Wednesday, December 30, 2015

We Can Make A Difference. Here Are Some Ideas.

Many of us are feeling anger, frustration, and sadness over the Tamir Rice grand jury decision and the broader systems of White supremacy and state violence that made his murder possible. If you're like me, you feel a pent-up need to take action, but it can be hard to know what to do.
I want to encourage you that we can make a difference. 

There are specific actions we can take in our personal lives, and specific reforms for which we can advocate in the public sphere. We need both private and public action, and you and me can have a hand in both. We might not know how to score a touchdown on the next play. We may only move the ball forward a few yards. But if we don't even take the field, we will certainly remain stuck where we are.

So, what can you do?

1) Take action in your neighborhood. The following are suggestions and possibilities, not mandates. You may not even agree with all of them, and are likely uncomfortable with many. That's ok! Your action doesn't have to be drastic (but it could be!). It's not up to you to save the world. The point is, there is something you, any of us, can do.

     a) Especially if you live in a White neighborhood, consider organizing a monthly reading group. You might tackle accessible books such as The New Jim Crow, or, if yours is a church-based group, Divided by Faith, or Drew Hart's new book, Trouble I've Seen.
     b) Mentor a child.
     c) Send your kids to the public school.
     d) Consider moving to a "worse" neighborhood, but don't go as a gentrifier.
     e) Volunteer for nonprofits in your neighborhood. Many are trying to build bridges between police and communities.
     f) Inform yourself about the background to the issues you see in the news. Don't feel like you need to open a giant book in order to be informed. Start with shorter and more accessible pieces, such as Ta-Nehisi Coates' 2014 Atlantic cover story.
     g) Simply give more of your money away.
     h) If you are a part of a church or other community of faith, consider how you can nudge your community to be more proactive in applying the tenets of its faith to these pressing social problems.
     i) If you have children, be deliberate about raising them to reject the ideology of colorblindness.
     j) Shop at Black-owned businesses.
     k) Visit people in prison.
     l) If you're a business owner, seek out felons to hire.
    m) Help youth of color navigate the college-application process.
    n) Especially if you live in a White neighborhood, consider putting a Black Lives Matter sign in your yard.
    o) Run for local office.

But personal action alone will not solve these problems. We need legal and institutional change. That brings us to the more public face of our endeavors:

2) Become aware of relevant policies in need of reform. Check out Campaign Zero for summaries of some suggested changes. Needed reforms include:
     a) New police union contracts that stop shielding criminal cops from discipline or prosecution.
     b) New police training that emphasizes deescalation and community relations.
     c) Higher hiring standards.
     d) Community oversight boards with real power to impose training standards and discipline.
     e) Body cameras for all officers.
     f) New nationally mandated use of force standards for all police departments.
     g) Establishment of independent investigators and prosecutors for all officer-involved killings.
     h) A lower burden of proof in federal civil rights investigations.
     i)  A new federal ban on racial profiling.
     j)  A ban on civil forfeiture.
     k) Ending the federal government's 1033 program that provides military equipment to local police.
     l)  Establishment of financial incentives for departments that reform their militarized cultures.

3) Become aware of the broader issues that inform American policing. Some needed reforms include:

     a) An end to the war on drugs.
     b) A ban on exclusionary zoning.
     c) A constitutional amendment establishing a right to vote.
     d) The creation of a reparations system.
     e) Stricter gun-control.
     f) A new federal law mandating the enforcement of the Supreme Court's 1954 Brown v. Board school desegregation decision.

4) Become a public advocate of these issues:

     a) Use social media to raise awareness and challenge those who defend the status quo.
     b) Vote for politicians who favor some of these reforms.
     c) Join the NAACP or other advocacy organization.
     d) Donate to a Black Lives Matter organization.
     e) Attend events and street protests in your area.

Some of these actions can be quite polarizing. It is important to count the cost. You will make mistakes along the way and second-guess yourself. You may lose friends and other valued relationships if you become a forthright advocate for racial justice. But in a country in which most of us are invested in the status quo, challenging it is bound to produce conflict. Do not seek conflict. But do not shrink from it. You can make a difference.

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