A ROADMAP FOR ELIMINATING RACISM
We must seize this moment. Like family, community is not just about coming together in good times and bad times, it is about having each other’s back all the time. Our country, and especially our black and brown family members, need us to have their backs not just now, but also going forward if we are to make real lasting change.
For over 400 years, the racism pandemic has infiltrated and spread its ugly wings throughout our country. From slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation to modern day racial profiling and police brutality, racism has entrenched its insidious venom deep into the soul of our country. Systemic racism is now ingrained in almost, if not every, part of our society. The knee of one racist police officer might have killed George Floyd, but the knee of systematic racism has been on the throat of our black brothers and sisters for 400 years, slowly suffocating communities of color.
During the past 6 weeks, I have attended over 20 powerful, personal and peaceful vigils in over 14 cities and towns in the District from Newton to Attleboro and from Fall River to Brookline. I have heard and felt the pain and anguish of 400 years of oppression in the voices of my black and brown neighbors. I have also seen a growing and diverse community, like myself, speaking-up and kneeling, standing, marching and protesting with our black and brown neighbors, listening to them, and supporting them as one community, even amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. I am seeing nationwide that people are beginning to believe we are one family, one community, that we must have each other’s back, and that we all are in this together. I have hope.
Once these vigils, protests, marches and rallies conclude, we must continue to stand and fight as one community. We must peel back the layers of systematic racism that has built-up during the last 400 years.
It must begin with condemning and eliminating police brutality, racial profiling and excessive force by our police, including chokeholds and strangleholds. It must include eliminating qualified police immunity by improving oversight and independent investigations to hold individual law enforcement officers and police departments accountable and reasserting the Department of Justice’s statutory authority to investigate and litigate individuals or departmental acts who violate civil rights. It must include establishing new federal policies and guidelines on the standard for use of force and the demilitarization of our police departments. It also must include the required use of police body cameras and police vehicle cameras and the banning of facial recognition technology until such time the technology is reliable enough to justify its use. And it must include passing and prosecuting tougher hate crimes legislation, including making lynching a federal crime.
We must also create federal standards for police policies and procedures pertaining to the use of force and threats of force. Similarly, we must create a federal standard for police certifications and de-certifications. In addition, we must create a federal standard for training, including protocols for de-escalation. We also must create a federal standard for the collection and reporting of data pertaining to use of force and threats of force and create a federal affirmative duty to intervene and report the use of unauthorized or excessive force for police officers by police officers. As important is reallocating some of the funding from our police departments to focus on education and community engagement. We also know we need more experts in the community leading our fight against the opioid crisis and substance use disorder, engaging with our youth at risk, assisting and supporting with mental health challenges, and fighting against poverty and homelessness. We need to stop criminalizing poverty, mental health and substance use disorder. We do not necessarily need the police to be on the frontlines on these issues. Let’s be engaging and proactive instead of reactive and punishing. Let’s instead transition more resources from our police to community crisis teams, social workers, psychologists, and youth counselors.
But that is not enough, as the above important and necessary actions will only pull the bandage off the first layer of structural racism in our country. If we are going to truly have a lasting effect, we must also fix the systemic racism that is in our healthcare, housing, education, transportation, judicial, food, and criminal justice systems, and in our environment as we combat the climate crisis. We know during COVID-19 that our black and brown communities are contracting COVID-19 at twice the rate as their population. We know they are getting treated less, tested less, and have less personal protection equipment. We know that 10% of MA K-12 students still do not have internet and 20% do not have a device, so the education inequality gap is only widening during this time. We know that 20% of the MA K-12 students are Latino, but only 3% of the teachers are. We know that our low income and communities of color are feeling the heaviest burden of the climate crisis, are being segregated by public housing and do not have efficient, affordable and clean public transportation to help bring them from their homes to hubs of employment like Boston, to help raise their standard of living. We also know that Blacks comprise 12% of the US population and 33% of the prisoner population and Latinos 16% of the US population and 23% of the prisoner population, meanwhile Whites comprise 63% of the US population and only 30% of the prisoner population.
But we can’t stop with eradicating the systemic racism that is in our healthcare, housing, education, transportation, judicial, food, and criminal justice systems, and in our environment either, because if we do, we will still have not conquered what I believe are the four underlying causes of racism.
No one is born a racist. No one is born a bigot. No one is born to hate. This behavior is taught. Education and engagement is the antidote to eradicating racism in our country. We must double down on our investment to teach our youth at the earliest of ages that lies, prejudice and stereotypes can turn into hatred and racism and even worse, death. We must also truly commit ourselves to better educating and training our police, teachers, first responders, and political and civic leaders on cultural competency, diversity, equity & inclusion and explicit and implicit bias.
While we better educate our youth and better train our first responders and civic and political leaders, we must also ensure that there is no longer a lack of access to decision makers to the black and brown community. In order to ensure the changes we make now endure, we need more diversity and inclusion in our political, business and civic leadership.
We need leaders who are diverse themselves to accurately reflect our city, state and country’s population and who understand the diverse perspectives of their communities. We also need leaders who are committed to advancing diversity, equity and inclusion for all and being a role model and leader for ALL of our children, so they know they are safe, loved, and wanted. We not only need such diverse political leaders in our federal, state and local governments, but also we need a representative number of diverse teachers in our classrooms, diverse judges in our courtrooms and diverse leaders in the boardrooms and executive suites of our Fortune 500 companies, private companies, nonprofits, high schools and colleges, hospitals, and police and fire departments.
We must also support and protect the voting rights of all Americans, especially those of historically disenfranchised populations, like the Black and Latino communities. Because when more Americans are encouraged to vote and are able to vote, they are more likely to vote for those candidates who will best present their communities and interests. It starts with automatic voting registration. We must also eliminate any barriers to voting, restrictions on early voting, opportunities for voter intimidation and suppression, and restrictions on voter identification laws and proof of citizenship. We must also eliminate voter roll purging on any basis and partisan gerrymandering and restore full voting rights for those who have been incarcerated and have served their time.
The census is the most inclusive civil activity in our country. The data collected by the census affects our ability to ensure equal representation and equal access to important government and private resources. The data collected determines how $800 billion in annual federal resources are distributed for special education, Medicaid, highway planning, school lunches, affordable housing, education, and much more. It helps guide decisions affecting local schools, housing, healthcare services and business investments and helps the government with its local emergency response to the climate crisis, epidemics like the opioid crisis and pandemics like COVID-19. Unfortunately, Latinos, Blacks, Asian Americans, Native Americans and children are consistently undercounted, which leads to further unequal political representation and unequal access to vital public and private resources for their families, neighborhoods and communities. The census takes place every 10 years and is underway right now. We must encourage and empower all of our communities, especially those historically undercounted, to fill out their census questionnaire to be accurately counted, to ensure equal representation and to make sure they receive equal access to an appropriate level of federal resources, or else they will be left further behind.
This is a long fight, but if we get this right, the memories of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Amaud Arbery, DJ Henry, Tony McDade and so many before them will lead to a better future for ALL of our communities, our country and for humanity. These vigils, protests, rallies, and marches have lit a fire underneath all of us and it has brought us together as one community and as one family. It is now on all of us to stand-up and speak out as one community and to seize the power of our voice and our vote.