What an overwhelming time we are living through.
COVID is, in itself, unprecedented in my lifetime. But, I want to talk about the relentlessness of police violence that recent events have so clearly underscored.
Of course, the crisis in the criminal justice system is profound, and demands a profound response from our civil society. Without making light of the seriousness of what needs to be done to reform our policing system, this moment isn’t just about better police training, supervision or tactics. Nor is it only about holding four errant police officers accountable, setting up citizens review commissions or even about better accountability for all police agencies. These steps probably would help and should be undertaken.
But, the root of this issue is much, much more serious and intractable. What is it that permits a human being to slowly and methodically snuff out the very life’s breath from another human being, apparently not in anger, but nonchalantly, with a hand in one’s pocket? And how can that individual’s colleagues stand by and silently watch, not raising a single objection?
The answer, of course, must be the unreformed racism that allowed our country to be built on slavery, violence, fear and hatred. That racism that lets us see the other, because of difference from ourselves, as somehow inferior or exploitable. To see another’s life as being somehow less worthy of the dignity and respect we’d expect for ourselves.
That virus infects far more than the criminal justice system.
At NWJP, we see it every day in our work.
We see the nonchalant indifference of a Derek Chauvin in employers who are willing to steal the wages of vulnerable, marginalized workers, dehumanize them, treat them like disposable pieces of machinery, threatening or firing those who dare to speak up. While this may not literally extinguish the very lives of those workers, still, in the draining away of hopes and dreams for a better life, no matter how hard one works, the joys of living just as surely die. Too often, it is this same strain of racism, whether overt or implicit, that allows this to happen. And rather than step in, take risks and perhaps even pay a personal price to stop or remedy this abuse, other workers, supervisors, regulators, judges or jurors, too often choose to look away. They may justify their silent complicity because they allow their differences from the “other” to deny the victims’ common shared humanity and legitimate entitlement to fair treatment.
It is time to end this stain. Because of the other crises we face, it is a hard time to take this on. But it is time. Yes, time to adopt meaningful and effective criminal justice reform. But we cannot stop there. We must do the hard work to confront the structural racism and implicit bias that prevent us from reaching our ideals in the work place and as a community.
It is past time.