Say their name.
Trayvon Martin, Micheal Brown, Freddie Gray, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Jamar Clarke. Walter Scott, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Sean Reed…
These are just a few of the more well known cases where black men have been killed … with no justice. Say their name. Know their story. These men have been failed by a system meant to protect all of us. Instead, as is clear with the Ahmaud Arbery case, some of us are not seen as equal.
Ahmaud Arbery, 25 years old, was killed February 23rd while jogging in his neighborhood. Two white men, father and son George and Travis McMichael, thought Arbery looked like a suspected burglar. They got in their pickup truck, followed him and shot him dead in the street. In his own neighborhood. In the middle of the day.
These two men were only recently arrested on May 7th. The video of the shooting got out the week before, causing a national outcry. It is clear that Arbery was killed in cold blood, what some major politicians and activists are comparing to a modern day lynching. The suspects have ties with the district attorney and, apparently, were presumed to have acted in self defense – until the video went viral, clearly showing a different story. Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper Jones, was told at first by the local police that her son was shot by a homeowner during a home burglary. She wanted to trust the authorities, but later learned through the news that her son was gunned down in the street.
Ahmaud Arbery was a person, a son. His death means something. His name is added to a long list of people who were unjustly criminalized for the color of their skin. The justice system has to do better.
While most of the stories we hear about are those who die at the hands of police, there are hundreds more who live, but face unfair discrimination every day. During the COVID-19 pandemic, unfortunately, that has not changed.
New York City has been highlighted for its biased policing during social distancing times. Images are surfacing on Twitter and Instagram comparing boroughs. In downtown Brooklyn, (mostly white) hipsters fill a park and police are pictured handing out face masks while in the Bronx and Brownsville, police are tackling civilians who are out in public.
Last week, Brooklyn’s District Attorney released statistics on social distancing arrests: 40 people were arrested from March 17 to May 4, 2020. Of those, 35 were black, four Latino and one was white. More than ⅓ of those arrests were made in Brownsville, a predominantly black lower-class neighborhood. In comparison, Park Slope – a gentrified, predominantly white neighborhood, also in Brooklyn – had zero arrests.
The mayor, Bill DeBlasio – known for publicly criticizing and ending the discriminatory stop and frisk practice enforced by the previous Mayor Bloomberg – is receiving a lot of backlash for these statistics. As the Brooklyn D.A. Mr Gonzalez told the New York Times, “We cannot police our way out of this pandemic.”
Citywide, social distancing-related arrests were made up of 68% black people, 24% Latinos and 7% white. When looking at these statistics, it is clear there is a racial bias. Considering the current pandemic, it is also important to note that staying at home, properly social distancing, is a privilege. In a city like NYC, like many other big cities in the U.S., essential workers are predominantly working class people of color and/or migrants. These arrest statistics definitively show the bias against communities of color. These communities are also those more often out in the street, having to continue to work despite the quarantine.
Whether during COVID-19 or after, policing and the justice system in the United States have to do better. Our country has a lot of pain that needs to be healed, trust to be earned. That is why ECCO is working with ILSEP (Institute for Lawful, Safe and Effective Policing). Together, we are creating immersive, experiential implicit bias training with the help of virtual reality technology.
We hope to be one of the many initiatives to help law enforcers safely and justly enforce the law while building back trust with marginalized, over-policed communities. The only way out of this is through a multi-faceted strategy. While activists and policy makers do their part, we are doing ours by working to make training more realistic, challenging and demanding – allowing only the most qualified, intentional and conscious officers onto the street.
“HOME.” Ilsep, www.ilsep.org/.
Siddiqui, Sabrina. “Two Men Arrested and Charged in Killing of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia.” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 8 May 2020, www.wsj.com/articles/video-sparks-calls-for-arrests-in-shooting-of-black-man-in-georgia-11588880193.
Southall, Ashley. “Scrutiny of Social Distancing Policing as 35 of 40 Arrested Are Black.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 7 May 2020, www.nytimes.com/2020/05/07/nyregion/nypd-social-distancing-race-coronavirus.html.
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) Expert, Dr. Amy S. Tolbert, CSP, specializes in helping individuals expand their productivity and organizations increase profitability through virtual and live experiential learning, online courses, leadership development and global business communications.