After the May 25 2020 officer-involved killing of George Floyd in Minnesota, many social media users shared a quote attributed to Ben Franklin: “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are”:
“Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are” this needs to stop, when is the world EVER going to change ? HE SAID HE CANT BREATH!THAT COP WAS ENJOYING IT HE WAS ENJOYING KILLING HIM!! Black people are also human💔✊🏻✊🏿
— 𝙰 (@ghalooyy) May 28, 2020
“Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”
Pls quote rt, reply w, or twt the hashtag to show your support#BlackLivesMatter
— 𝗯𝗹𝗮𝗸𝗲 ☆ blm (@svteezprint) May 28, 2020
Variations of the quote and its attribution to Benjamin Franklin were not new in May 2020. In early 2019, the statement and attribution were shared to Reddit’s r/quotes:
Back in 2014, Sen. Cory Booker shared the quote and attribution on Twitter:
"Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are." Benjamin Franklin
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) May 24, 2017
At least one Reddit user questioned the provenance and veracity of the quote on that 2019 thread, commenting:
not to be a wet rag…..
…But I can’t find any evidence that Franklin ever said anything like this…
…Indeed, I can’t find the existence of the quote before like… 1997…
…Happy to be shown to be wrong, though.
Unlike other quotes attributed to Franklin, the “justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are” wasn’t attached to any of his known works, books, letters, or other writings. No date was given on any of the primary iterations, and only his name appeared with the quote.
The earliest version of the quote with Franklin’s name attached appeared to be the source for driving many spurious, misconstrued, and unattributed quotes — GoodReads, which more often than not leads to a finding of “not true” when we locate an early iteration of a quote on the site. It appeared that the GoodReads page was added no later than April 2008, and it may have served as a source for many social media users since its emergence on the internet.
A search of the National Archives/National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC)’s “Founders Online” archive returned no matching results for any remotely similar quote made by Franklin or any of the United States’ Founding Fathers.
A similar search of FranklinPapers.org returned nothing for a partial quote — “justice will not be …” We broadened our search using Google for the partial quote and “Franklin,” returning largely misdated results and no credible citation for the quote or Franklin’s authoring it.
In instances where an iteration appeared to date back earlier than 2008, the quote itself was clearly a subsequent addition in a footer or on a faculty page. Regardless of their publishing dates, none of the pages offered a timeline, a source, or any other information suggesting sharers selected the quote from a source other than “floating around on the internet.”
Similarly, correctly dated iterations of the partial quote and Franklin’s name pointed to documents like court decisions or other judicial papers where the words “justice will not be served” occurred organically and not in the context of the broader quote. In those iterations, Franklin’s name arose elsewhere with no connection to the phrasing.
Finally, the quote did appear on Franklin’s Wikiquote page. However, it was in the “Misattributed” section. Franklin is one of the most quoted Americans in the country’s history, and the complete lack of evidence tying him to the quote indicated that it was a modern invention with his name tacked on for increased viral spread.
As a commentary on injustice in 2020 and in previous years, “justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are” clearly resonated with readers. Nevertheless, those words were not the words of Ben Franklin, and the actual original author of the quote remained unknown.