Co-Founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and civil rights lawyer Morris Dees gave a lecture about his activism titled “With Justice for All in a Changing America” Wednesday night at Campbell Hall.
The lecture, hosted by the Walter H. Capps Center for the Study of Ethics, Religion and Public Life, highlighted recent social justice issues such as the Black Lives Matter movement, student activism and two of Dees’ most notable lawsuits against the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). Dees earned a law degree from the University of Alabama in 1960, after which he founded the Southern Poverty Law Center in 1971, a nonprofit legal advocacy specializing in civil rights and combating hate and intolerance. In 2006, the National Law Journal included Dees in its list of the top 100 most influential lawyers in America.
Dees said some people feel threatened by the increase of diversity in American in recent years.
“It seems like America’s changed a lot in 15 years. This changing demographics and what it portends for the next 20, 30 years, it’s creating an enormous fear — a fear for those people who felt that they were privileged,” Dees said.
According to Dees, “xenophobia” becomes more prevalent as cultures mix. Providing an example of this, Dees said he once represented Vietnamese fishermen after white fishermen mistreated them in Houston, Texas in 1981.
“It wasn’t long before they were out-fishing the American fishermen,” Dees said. “There’s no other way to put it but the American fishermen got jealous.”
Dees said the white fishermen enlisted the help of the KKK, but he won the case on behalf of the Vietnamese one day before the shrimping season began, at which time the United States Marshals began protecting the Vietnamese fishermen.
Dees said a television network that “starts with the letter F” spreads distorted information in order to create a reactionary response that spreads hate and intolerance.
“We have mainstream hate in America and it’s because of these changing demographics,” Dees said. “America is great because of its diversity, not in spite of it.”
Dees said he is disappointed by how popular Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has become and disapproves of his plan to deport millions of immigrants.
“It’s saddening that the American public would buy into this,” Dees said. “Facts don’t seem to matter when you have a demigod leading the pack.”
According to Dees, “98 percent of police officers” in the United States are good people, but Americans, especially racial minorities, are being victimized by the remaining two percent.
“Innocent African-Americans and others are being shot by trigger-happy police officers,” Dees said.
Walter H. Capps Center Public Service Intern and fourth-year global studies major Lindsay Apperson said Dees’ activism is inspiring, especially given his continued work at the age of 78.
“He has done so much incredible social work and empowered a lot of marginalized populations,” Apperson said. “He’s … still fighting court cases against injustices. It’s pretty incredible.”
Apperson said she was surprised when she saw the majority of the audience was not students, but rather older attendees.
“It was a lot of more elderly members of the greater Santa Barbara community than students, which I thought was a little disappointing,” Apperson said.
Dees said students have a chance to participate in the ongoing movement for tolerance and civil rights.
“To the students here tonight: you have a front-row seat on that march for justice,” Dees said. “You can either sit on that seat or become involved.”