Jackson Center turns to message of namesake

JAMESTOWN, N.Y. — A local institution committed to the vision of a “global society where universal principles of equality, fairness and justice prevail,” issued a statement this week in response to nearly two weeks of protests resulting from the death of Minneapolis resident George Floyd.

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder for Floyd’s death after being caught on video pressing his knee to Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds. The Associated Press reported that the three other officers at the scene — Thomas Lane, J. Kueng and Tou Thao — were charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter after having been fired last week.

“We are angered by and mourn for the most recent in a long line of those for whom equality, fairness and justice have not only not prevailed, but have utterly failed,” wrote Robert H. Jackson Center President Kristan McMahon in the statement released Thursday afternoon.

“We say their names — Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd — because names have power.”

The decision to release a statement was rooted in the mission of the center, founded in 2001, McMahon said.

“I felt as if all of the work the Jackson Center has done over the last 20 years and our mission, we could not support if we were not standing up and being seen at this time as well,” she said Friday afternoon. “All of the protests, certainly over the years but also in the last couple weeks are really all about justice and that is what the Jackson Center’s mission and vision for the world is: it’s where equality, fairness and justice prevail. If we didn’t speak now, we would not be fulfilling our mission and would certainly not be contributing toward the vision that we have.”

In the statement, McMahon paraphrased the center’s namesake — a late Spring Creek, Pa. native and former Jamestown resident who later became a U.S. Supreme Court Justice and Chief Prosecutor of the Nuremberg Trials — in saying: “We cannot deny that racial ill-will and intolerance exist in America, but we can deny that they are American.”

“Those who are protesting have been mired in systems that have repeatedly failed them – failed to recognize the inequalities, failed to acknowledge the impact, and failed to correct the underlying condition,” she wrote, emphasizing the power of dissent without violence, while noting that a rule-of-law-based society must be fair and just.

“Black lives matter. Black experiences matter,” McMahon continued, noting that the world still has more to do to uphold the four words inscribed on the front of the United States Supreme Court building: EQUAL JUSTICE UNDER LAW.

“That is the ideal — one that each and every one of us should be able to support and for which we should never – we can never — stop fighting,” she said.

McMahon explained that the center’s programming theme, entitled “The Other — Through Your Eyes” will hope to “open a window into another person’s experiences to foster understanding even where agreement is not possible.”

“We advance the legacy of Robert H. Jackson through our dedication to inspire, educate and encourage public discussions regarding justice and law,” she said. “We always will be a home for these conversations, but we know we can do more. Join the conversation. Hold us accountable. Do more with us.”

McMahon added that the notion of “doing more” has been something that has resonated with her in the past several weeks. She also noted that even despite limitations set by the outbreak of COVID-19, the center is still continuing to hold valuable virtual conversations – notably a weekly “Tea With RHJC” in which she engages in discussion with legal minds from all over the country.

“We evaluate our programming all of the time,” she said. “But, in a way, the online and virtual programming we are doing gives us a broader scope and an ability to reach both populations and host voices that might be limited by getting people to Jamestown in order to do that. We are really seeing this as an opportunity to do the work, to continue to do our work and do more of our work.”

And while the challenges of Jackson’s day and the challenges of today differ in many ways, McMahon said there is comfort, yet sadness, in being able to harken to his writings in times of crisis.

“I feel as if all of the questions we are grappling with today are the questions we’ve been grappling with for generations,” she said, emphasizing Jackson’s reach. “Whether it is questions of race, whether it is questions of how we treat our fellow Americans, whether it is questions of abuses of power, war – he really has spoken or written and certainly obviously thought about all of these issues… but I also find it somewhat challenging or sad that we haven’t moved on enough that his words are still so resonant.”

To read McMahon’s full statement, visit roberthjackson.org.


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