Amid the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, another plague likely to outlast the virus runs deep in the history of American life – systemic racism. Across the nation, millions are outraged by the recent killings of three African Americans: Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and most recently George Floyd. People of color (POC) have been traumatized for decades. Pushed beyond their limits, they have now taken to the streets.
These protests are a direct outcome of frustration over decades of inequalities from an often-discriminatory criminal justice system. The protestors deserve our respect and support. Now is the time to foster a new era of police reforms, such as fair police union contracts and an end to for-profit policing (a system that profits from ticketing, arresting and incarcerating people). And everyone has an important role to play in the much-needed reforms and solutions – including early-career scientists and researchers.
We, as a patron in healthcare, must constantly question how our foundational medical concepts apply to diverse populations. We must instigate conversations about race and reducing racism in healthcare. We must encourage our education system to implement anti-racist policies and held training programs to promote anti-oppression.
The question that arises in these times is how can we bring meaningful change? How can we all help create a more inclusive, respectful, and supportive environment?
The first step is to educate ourselves about the issue, its history and its implications. Start by diversifying your circles, both in-person and on social media by reading narratives of black people and supporting POC-led organizations, journalists, and authors. Then do a self- assessment, recognizing your implicit bias, the unconscious bias we don’t even realize we have. (If you want to test your own implicit bias, try one of the tests at Harvard’s Project Implicit). Once you identify your bias, attend workshops and explore resources available to counter the bias.
Exposure to diversity early on may help decrease implicit bias. A good beginning is to send books and share stories with POC as main characters during early schooling. Taking part in organizations that engage white people in the struggle to advance racial justice such as Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) supports relationship building through honest, open dialogue.
With awareness comes power. Find out, support and track state and local legislation addressing police violence in your community. These might include “ending broken windows policing”, “limiting use of force”, “Independently Investigate & Prosecute”, “Demilitarization”, “Community oversight” and “Civilian review board”. Create awareness of these measures among your peers and colleagues who might find themselves in situations involving police abuse. Find your local elected representatives, see where they stand, demand action to end police violence.
Amidst the protests, there’s a beacon of hope in Colorado. The Colorado legislature is on the verge of final approval of a police reform bill that, among other things, would allow people to sue police officers individually for bad behavior.
Additionally, the current training for police officers in most states often fails to effectively teach them how to interact with minorities in a way that protects and preserves life. An intensive training regimen that uses evidenced-based de-escalation drills would help officers deal with mediation, conflict resolution and crisis intervention. Make police and public safety officials accountable by supporting the use of body cameras and empowering civilians to sue police departments if they interfere with or destroy a recording.
In a democracy, our greatest power is to elect government officials who are both sensitive to our needs and accountable for much-needed changes in policy. A reluctance to engage in the political process due to frustration over failed policies aimed at addressing racial bias is not the answer. In fact, it’s counterproductive. It’s the mayors and state executives we elect that appoint police officials. Being part of this process helps ensure everyone has a seat at the table.
Take a stand. Vote out those who let you down, who didn’t deliver. Hold them all accountable.
Finally, we should acknowledge that this is not a black problem, but a systemic issue built on centuries of racism. It’s our problem. And until we change from “non-racists” to “anti-racists” these recurrent tragedies will continue.
“There comes a time when silence is betrayal. Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. Only in the darkness can you see the stars.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Let’s be the stars in these dark times.
The views expressed here are those of the author and not those of the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. The Colorado Independent occasionally runs guest posts from government officials, local experts and concerned citizens on a variety of topics. These posts are meant to provide diverse perspectives and do not represent the views of The Independent. To pitch a guest post, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our submission page.