CCC explores policies to keep communities of color safe
The nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd and the spotlight they have placed on police violence in black communities present a unique opportunity to create substantive policy changes, particularly at the state and local level, said panelists during a virtual micro-summit hosted today by CSG East’s Council on Communities of Color (CCC).
In a wide-ranging discussion, the panelists, comprising state officials, academics, and legal experts, emphasized that the conversations occurring in cities and towns across America should be part of a broader effort to tackle racism and discrimination in education, housing, and all other aspects of daily life.
“I want to thank the protestors. They’ve created an environment that allows us to get into this conversation,” said New York state Senator Kevin Parker, who is a leading proponent of police reform. Parker, who chairs the CCC, said that he hopes to advance several measures in the legislature this year.
In Pennsylvania, there is a renewed commitment among some state lawmakers and members of the Philadelphia City Council to advocate aggressively for criminal justice reform, said state Representative Chris Rabb. “A number of people at the local and state level are exerting pressure to get things done in ways that have not moved in the past,” he said.
But panelists questioned whether such efforts will lead to mere tweaks in the existing system, or to a plan for wider systemic changes and an ability to implement them.
“We need a demolition team to go in and blow up what the police department stands for — but at the same time we need to have a construction crew available to replace what was blown up,” said Michael Coard, a Philadelphia-based civil rights lawyer. An important first step would be to require that police live in the community that they are policing, where they have strong ties and an understanding of its culture, rather than assigning the beat to “outsiders who come in like foreign soldiers and begin to oppress the community,” he said.
Coard and others emphasized that the societal transformations must go beyond the current focus on police violence, to address the racism and discrimination permeating all aspects of society.
“If we talk about police violence in a vacuum, then we stop addressing the broader issues that have led us to this place,” said Khalilah Brown-Dean, associated professor of political science at Quinnipiac University, who noted the health and economic disparities that exist in black communities.
The ‘pandemic’ of racism
The coronavirus pandemic, for example, has disproportionately affected people of color, who are more likely to die from COVID-19 than whites, due to higher rates of chronic health conditions that make complications from the disease more likely, and lower rates of health insurance.
“I think we cannot underestimate the importance of dealing with the Covid pandemic at the same time that we are dealing with this pandemic of anti-black racism that’s been here since the founding of this country,” said Brown-Dean.
She warned of possible cascading socio-economic impacts from the current health crisis, such as the potential for widespread job losses to cause people to lose their homes . The recently released U.S. jobs report for May found that while overall unemployment declined, the jobless rate rose slightly for black Americans, to 16.8% last month from 16.7% in April. Public education could take a hit from a loss in funding, and face challenges from privately held charter schools trying to exploit those communities.
Going forward, Brown-Dean urged policymakers to be aware of how their actions affect communities of color. “For every bill that comes through your legislature, think about what that impact will be and then what are you willing to do to offset that impact,” she said. In addition, she called for the creation of a “racial trauma fund” to make available mental health services for people of color, particularly children, who have witnessed violence.
Christina Greer, an associate professor of political science at Fordham University, said that many voters do not know who their local or state officials are or the power they have to enact polices that affect their lives. She was hopeful that the dialogue sparked by the nationwide protests will motivate more people to get to know their elected leaders and advocate for their interests.
“What inspires me now is that so many people are waking up to see that they can have positive change. They can make demands to change not only who’s in power but the conversations they’re having once they’re there,” said Greer.