about your dissent, Justice Sotomayor, is that you’re reiterating Dr. King’s point. You’re calling on us to think about police targeting not as an isolated evil, distant from the privileged, but a problem that all of humanity must face and reckon with. We are not isolated from them and they are not isolated from us.

That’s the lie of racism and oppression, isn’t it? It’s the lie you’re calling out on these historical legal documents – the lie that says we are isolated, that says one is better than another. It’s the lie that says difference is something to fear and the further one runs from the “other”, the better off he or she is.

And we keep running….we keep running from each other, not realizing that we are breathing the same air, sharing the brokenness and blessedness of being human.

I hope more people read your dissent, Justice Sotomayor. It calls for a deeper understanding of our shared humanity, and that is powerful. Perhaps that’s putting too much philosophical weight on your words, but I like to hope. I like to hope that words can impact and change culture. I like to hope that our justice system can change, that a new understanding of race and oppression can change systems and structures.

Until then, the hashtags seem insignificant, but a small token of solidarity:


I won’t stop repeating it until it becomes reality.




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