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How to Fight Racism in a Pandemic

Photo courtesy Yevgeniya Gazman

The public, extrajudicial killing of George Floyd at the hands of police has once again laid bare the depth of systemic racism in America. It is a truth that African-Americans know all too well. As with the murder of Michael Brown in 2014, Floyd’s death was only one in a series of injustices that played out in quick succession. The public response was sudden and escalated, commensurate with the increase in racial tensions under the Trump administration. This is only right. Our failure to address the root causes of police violence in the past has brought us to where we are today.

If not for the overwhelming outcry, the investigation of Floyd’s death would surely have dragged on until our attention turned to the next crisis. We learned this from the lynching of Tamir Rice, also captured on video for all the world to see. That case was “investigated” for over a year, but failed to yield charges against his killer. It only took 5 days of outrage in the streets of Minneapolis to bring the most modest of charges against Derek Chavin, one of the four officers involved in killing George Floyd. But even this qualified victory came at a cost.

As people of all backgrounds flood into the streets, even pressing up against the White House itself, a global pandemic rages on. Unlike those who brought guns into the Michigan Capitol to demand their right to a haircut, or the revelers who crowded the Ozarks, these patriots are knowingly risking their lives to protect the inalienable, God given right to life. Ironically, the same racial inequity that took Floyd’s life is responsible for the disproportionate deaths of African-Americans from Covid-19 and threatens them today.

We at Michigan United believe that the protest of police violence is instrumental to ending it. We urge everyone willing to assume this risk to take all possible measures to protect themselves from the Coronavirus. “Mask up, spread out and live to fight another day”.

We also believe in taking action to make concrete changes that uproot systemic racism so we don’t find ourselves back in this same situation again five years hence. We’ve formed an exclusive working group of our African-American members to direct this work with local, state and federal officials to craft legislation and policy aimed at solving the problem. And our annual lobbying event couldn’t have come at a better time. We are arranging virtual meetings with state legislators so people directly impacted by racism in its many forms can tell them how it affects their lives and demand that they take steps to address it.

We must be clear: racism is deeply embedded in American society. Police violence against people of color is only one manifestation. It is impossible to believe that true justice can be within reach when the people charged with enforcing the law are above it. That will never be possible so long as we have a criminal justice system designed to serve and protect white supremacy. But even as we work to stop it, we must also address the fundamental economic inequalities and injustices that have denied Black people the necessities of a dignified life: housing, health care, education, and gainful employment.

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