Florida Rural Legal Services, Inc. (FRLS), joins our partners for justice across the country and worldwide, in mourning George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and countless others. These deaths are constant reminders of the inequities and systemic racism ingrained in policies and practices of law enforcement and show us the justice gaps that must be filled to fulfill America’s promise of justice for all.
As the nation faces the challenges of a global pandemic disproportionally harming select groups, we have now been forced to face the reality of other harms caused by centuries of injustices impacting criminal, economic and social justice harms emerge through access to healthcare, biases in medical treatment, the growing racial wealth gap, targeted police brutality and other wrongs preventing health and prosperity for black Americans, which echo in Mr. Floyd’s last words, “I can’t breathe”.
These words represent the pain and hardship of many black citizens and other people of color, surviving generational poverty for centuries, which have never been fully addressed to allow healing and real unity for all Americans. The solution for these ills, which continue to result in tangible harms including deaths, cannot be found in webinars watered down to eliminate uncomfortable feelings, surveys or ambiguous statements of support from corporations without real dialogue around change and void of deliverables to ensure the changes needed are consecrated. The answer does not lie in hashtags and social media trending topics that often dissipate before any real discussion on change begins. America must find a way to prevent these injustices and solutions are found in concerted efforts from every American -from changing educational curriculum to prioritizing community economic redevelopment, as many legal services programs are doing across the country-these and other measures will help to end the plague of systemic racism ingrained in institutions across the country.
FRLS believes that racial equity is a part of our mission of equal access to justice and ingrained in our ongoing fight to curtail the systems that cause circular poverty and obstacles to justice.
FRLS was founded in 1966 and as Florida’s first legal services program serving Migrant farmworkers. Today FRLS continues to provide essential legal services to migrant farmworkers throughout the state of Florida and also provides legal services and community education and outreach to low income and vulnerable populations including housing protection, consumer protection, family law, public benefits and other individual rights, such as expungements and driver’s license re-instatement and other community re-entry services.
Jaffe S. Pickett, Esquire is the Executive Director of Florida Legal Services and is a longtime advocate for issues surrounding the criminalization of poverty and criminal justice restructuring. Pickett has offered testimony to the Department of Justice as well as the Alabama Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and has spoken regionally and nationally on topics surrounding the importance of free civil legal aid. Pickett published “A Guide for Community Redevelopment & Economic Improvement Projects: A Replication Guidebook for Legal Aid & Community Organizations” in 2019 and continues her lifelong passion of advocating for free civil legal aid to impoverished individuals and communities at FRLS.