Posted in .

CNN Legal Analyst and Host Laura Coates Makes Passionate Case for Fighting Hate

  • March 3, 2023


“We pursue justice in this country, but I don’t think we can realistically say we caught it.”

That was just one of the memorable and profound observations by CNN legal analyst and CNN Tonight host Laura Coates, as she spoke to an appreciative crowd of admirers at Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church March 2.

The event was created by former ADL Board Chair and longtime Board Member Sherry Levy, and was the first event in the Sophia Bender Inaugural Initiative, named after her mother, another former ADL Board Chair, and sponsored by Sherry and Ken Levy, Lisa and Joel Bender, and Susan and Scott Bender.

Coates covered a wide range of topics in her talk, which drew from her experience as a student, as a federal prosecutor, as a legal analyst and as a wife and mother. To her, justice is a concept that must apply to all people, and can only be reached and maintained by all people.  “In thinking of justice,” Coates said, “it’s never just us.”

A former federal prosecutor, author of several books including Just Pursuit, A Black Prosecutor’s Fight for Fairness, she argued that fighting hate is a long-term commitment, evidenced by the “existence and necessity of the tenure of ADL,” and made the case for a laser-focused effort by all Americans to fight hate and promote validation, inclusion and respect.

One story about a pivotal moment in her childhood led to a realization about distraction and how it undercuts efforts to fight hate. She talked about a discussion she had with the Jewish students at her small private school in Minnesota when she was in the eighth grade.  She said African Americans and Jews were “underrepresented groups” at the school, and one day, they started talking about which group had been more oppressed.

She said she noticed while the Black and Jewish students were comparing oppressions, the other students were listening, but were also working on their lessons. In other words, they weren’t distracted from their work. She said “while that distraction was happening,” for the Black and Jewish students, “work was getting done.”  She pointed out that when you’re in a marginalized group, “you spend all your days proving your existence, as opposed to existing.  The problem is, trying to prove your existence, you never get to the work.”

Distraction, she said, is a tactic used to divide and compartmentalize groups of people so that they focus only on what they think is good for themselves, rather than what is good for a fair and just society.

She urged her listeners to not be distracted by their own groups imagined goals and desires, and referencing the myth of Narcissus, warned against what she called a “cultural narcissism,” where we are so fixated on our own image that we are “intoxicated by who we are, and we have no love for others.”

Coates urged audience members to act and not stand idly by when witnessing oppression or injustice. She quoted the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and a speech he made on behalf of Soviet Jewry in 1966. “We cannot sit complacently by the wayside while our Jewish brothers in the Soviet Union face the possible extinction of their cultural and spiritual life. Those that sit at rest, while others take pains, are tender turtles and buy their quiet with disgrace.”

She invoked another myth, the myth of Sisyphus, as she closed her speech. Sisyphus was punished for escaping from would-be captors by being sentenced to roll a huge boulder up a hill, only to have it roll back down to the bottom just before he could get it to the top. He had to repeat the process, all by himself, again and again.

Coates said, “But why don’t we join Sisyphus?  Why don’t we push the boulder together?” Wouldn’t that be more effective, she pointed out, not just in the fight for hate, but in the fight for justice?   “What if then, justice was not just pursued, it was caught?”

ADL Southwest is grateful to Sherry and Ken Levy, Lisa and Joel Bender, and Susan and Scott Bender for generously sponsoring this event named after their mother, Sophia Bender.  We also are extremely grateful to Cheryl Lawson and Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church for hosting the speech at their church.