Sometimes we just repeat things we heard not even really giving it a second thought. It's how things have always been described, or it is how it is described in the media or in popular culture.
But when it comes to the Law language is very important. Take a sentencing report or a closing argument to a jury for example. If you call someone a "thug" that certainly gives off a different connotation than calling someone a "kid who made a mistake." I bet just reading those two phrases you had a very different picture in your head for each. But those differences in language could be the difference in someone getting a second chance or dragged further into the criminal justice system.
My blogs are typically pretty light, so you may be wondering, what made you choose this topic today, and does it really matter that much. Well, it absolutely does. Today, April 4th, 2022 is the 54th anniversary of the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We tend to hear things like he gave his life for... But he didn't give his life, he was murdered. Language matters.
All too often I see people who are the products of failed policy or intentional neglect caught up in the criminal justice system. People who have faced years or trauma, who are or were likely victims themselves at some point. They get caught up in these cycles, it is heartbreaking. But why are they any less deserving of second chance. If nothing else they are deserving of access to resources.
The courts are just one avenue where we can push for the change and the vision that Dr. King dreamed of. Those of us that work in this system have the obligation to continue to fight for what is right. And one way to do that is language. Language matters.