Reflections on Ferguson, Baltimore, Minneapolis, Baton Rouge, Tulsa, Charlotte, San Diego…
We have all no doubt been discussing with friends and families the horrifying frequency of shootings of black citizens by law enforcement, most recently with Keith Scott and Terence Crutcher. We are living in a scary time. The words “another mass shooting,” “another terrorist attack,” and “another police shooting” flood our newsfeeds every day. These are sensitive, highly personal issues, particularly those involving race, and we’ve historically stayed away from talking about them at work. But this silence can be deafening.
A group of us recently had an open, honest conversation about race in America, with many speaking up saying they were scared for their families, or afraid to say the wrong thing, or weren’t sure how to reach out to people on our team that might have the same feelings. To extend the dialogue, we collected some thoughts and reflections from our broader team on the recent shootings and the larger issue of racial bias. These beautifully honest thoughts are below.
PLEASE do not exclude black women from this dialogue, the systemic issues affect us as well and there have been several instances of brazen police violence towards us as well.
This is a human rights issue and it demands more attention from every citizen, not just those with black skin. It’s an injustice to all if police departments are not held accountable for the disproportionate killing of black people. We have to demand accountability and reform.
I’m not black and I feel like I should sit down and make room for voices of those who are directly impacted by systemic racism in this country. But I also need to take accountability, as easy as it is to shut everything out. Being an ally means showing up when invited, listening with empathy, sharing those stories, and taking action. For those of us who are privileged, who don’t have to fear being gunned down by police, it means acknowledging that privilege, then using it to demand change from policymakers. It means understanding our own implicit biases and the broader systems that oppress black people. I want to be part of this process and conversation while respecting that this isn’t about my feelings — this is about people being murdered, and what we can do to change that.
In a moment of desperation and despair after the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, I made a feeble attempt to act, using this website as a resource. I contacted local sheriff departments and elected officials filing my demand for police oversight and gun reforms. Most of them have a pull down list of grievances on their websites where you can issue a complaint — education reform, voting, criminality — and I felt pretty hopeless scanning that list. “Police Oversight” is not a choice. It really showed me how slow politics are in the face of this out of control issue. I am seeking smaller, more personal solutions.
173 black lives have been taken by police just this year alone, each with their own stories and families and loves and full lives, murdered by those sworn to protect and serve. This is systemic, and each of us as individuals – and more powerfully, in community with others – have to make it stop. I don’t claim to have “the” solution. I don’t think there is one solution. But I think there is so much each of us can do – ranging from shifting conversations from a focus on individual “unfortunate situations” to systemic patterns, shifting conversations from what black victims “could or should have done differently” to conversations about how police can and must be responsible for de-escalating situations and finding non-violent, non-lethal ways to work with people they are encountering. We can work toward shifts in policy in de-militarization of police, training to support counteracting implicit biases, and supporting community policing where police learn to build relationships with communities they serve. We can do work and consistently interact with others in ways that counteract the de-humanization that happens to black folks and other people of color that contributes to the killings and the silence or support of police after they have murdered innocent people.
I am so overwhelmed by the violence everywhere — police shootings, terrorist attacks, mass shootings– and terrified on multiple levels. Terrified by what our country is becoming, terrified for my children, and terrified that I am becoming desensitized by it. I am also terrified that it won’t end.
I feel angry and powerless, and I know I’m not alone. If race relations aren’t currently broken in the U.S., then they’re certainly at a precipice. I’m sick of being a passive bystander to what’s going on, and sick of seeing the lives of young black men cut down prematurely with no meaningful reform in the works. It’s heartbreaking that the popular discourse around the Black Lives Matter and associated movements has taken on such an “us and them” mentality. I want to commit to doing everything in my power and more to pursue meaningful reform. I don’t want my children or any future generations to feel such confusion and anxiety over a seemingly endless string of senseless killings. It’s time to take accountability, and that starts with me. I commit to no longer be silent when I hear any type of perceived racism — intended or not. I’m going to be on the right side of history, and I’m going to make sure my voice is heard.
I feel frustrated, but hopeful this situation will improve. There are solutions that have proven effective in almost eliminating police brutality against black men and women, but politics and a deeply ingrained racial bias in a large number of our nation’s cities that accept good policing comes at the expense of black lives prevent them from being implemented. In the 1990s, the City of Boston’s police department resurrected an old idea, the Walk & Talk strategy. Police officers assigned to patrol cars are required to walk a particular area for up to 45 minutes or longer per their tour of duty. This, coupled with the establishment of other initiatives like “Same Cop Same Neighborhood” and “Safe Street Beat Teams” have contributed widely to the success of Boston’s community policing, now considered a model for the rest of the country. Does it work perfectly? No, but as a result of this initiative, Boston hasn’t had a single questionable fatality of an African-American at the hands of police in more than a decade and a much lower rate of incidents of police violence than any other major American city. If this can happen in a city with a well-documented history of tense race relations, it can happen anywhere. I want to help shake people out of their complacency and see real change, but I don’t always feel comfortable contributing to this dialogue.
Where do we go from here?
As a first step in our journey, we’ve collected some resources that could be helpful in catalyzing a positive cultural shift, including Facebook’s open source curriculum on managing bias. Some key takeaways from Facebook’s guidance as well as some other sources are below:
Be aware of your own biases. The Project Implicit website offers assessments of unconscious (implicit) bias across a wide array of topics including religious beliefs, gender/sexuality, race and appearance.
Call out bias in a caring, productive way. With yourself and your colleagues.
Work to counteract bias. Here are some suggestions from Facebook’s curriculum:
Set ground rules for meetings
Interrupt the interrupters
Find ways to personally make a difference. This read is a starting point: 12 Ways to be a White Ally to Black People
As part of this process, Bill, Fred and I proposed allocating our November and December E3THOS charitable donations to causes related to this issue. Our team offered suggestions, and the first organization we will be donating to is Families United For Racial & Economic Justice. FUREE is a member led Brooklyn-based multiracial organization run by mostly women of color. They organize and unite low-income families to build power to fight against systems of oppression so that the work of all people is valued and all have the right and ability to decide and live out our own destinies. They use direct action, leadership development, community organizing and political education to win the changes their members seek. FUREE’s guiding principle is that those directly affected by the policies we are seeking to change should lead the organization because they are the true experts.
This is a step in our journey, but an important one. Diversity is not just a numbers game; to truly build a diverse and inclusive business, we need to foster a compassionate, open environment to support that vision, starting from the ground up.