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Environmental Law Institute Denounces Systemic Racism in the United States

June 2020

The Environmental Law Institute is deeply saddened and angered by the vicious killing of George Floyd and deplores the systemic racism that continues to pervade U.S. society. The senseless murder of George Floyd—as with the lawless killings of so many people of color before him—runs counter to ELI’s vision of a healthy environment, prosperous economies, and vibrant communities founded on the rule of law.

ELI’s President Scott Fulton observed, “Rule of law is only possible when the law itself is consistent with and protects fundamental rights and liberties. We see in the brutal murder of George Floyd and the broader arc of like tragedies the abject failure of rule of law. The sword of justice has two sides—one side to protect, and one side to hold accountable. Having failed to protect, justice now demands accountability.”

“Sadly, this is but the most recent reprehensible act of violence committed against a black person. Trayvon Martin, Freddie Gray, Sam DuBose, Philandro Castile, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and now George Floyd,” said ELI Board Chair Benjamin F. Wilson in a statement. “In some sense, these victims are like Emmett Till, Jimmie Lee Jackson, and countless others of a bygone era who suffered brutal deaths. But unlike the deaths of Till and Jackson, the current wave of killings is not being carried out through the extralegal efforts of a mob or Klansmen, but by those sworn to uphold and enforce the law.”

For over 50 years, ELI has been working to foster innovative, just, and practical law and policy solutions to enable leaders across borders and sectors to make environmental, economic, and social progress. Sadly, this latest act of racism underscores that U.S. society is far from reaching these goals.

Environmental issues are inextricably linked with systems of oppression. Although environmental law has made great strides in improving public health and environmental quality in the United States, people of color and marginalized communities are still disproportionately exposed to environmental hazards. These disparities are closely linked to inequities in health, income, and opportunity, and ELI recognizes that we are far from achieving the progress and solutions in both environmental and social governance we wish to see.

“Our country must address now the inequities it has fostered,” urges Wilson. “We can no longer ignore disparate health care treatment, inadequate educational opportunity, or biased, criminal justice policing.”

Institutionalized racism in the United States is a continued hindrance to our mission. These recent events underscore the importance of countering the legacy of racism by doubling down on efforts that advance environmental justice as well as the diversity of our staff, Board, and the partners we work with. Through programs like its environmental justice initiative, ELI remains committed to addressing environmental inequities so that healthy, vibrant, and sustainable communities can be enjoyed by all.