We Need to Drown Out this Hate, Deprive it of Oxygen, Knock it Down from its Platform

Panel Discussion at Office of Justice Programs (Department of Justice)

Cy Harris

Talking to the Department of Justice panelists today gave me a new perspective on government and public service. Before meeting with them, I was unaware of the struggles that government workers experience with balancing their own opinions with the interests of those in the public whose lives they affect. DOJ attorney Linda Seabrook said something that struck me when asked about an article she had written: “It’s hard not to take a pessimistic viewpoint … we need to … drown out this hate, deprive it of oxygen, knock it down from its platform.” Her response helped me understand better that as a society we put a great deal of pressure on our politicians and decision makers, and it’s difficult for them to get everything “right.” Furthermore, the decisions they make weigh heavily on them too. I came to realize that these are “real” people making difficult decisions that they know affect other “real” people.

I came to this same realization during our other interviews today. Earlier in the day, we had the opportunity to speak with a group of military personnel during our Pentagon tour. Josh Clemmens, a US Army pilot, stated that you have to stay true to your decisions even when they involve life and death. Learning that people who are responsible for the lives of others understand all too well the human consequences of their decisions helped to humanize those in positions of power. I came to realize that public servants understand the human consequences of their decisions and that it is a mistake to take the popular view that they  are not “human” like the rest of us. In another interview, former Secretary of the Interior Bernhardt mentioned that when making decisions it’s important to stay true to the law despite one’s own ideology. Contradictions can arise, because you face the decision to sacrifice either your own beliefs or your oath to uphold the law. Public officials make difficult decisions that affect people every day. It is therefore important to humanize government workers and politicians. We have to “drown out [the] hate” that many in the public have towards public servants and come to see them as people whose jobs have them serving us.

Anya Gonzalez

Today we interviewed four officials from the Department of Justice: Chris Fisher, Mariel Lifshitz, Linda Seabrook, and Eddie Bocanegra. I was particularly excited to interview Eddie Bocanegra because of his unique background and his work helping those affected by violence. Beginning in his teenage years, Eddie was imprisoned for fourteen years for a gang-related homicide. He grew up in a poor neighborhood where the DOJ had a reputation for breaking apart families and making life difficult for his community. Despite his rough start in life, Eddie now works as senior adviser for community violence intervention in the Office of Justice Programs at the DOJ. Eddie explained that his focus is on “leveraging” resources to help law enforcement and underserved communities work together to solve problems in those communities.

Although the other DOJ panelists do not share Eddie’s background, they all share his passionate commitment to bridging the gap between underserved communities and the criminal justice system, focusing on racial justice, behavioral health, community violence intervention, and police reform. Before the interview, I felt a disconnect between government officials and myself as a citizen. I think I had lost a lot of faith in our government with respect to humanitarian issues such racial justice and violence intervention. However, after the interview, my faith in government officials and my hope for the future was to a great extent restored.

Sophia Manzur

Today we interviewed people from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention at the Department of Justice. The panelist I was most excited to interview is Linda Seabrook, who works in the Office of Justice Programs as Senior Counsel of Racial Justice and Equity, focusing on increasing outreach to underserved communities through government programs and initiatives. She began her legal career as an assistant solicitor or prosecutor, because she wanted to work for justice for women and girls of color. 

I asked a question about an article she wrote in 2017, “A Love Letter to Charlottesville.” In the article, she examines the Unite the Right rally and her own personal connection to Charlottesville. Her words deeply affected me: “We have to learn from the actions of the people of Charlottesville and drown out this hate – deprive it of oxygen, knock it down from its platform.” Many in our country want people to forget the disturbing parts of our history, and the result is that we end up repeating myths instead of learning about and from the past.

I wanted to know if Seabrook sees any change in our country since the events of 2017 or if we have learned anything from them. Seabrook responded that she doesn’t want to be pessimistic, but she hasn’t seen improvement, and she thinks that things have even worsened. She recalled that in the past she and colleagues who held different political opinions still got along. However, now there is pressure on officials not to interact with those who hold different views. However, although things are bad right now, there is still reason for hope. We can deprive hate of “oxygen” by making the effort to create and maintain connections with others. Understanding the perspectives of those with different opinions humanizes both them and ourselves, and it is only through humanizing people that we can make all of our lives better.