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Sonoma State Star

The Student News Site of Sonoma State University

Sonoma State Star

The Student News Site of Sonoma State University

Sonoma State Star

    Civil liberties advocate addresses race


    There was not a single empty seat last Wednesday, Aug. 28 at Pearson Hall when John Burris, American Civil Rights attorney, spoke to the student body about racial profiling and injustices.

    With recent events such as the Oscar Grant and Trayvon Martin trial, Burris had a lot to say about the criminal justice system and how the racial divide between black and white is still an ongoing issue in today’s society.

    Burris is known for his work regarding police brutality, representing people such as Rodney King as well as filing a civil suit to the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police shooting in respects to Oscar Grant. Born in 1945, Burris has seen many different acts of inequality and abuses of power.

    “If you want change to occur you must do something,” said Burris.

    The crowd of people looked inspired when listening to Burris speaking about monumental people such as Dr. Martin Luther King and the history of racial discrimination.

    “Dr. King is alive today in many of us, his words are universal and if you understand this then we have the power to change anything,” said Burris.

    Burris spoke a lot about the conflict between police and minorities. He brought up an example of an officer by the name of Timothy Wind who worked for the Los Angeles Police Department in 1990. Wind kicked and struck Rodney King with a baton several times due to his sergeant, Stacy Koon, giving him multiple orders.

    Burris had a sense that Wind did not want to engage in this beating and could see the sergeant yelling to hit him again and again.

    The racial divide that impacted people in a huge way was the O.J. Simpson trial, at which Burris went on to describe how people took sides during the hearing.

    “I worked for CNN at the time and camped out at a place called Camp O.J.,” said Burris. “At this camp there was one side where all the whites were and one side where all the blacks were. When the verdict came in, the whites were crying and the blacks were cheering.”

    This proved to the nation that racial prejudice was still very much a factor.

    “It caused an eruption in the community,” said Burris.

    There were many freshmen present in the crowd and it was evident that each was intrigued by Burris’ life experiences and way of speaking.

    “Having John Burris here to tell us of all of the injustices that occur in the system was very interesting and really inspires me to pay more attention to future trials,” said freshman Alexandria Labossiere.

    Burris is also known for his novel entitled “Blue vs. Black,” where he expresses everything he has seen as a Civil Rights attorney. In this novel he describes his experiences of prejudice that all different racial groups have been a part of.

    Regarding the latest controversy, Burris touched on the Trayvon Martin case. He explained that Zimmerman was a self-appointed community watch captain who shot Trayvon in the chest. The jury was made up of 11 white women and one Latina.

    “The white community believed it was a mistake and the black community believed it was murder,” said Burris.

    Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder and found not guilty.

    Racial profiling is also a huge issue when it comes to race. This means that people are stopped by police, not because of what they’ve done, but because what they look like.

    “Racial profiling creates real psychological harm such as fear, hurt, rage and a sense of second-class citizenship,” said Burris.

    Sonoma State was extremely fortunate to have a man of many life experiences come to talk that afternoon.

    Burris motivated the crowd in many different ways and truly represents a voice for change and justice to all.

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