Note: The following blog contains links to stories that include photos and descriptions of actions that are traumatizing.
Recently, I have heard a number of people speculate that living through the COVID-19 pandemic is bringing uncommon unity to people in the U.S. that “we are all in the same boat now.” Despite the longing that many of us have to declare that unity, this is not so. The horrific deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery and the callous disregard of Amy Cooper demonstrate, yet again, in the words of a friend’s pastor, we are not in the same boat; “we are not even in the same storm.”
Because Empower Missouri’s advocacy network is diverse, I cannot offer a one-size-fits-all recommendation to you today as to what you, in particular, should do in response to these heart-breaking and enraging events. Some of us need to find safe places to let out our pain and tears, and I encourage each reader to reflect on how to offer yourself trauma-informed self-care at this time. But, as an anti-racist human who receives white privilege on a daily basis, I pledge not to simply vent feelings and practice self-care; I will take action in my professional and personal life.
The next few days offer me – and others who choose to do so – two opportunities to be allies in addressing structural racism:
First, Empower Missouri and many other organizations are joining in a #VetoSB600 Campaign. The so-called “crime package” that passed on the final day of Legislative Session threatens to continue patterns of mass incarceration that fall disproportionately on communities of color. In 2015, 55 percent of those imprisoned in federal or state prisons in the U.S. were Black or Latino.
We have been unwilling to invest in solutions that Black scholars and organizers have recommended, but appear willing to build new prisons if SB600 is implemented. What does it mean when our General Assembly commits funds to these new prisons, but not to restorative justice, mental health, and fair housing? I believe racism has everything to do with that.
Our May 26 blog offers three methods to make your voice count, but act soon because the Governor will take action between now and July 14. Organizations may also add their name to a joint letter to Gov. Parson at this link.
Secondly, the annual release of the Vehicle Stops Report (VSR) will appear on this page of the Attorney General’s website on May 29. It does not take a crystal ball to know that for the 20th consecutive year Missouri data will show racial disparities in who is stopped by police and which stops lead to requests for a consent search, a drug dog search, or a charge of resisting arrest.
Rather than simply reporting these shameful numbers annually, our General Assembly could mandate accountability measures for law enforcement agencies. Rep. Shamed Dogan (District 98, Ballwin) has sponsored legislation on this in recent Legislative Sessions, including House Bill 2070 in 2020.
Here are three steps you could take to move Missouri forward on this issue:
- Watch Empower Missouri’s social media accounts on May 29th, and amplify messages that we share about the VSR.
- Read the VSR and write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper regarding what the data says about policing in your own community.
- This one is difficult, but very important. Recruit a group of community members to go with you to discuss the VSR data with leadership of your own law enforcement agencies.
Organizer, trainer, and digital strategist, Leslie Mac recently said in an interview that it is important to vet an action with impacted communities and act in concert with work already being carried out. By taking action to #VetoSB600 and to demand accountability around racial disparities in policing, we partner with organizing efforts already underway toward decarceration and reinvestment of police budgets toward true community needs.
In closing, I asked for two policy actions, but there’s one more thing that would truly help. As Florynce Kennedy taught us: Don’t agonize; organize! You can help us build a larger Empower Missouri advocacy network, making our voices heard and speaking out on bad legislation like SB 600 and supporting good bills like HB 2070. If you would, please pass along a link from this email to a friend today and say proudly, “I took action. Will you join me?”
Never forget that there truly is power in numbers.
Jeanette Mott Oxford
Executive Director/Director of Policy & Organizing