BYU Law’s American Constitution Society and Black Law Students Association co-hosted a civil rights panel including Lex Scott, co-founder of the Utah chapterof Black Lives Matter; John Mejia, legal director at the ACLU of Utah; Stewart Gollan, attorney at the Pioneer Justice Center; and Jordan Srgo, Chief Program Officer at Encircle.
All the panelists shared a common message: “Marginalized people are usually the people whose rights are most at risk.” In light of that risk, it is up to those of us in positions of privilege to speak and fight or civil liberties. Each representative shared some of the successes they’ve seen in Utah, from protecting the rights of prisoners to curbing teen suicide.
“When bullied families come to us,” Scott explained, “they are at a loss.” She expressed how much satisfaction she gets out of protecting minority students who are degraded on account of their race or ethnicity. Mejia spoke in general terms of the success the ACLU has enjoyed in recent years. “We’ve been able to grow our credibility to the point that people trust us, even if they may not agree with our position.” As evidence of that trust, local lawmakers have started listening to the ACLU when drafting legislation.
The panelists also mentioned some of the struggles they face in promoting their agendas. One of the most common challenges in civil rights work is money. Generally, those who don’t have many resources are the ones whose rights are violated. Thus, each of the represented organizations rely heavily on volunteer efforts and donations. Srgo spoke of the push back Encircle sometimes receives from the community as a result of misunderstanding the mission of the organization. All the panelists expressed frustration with the war on drugs. Gollan, among others, advocated for more treatment based models rather than relentlessly pursuing imprisonment.
Notwithstanding these obstacles, the panel asserted there is hope for the future.