OP-ED: Legislation Needed to Fight Systematic Racism

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The following was written by Progressive Massachusetts and is endorsed by Progressive Watertown:

The killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, David McAtee, and Rayshard Brooks have served as a tragic reminder of the epidemic that is police brutality in the United States. 

Over the past few weeks (indeed, over the past few years), we keep seeing more and more video examples of how widespread, how dehumanizing, and how fatal police violence is and how disproportionately such violence is used against the Black community. Some say the current wave of protests is a historic turning point; we need to make it one. 

It is important to recognize that the graphic imagery of police brutality is just one of the many violent manifestations of systemic racism and white supremacy. The underfunding of schools in communities of color is a form of violence. The denial of health care access is a form of violence. Exclusionary housing policies are a form of violence. The environmental injustices of siting pollution near communities of color is a form of violence. 

The statistics of systemic racism in Massachusetts are clear. 

Systemic racism is why the incarceration rate among our Commonwealth’s Black population is almost seven times that of the white population (while the population is nine times smaller). 

Systemic racism is why the median wealth for a Black household in Greater Boston is $8, whereas the median wealth of a white household is nearly $250,000. 

Systemic racism is why Black women in Greater Boston make 52 cents for every dollar that white men make.

Systemic racism is why air pollution increased in Black communities in the
Commonwealth while falling statewide. 

We are happy to see that our national elected officials like Senators Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren and Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley have already filed legislation to increase accountability for police officers. 

Beyond such important reforms, we need to fundamentally rethink what public safety means. Bloated and militarized police budgets and ever-expanding budgets for prisons and jails are not what keeps communities safe; indeed, communities are less safe because of them. 

What keeps communities safe are investments in schools, in housing, in health care, and in community-led development. Our budgets need to reflect these priorities, and our policymaking should stop being hindered by the constant box-checking desire to have a police endorsement for any piece of legislation around public safety. 

Massachusetts could be leading, but we have not. The Governor and Legislature have known about these problems and the many other ways in which systemic racism manifests itself. Progressive legislators, especially progressive legislators of color, have filed legislation to advance racial equity, only to see bills dismissed in committee. The Governor and legislative leadership allow session after session to pass without
meaningful action.

We are grateful to legislators who are reviving past bills and crafting new ones to address systemic inequities and racism. We are talking with our allies inside and outside the State House (as well as on the national and municipal level) about how to best amplify and support their work.

As Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley so often eloquently states, it was policy that created these injustices, and we need policies to undo them. We call on the Massachusetts Legislature, our Congressional delegation, and municipal electeds to listen to the communities who have been most impacted and to start legislating as though they actually believe that Black Lives Matter.

In solidarity,

Caroline Bays, Rachel Poliner, Maryann Wattendorf, Jonathan Cohn, Gumby Breton, Etel Haxhiaj, John Kirk, Mohammed Missouri

The Progressive Massachusetts Board of Directors

11 thoughts on “OP-ED: Legislation Needed to Fight Systematic Racism

  1. There is no doubt there is plenty of police abuse, but it’s directed against all races and ethnicities.

    But there is no “systematic racism.”

    Just because you say that phrase does not make it so.

    More and more Blacks do quite well, are well-educated, and law-abiding.

    Blacks are imprisoned, like Whites, when they commit serious crimes.

    Black on Black crime is a major problem and take more Black lives than police ever have.

    Which is one reason police are needed and why Black communities demand protection.

    • Annie, I find it telling that the original letter cites authoritative studies and articles, and you’ve countered their arguments by citing…your own opinions. Just because you say there’s no racism doesn’t make it so, especially in the face of so much evidence.

      I’m not going to dignify a statement like “More and more Blacks do quite well, are well-educated, and law-abiding” with a response. If you can’t figure out what’s wrong with the assumptions behind that statement, try reading a book. There are currently a number of them on the New York Times bestseller list that could be of help.

      We can’t say that all are treated equally before the law when armed white people can storm a government building without consequences while George Floyd is murdered for suspicion of passing a counterfeit 20, and Breonna Taylor is killed while she SLEPT. Not in a week when the president pardons his good friend Roger Stone.

      For the record, what black communities are primarily demanding protection from right now is police brutality and other weaponized forms of white supremacy.

  2. This entire letter is a crock of crap. Please don’t feel that you need to agree with it. You don’t. Not even one sentence is accurate.

  3. Wow Joe! You have the ability to tell the color of a person’s skin by what they write! I’m impressed! What an audience you could draw in Vegas with an ability like that!

  4. It appears that far too many people seem to forget that “racist, white America” voted for the first black President, not once, but twice. They also forget that the overwhelming of black citizens are killed by other black citizens every year. Why are there no marches, no outcry when minorities kill other minorities in Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan, etc.? The city of Chicago has more gun deaths of black men, women & children than any city in the country but for some reason not a mention by Barack, Jesse, Al and others. Why is that, are they afraid to criticize a city where those in charge are mostly black from the Mayor on down? You’re damn right, that’s why.

    • Thanks, John — I had “how can we be racist when we had a black president?” on my Bingo card. I also had “black on black violence”, so it’s a real banner week for me.

      It’s true that, in the wake of a terrible financial disaster, Barack Obama was elected President, and reelected four years later. Alongside this indicator of progress, we saw a backlash of white resentment that paralleled the one that arose in reaction to black enfranchisement and political power in the Reconstruction years. So, no, racists don’t get a free pass for being in a country that elected a black man.

      You’ve made the point several times in these letters that black people kill other black people, conflating civilian-on-civilian violence with a pattern of racially-motivated police brutality. It’s a tried and true method for derailing conversations that might, in fact, reduce the violence in those neighborhoods. There are many discussions, led by community activists, that call into question the current allocation of resources and division of responsibility between police and social services that have the potential to remake those communities in a more peaceful mold. I recommend you watch Ava DuVernay’s documentary “13th” to understand the impact of discriminatory policing and sentencing on black communities before deflecting attention away from systemic problems with the words “black on black violence” again.

      I’m not diminishing the impact of violence on the victims and their families — I’ve posted previously about the anti-violence organizations in Boston that I, along with many of my fellow Watertown residents, support however we can. If you’re concerned about this issue, feel free to join us. Otherwise, it just looks like you’re using murder victims as a prop for your uninformed arguments.

      On to Black Lives Matter: The protesters are calling attention to a gross imbalance of power, between the state and individuals, which conservatives should be on board with but appear to be siding nearly unanimously with the authoritarian viewpoint. The protesters’ complaint is that our country tolerates, and has tolerated, the murder of black people by white police at a rate that is VASTLY disproportionate to the numbers of black people in the population, and outstrips police brutality that takes place within any other racial dynamic. And the key point is that the police in question do it with impunity, with the arrogance and entitlement that comes from knowing that the full weight of the state will support them in the unlikely chance that they are called to answer for their actions.

      THAT is why people are protesting, and that is why groups like Progressive Massachusetts are calling on us to acknowledge, examine, and abolish systemic racism wherever we find it.

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