by Angelique B. D’Silva
Arts & Entertainment Editor
As citizens, individuals have a responsibility to be engaged and active in their community, government, and to themselves. The task of a citizen is not easy; it requires energy, commitment and arduous work. The theory that government does work in favor of the people, but people must have faith in the law.
African-American History Month celebrated in February is a time to acknowledge African Americans not only in the United States, but also around the world. Assistant Dean of Students at the University of La Verne College of Law, Dr. J.M. Spectar spoke on those issues, in “People of Color and the Law” on Feb. 7 in the West Dining Room.
Spectar commenced the lecture stating that individuals should have faith in the law; “Faith in ideals and in the institution of a republic,” he said. Spectar believes Americans in the United States have entered a stage of great promise and possibility, due to our new administration and millennium.
At the same time, the United States is encompassing a great deal of problems. Spectar probed the question of how much faith the people have in the ideals of the republic, in the institutions; faith that due process exist, that equal protection protects all people and that access to justice exists.
Spectar said that faith is differentiated via two levels: the problem of not enough faith and faith that is continuously being challenged. First, some people have lost faith that our institutions work for everyone. Many individuals perceive that our government expresses itself utilizing a profusion of empty promises. It is all this fancy talk that has flourished within an individual a cynical attitude.
“Cynicism is incompatible with faith. You cannot have faith in democratic ideals and institutions and be cynical about them. You could be skeptical, but not cynical,” said Spectar.
Spectar said, “I believe people are becoming very cynical today. People are becoming quite disenchanted with the political system, losing faith in the legal system and our institutions. I feel a sense of responsibility, because I think that as a member of the legal profession I know the system works, can work and can be made to work which is important. We must never lose hope, once we do there is nothing else. The next thing is to lay down and die, and that’s not acceptable.”
He also said faith in the institution is relentlessly under defamation and consistently challenged. He gave the example of an African-American man driving who automatically is under assault, because he is “driving while black.” The man’s belief is under scrutiny and his faith is contested, because he was pulled over for his race.
“Some don’t have enough faith and that’s bad because to maintain a republic, people have to have faith in the ideals and institutions,” said Spectar. He reiterated, people have to believe that due process exists, that separation of powers exists and people believe in equal protection, which is necessary.
“Some have faith and claim in the first amendment and therefore, I have freedom of speech, but then they use freedom of speech as a license to espouse hate and bigotry. Well I believe in freedom of speech, therefore, I have a right to speak does not really make you a part of a democratic governance if you choose to espouse hate and bigotry. You’re now abusing our faith in the democratic institutions and ideals,” said Spectar.
Associate Vice President Al Clark said, “It was a new idea expressed in such a probing and analytical manner. The second point he made about participation and having faith in our own democracy, I thought was both wise and courageous. It was wise because I think he’s right that in our country at least we are not going to have an army insurrection, and change does come. It was brave, because it’s not a popular idea particularly now when people are apathetic about participation in elections and especially after seeing a presidency taken away from a popular vote leader.”
He relies the premise of a reasoned faith. A reasoned faith is a faith that comes when one studies another country’s history and sees how the institutions function and ideals of American civilization have been operationalized. He said people should have a reasoned faith when looking at American history; for example, slavery, Jim Crow Laws and women and minorities being denied the right to vote. Spectar strive to impose upon his audience that without these institutions and ideal, individuals could not have made strides for their cause.
“But it is those very institutions and ideals which were used to free the slaves, to create suffrage for women, the voting rights act and the civil rights act,” said Spectar. He ascertains that these achievements were feasible, because people appealed to American institutions.
He further stated that when one claims neutrality in circumstances taking place, people’s attitude toward the situation is of indifference. Individuals should “act and take responsibility for one’s actions,” said Spectar. American citizens have the privilege to vote, when they don’t they aren’t protecting their interest.
“We have to believe that when you vote it has consequence,” said Spectar. People must give credence that individual’s struggles are not in vain and that every vote counts. Most laws occur at the sub-state-level,” he said. “If you really want to affect change, you have to be inquisitive.” In order to find the answers, always solicit questions.
“Law is not really what happens in the Supreme Court, civil society is who creates law,” said Spectar. There are several challenges confronting the United States right now, particularly globalization; globalization in terms of the impact on people of color and the United States’ laws.
He said, “The more technology and the more communication you have between people, you get greater cultural intercultural communication amongst all people in the world.”
The significant connection between blacks is worldwide. Black history month’s normal tendency is to celebrate American Blacks, but on a greater scale the month should encompass Blacks around the world. “Globalization belongs to Black history month,” said Spectar.
Alexis Scott, director of cross cultural program and services said the discussion made her reflect on the issue on a global level. She admits that she does forget to think about issues going on somewhere else. She adds the lectures inspired new programming ideas.
“When people of color start thinking about how to protect themselves from government action it may be helpful in an era of globalization to think about the international domain,” said Spectar. “How can we connect our plight worldwide?” he asked. “You have to be an active citizen,” he said.
When people are dissatisfied with their present state, they organize to create change. Spectar is a strong believer in the American system. He said that our American system has a mechanism where people who decide to take an initiative to change things, are able to do so.
“It’s a game with a lot of actors,” he said.
“The Constitution is not supreme over the people, the people are supreme,” said Spectar. Individuals confuse the strength of laws with an individual’s clout over the laws; because someone cannot persuade a group, it does not mean that the law has prominence.
Spectar communicates that the world is changing at an unprecedented rate; therefore, it is vital for individuals to become versatile. Becoming multifaceted enables individuals to be on high demand for jobs. In essence, it is the act of being engaged and active that warrants effectiveness. “We are world citizens,” said Spectar.
“I truly believe that if I fought as hard as I could and never gave up and consistently obtained a lot of information of how the system works, that ultimately I would prevail,” he said.
“I found the whole thing inspiring. I thought he covered many good points,” said freshman Eja Ash.
Freshman LaVenna Ware said that the lecture, “addressed a lot of issues and opened up my eyes to see why society is like it is and why I should have faith in society.”
“The real key is to see how in crucial points leaders arose who refuse to give up as different and as daunting as the task was, as challenging a task as they face. You should never surrender,” said Spectar.