We have not even begun to research, to understand, and to prepare ourselves for the shifts in our society and culture that have resulted from these decisions we have made. We do not yet know the long-term effect on our democracy of the trauma of mass incarceration. It is not just that we have allowed states to enact repressive voting rights laws. It is not just that the state of Texas has decided that students in that state can no longer use their university ID to vote. It is that instead they have decided you may use a concealed gun-carry permit as identification to vote. It is not just that we have starved our children of access to arts and music education in our public schools, it’s that we have shifted the whole narrative about art and music to one in which the value is seen only through the lens of whether it may improve test scores. It is not only that the flaws in our justice system have been horrifyingly revealed as we watched the death of Eric Garner on Staten Island or saw Walter Scott running for his life in South Carolina before he was shot like prey by police officers. It is not just that we have seen, in glaring Technicolor, the racial injustices in our criminal justice system. It is that we now also know that law enforcement has in places like Ferguson, Missouri, been turned into a means of income-generation for municipal government, a practice so grotesque, so demeaning to the dignity of both law enforcement officers and the communities they serve, and so corrosive that the legitimacy of the rule of law in a democracy that we, you, must re-imagine the very structure of local governments and law enforcement in communities across this country. It is not only that we live in a time of staggering income inequality beyond which we have ever experienced in this country. It is that during this precise period of growing inequality, we have deliberately starved the infrastructure that supports our communities and the critical institutions of public life.

Sherrilyn Ifill, commencement address at Bard College, 23 May 2015