Guest commentary as published in the Beloit Daily News on June 15, 2020:
People have the power to create change
By Dorothy J. Harrell
Even as we mourn the senseless death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, a police officer in Chicago was pulling a young black woman, Mia Wright, from her car and put a knee on her neck and back. Out with her family to go shopping at Target, police approached her car with guns drawn, shattered her car windows and a shard of glass cut her eye.
We can name names and cite incidents across this country. What we need is a cultural mind shift, a moral transformation and a commitment to equity and fairness for all. This is not just about race, it is about human rights. Separated by color we belong to the same human family. Today, we saw a white police officer knock an elderly white male to the sidewalk in Buffalo, NY and then walk over him as he bleeds from a head injury. When an officer attempts to stop and render aid, his fellow officer pushes him forward. Where is the humanity in that?
There is a fire somewhere in the world every day. We cannot put out every fire but we can extinguish hate.
To become a member of law enforcement does not demand an absence of humanity. At one time the force was called peace officer. We may need a throwback to those days. This is not just about policing but the systemic racism built into the American justice system. The disparate impact of charging and sentencing in Rock County and across the country is a cause for concern in communities of color. To talk about what is happening in our country is not to say we don’t love it but in some incidents the term domestic violence can be applied to what we see happening.
In order for us to move forward we must look back. Our country was founded with the words “all men are created equal” but we know the phrase was not inclusive. Had it been true there would have been no need for the 13th, 14th, 15th and 19th amendments to the Constitution, Brown vs. the Board of Education or the Voting Rights Act. So today many people are now willing to ‘take a knee’. Why now? Why not in 2016 when Colin Kaepernick was ridiculed and vilified because he knelt to protest police brutality? The message got twisted and his actions were said to represent hatred for the flag when in reality this became another assault on a person of color.
Every generation must find their work and do it. The fact that so many young people have been galvanized and motivated and mobilized creates hope. Hope can lead to healing. We must all work together to reimagine policing so it recognizes the humanity of every person and work within the judicial system so the dignity of all persons are respected. This is about our humanity and identity in the eyes of the state.
This is not just a moment but a movement that has gone global. We have celebrities using their social media to amplify the message and even Michael Jordan donating $100 million for social justice. Most likely we won’t see any of those people or their dollars. And I have not seen a similar response from any businesses in our community. This begs the question what will we do within our community to further the cause of racial justice? We must commit to connect the dots. We need cross-racial solidarity to ensure decision makers are accountable to the community. We must register and vote. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) will continue the work we have been doing with the League of Women Voters (LVW) to increase awareness of registering, commit to community forums prior to elections to highlight issues and encourage people to complete the 2020 census.
African Americans are battling two pandemics at once, the outbreak of coronavirus and the infiltration of racism into our communities. Now that it has your attention we must work together to turn anger into a force for good. We are not a people without hope. What do we want? What do we need? That is hard to say because I don’t know what it will take to change the hearts and minds of others. Perhaps we can work on restoring trust by a look at the following:
- Health officials. engage in a solution oriented conversation responding to COVID-19 in our community and our overcrowded prisons.
- City council, educate the public on any existing committees or boards with the authority to oversee and address public concerns on police activity, hiring and discipline; if none, then create one.
- Police, review with the public any policies on methods of restraint and ban the use of knee holds and other lethal methods of restraint, any requirement for body/dash cams and their usage with prompt release of evidence, and any training that currently exist on de-escalation and cultural competence.
- County administrators, release or create any/all information on crimes, charging and sentencing delineated by race.
- School board review the role of police presence in our schools and provide the public with data by race on suspensions, expulsions and referrals to municipal court.
- We all advocate for federal hate crimes legislation that provides procedures, sanctions and penalties in cases of blatant police brutality.
We, as a people, have the power to create change.
Dorothy J. Harrell, JD
Beloit NAACP #3251