Why We Cannot Wait To Address Inequalities and Racism

As we dealt with the COVID-19 crisis, the questions that kept nagging at me were, “Would we learn? Would we change? Would we behave differently?” Or, “Would we backslide into business as usual?”

When Derek Chauvin abused his power as a Minneapolis police officer to kill George Floyd while other officers looked on, I asked myself the same questions.

This time must be different.

After centuries in which African men and women were enslaved, and after Jim Crow laws and segregation, African Americans still face deep injustices. They remain burdened by the reality that if they drive an expensive vehicle, they might be pulled over in a traffic stop. The reality that the schools their children attend are systematically underfunded. The reality that the criminal justice system will impose stiffer penalties on them than their white counterparts.

Are we capable as a society of uniting together to insist — not just tolerate the idea — that black lives matter? The extent and duration of this year’s protests suggest there will be change. If the change is to have any real meaning, though, it cannot be incremental or temporary or inadequate. It needs to be deep, abiding cultural change.

Change will come when those who question the protests over George Floyd’s killing understand that it was a result of pervasive institutional racism and not merely an isolated incident. To that end, people need to come to grips with certain realities.

First, black lives matter. This is not an exclusionary statement; it is an acknowledgment that, in a society where black lives often don’t seem to matter, they actually do.

Second, the protesters are protesting — they should not be confused with the few individuals who looted or destroyed or defaced property, taking advantage of the protests.

Third, protesters who block streets or chant loudly or sit in at buildings are trying to change your perspective. How do you feel being stuck in a situation in which you are inconvenienced and unable to get those in power to heed your concerns? Imagine being inconvenienced — and, worse, facing threats to your very existence — every day of your life. Now start understanding why there is protest.

Next, acknowledge that white privilege exists. That doesn’t mean that every white person had things handed to them on a silver platter. It means you do not face discrimination because of your skin color.

I never have to think twice that I might be shot by vigilantes if I go for a jog or have the police summoned because I asked someone to put a leash on their dog. That is white privilege.

So how do we get to where we need to go?

We need to adequately and — most importantly — equitably fund educational opportunities. No one is asking for more than their fair share. We just don’t want another generation of children to suffer the institutional racism that besets our school funding systems nationwide and particularly in Pennsylvania.

We need to create an economy that rewards a living wage to anyone who is willing to show up to work every day. Unfortunately, people of color and women disproportionately work full-time jobs but still can’t afford decent housing or health care or day care or food.

We need to adequately fund health care for all. COVID-19 took a disproportionate number of black lives because of underlying medical conditions that resulted from inadequate and inaccessible health care for people of color over decades.

We need to have a trauma-informed society that learns how to deescalate troublesome situations and heal and nurture. That trauma training needs to take place in every school, every workplace, every neighborhood institution, every religious center and with all emergency personnel so we can all learn empathy and understanding.

We need to reform the criminal justice system. Rehabilitation works better than punishment.

We need to redefine what policing should look like in 2020 and then we need to ensure that officers are adequately trained before we push them into inherently dangerous and stressful situations. We need to work with police unions to adequately fund their pensions and, in exchange, have them support the removal of any officers who cannot practice social justice and respect civil rights. And we need to invest in crucial services that address underlying issues in our communities. The “8 Can’t Wait” initiative is a place to start.

We need to comprehensively address these and many other issues in legislation that colleagues in the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus and I will be introducing. It is time to address many of the long-standing inequities that have brought us to this point.

We cannot wait.

If you want to know why reform cannot wait, read the transcript of George Floyd’s words as a police officer knelt on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds.

It’s my face man
I didn’t do nothing serious man
please
please
please I can’t breathe
please man
please somebody
please man
I can’t breathe
I can’t breathe
Please
(Inaudible)
man can’t breathe, my face
just get up
I can’t breathe
please (inaudible)
I can’t breathe sh*t
I will
I can’t move
mama
mama
I can’t
my knee
my nuts
I’m through
I’m through
I’m claustrophobic
my stomach hurt
my neck hurts
everything hurts
some water or something
please
please
I can’t breathe officer
don’t kill me
they gon’ kill me man
come on man
I cannot breathe
I cannot breathe
they gon’ kill me
they gon’ kill me
I can’t breathe
I can’t breathe
please sir
please
please
please I can’t breathe

The transcript in its entirety takes about 20 seconds to read. But read it over a period of eight minutes and 46 seconds, and let it sink in.

That is why we cannot wait.


Recent News

August 2022 Newsletter (Aug 09, 2022)
Education Flyer - English (Aug 04, 2022)
Education Flyer - Spanish (Aug 04, 2022)