NAACP President Calls White Supremacy the Greatest Threat to Democracy at NYSBA Juneteenth Event
NAACP President Derrick Johnson called white supremacy the most significant threat to Democracy at a New York State Bar Association event in celebration of the first federally recognized holiday of Juneteenth.
“The white supremacist dogma dominating the public square is pulling democracy apart,” Johnson said. “What we witnessed on Jan. 6th is an example of what individuals are willing to do to maintain power, domination, control. It is an example of how political parties have been usurped or paralyzed.”
Calling attention to the work of Select Committee to Investigate the Jan. 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, Johnson says the foundation of our democracy is at stake. He said access to voting rights, quality education, and a clean environment are meaningless without the rule of law as the bedrock of our democracy.
“White supremacy is inconsistent with the notions of democracy,” he said. “If you allow white supremacy to carry out harm or domestic terrorism and not be held accountable, we are guaranteeing that there will be more acts of domestic terrorism under the banner of white supremacy. That is our history in the south and it’s why many of our parents migrated to New York as a result.”
Accountability Needed for Social Media
Johnson also discussed the lack of accountability and regulation of social media platforms. The NAACP is advocating for Congressional action against media companies that allow hate groups to use their platforms but do not face consequences when these groups resort to violence.
“When you have a platform you’ve decided not to moderate, and there are legal protections for you not to do so, we have a problem. What happens on Facebook is something that can never happen on ABC News. On Facebook, they have federal law protection. We have to change that.”
What Can We Do ?
Several NYSBA members asked Johnson how lawyers can help the civil rights movement. His answer is “Don’t get comfortable. You may be doing OK but when you walk outside the community and it’s not healthy for your kids. We can all work on issues like equity and public safety in the towns and cities where we live.”
Johnson also encouraged lawyers to press on in their work for equal justice under the law.
“At the end of the day, we live under a social contract we call the Constitution. We have to make that Constitution real and have it apply to everyone, while holding people accountable who are seeking to violate it,” he said.
Why Juneteenth is not just a holiday for African Americans
Johnson also shared his thoughts on the first federal observance of Juneteenth this year. He sees it as a day of liberation that should be celebrated by all Americans, not just African Americans.
It’s the spirit of celebrating liberty, much like Independence Day, that Johnson feels all should embrace on the Juneteenth holiday. It’s an acknowledgement of the contributions made by the Africans who built this country, he said.
“The White House was built by our ancestors for free, and so this is that moment to recognize that we have equity in this country. An equity was born of our blood, sweat and tears, and we should never see ourselves as victims of governments, because we are owners of government.”
NYSBA’s Women in Law Section and the association’s Committee on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion hosted the event, which was moderated by Justice Tanya Kennedy of the Appellate Division, First Department and Frettra de Silva, in-house counsel at Standard Chartered Bank.