A couple of weeks ago, Dean Rougeau quoted Martin Luther King in his powerful letter to the BC Law community: “We may all have come on different ships, but we are in the same boat now.”
What does this mean?
It means that not a single person in America can remain silent or apathetic in this fight for racial equality. Racism is pervasive and comes in many forms. Racism is police brutality. Racism is microaggressions. Racism is “color-blindness.” Racism is silence.
And silence is violence.
On June 2, my hometown of Houston, Texas marched to City Hall with George Floyd’s family in a peaceful protest. In the same week, violent assaults and instances of police brutality swept across the nation. Over the past two weeks, police have shot down unarmed protesters, used mace and teargas during peaceful protests, and held protesters hostage in inhumane conditions. I’ve read anecdotal accounts of police zip-tying protesters and holding them in crowded, darkened spaces for several hours while they soiled themselves and suffered panic attacks. I’ve seen footage of police misusing rubber bullets and firing directly at unarmed protesters who have their hands in the air. In multiple cities, police have taken a knee with protesters only to use teargas on them ten minutes later. Police have shot down medics, sidewalk observers, pregnant women, and journalists. They have openly laughed at weeping protesters and mocked their pain. This is unacceptable behavior from our police departments.
I point this out not to demonize our law enforcement, but to emphasize the need for immediate and systemic change. Our police departments should be showing empathy and compassion amidst the collective pain of our Black citizens, and they should be de-escalating violence rather than perpetuating it. The police force must recognize and be held accountable for the deep systemic issues in our society and the racist history of our law enforcement.
Recently, you may have seen people calling for abolition. Like many others, I was initially skeptical about the idea—the call for “defunding the police” sounded radical and a little extreme. Upon further research, I realize that there is nothing extreme about defunding a system rooted in racism and violence. Over the years, we have defunded our schools, hospitals, education programs, healthcare programs, child support programs, mental health clinics, and community centers. Defunding police departments that terrorize, abuse, and murder citizens they have sworn to serve and protect should not be a radical idea.
Defunding does not mean eliminating all funding. It does not mean society will fall to an anarchy in which criminals run free. Rather, it is about cutting unnecessary police budgets and reallocating those funds to communities that do not have enough resources to properly address issues regarding housing, public health, education, mental illness, substance abuse, etc. The police are not social workers, psychologists, educators, or healthcare experts. Instead of the police department being responsible for anything and everything, other departments would deal with these issues with increased funding. For some perspective:
- Boston Police Department’s budget is 4 times larger than the Public Health Commission, 10 times larger than the Library Department, 15 times larger than the Neighborhood Development Department, and 182 times larger than the Office of Arts & Culture.
- 8% of Austin Police Department’s budget could end all homelessness in the city.
- The proposed 2021 budget for Houston gives almost 1 billion dollars to the Police Department as opposed to less than 100 million to the Health Department and a mere 500 thousand to Housing & Community.
I included statistics for Austin and Houston because I have done research on my hometown. I encourage everyone to do the same, wherever you are from. We can no longer hide behind the notion that slavery was abolished “a long time ago.” Systems of oppression are constantly redesigned—including through our over-policing of Black communities and our prison industrial complex profiting from mass incarceration and Black prison labor. No amount of police reform will address or change the fact that the police force is a historically and inherently violent and racist system designed to keep Black communities suppressed. Reform is not enough. In fact, reform would mean that the police would require even more funding to implement reform measures. The police department should only be one facet in a network of services that are better equipped to deal with these issues. By divesting and demilitarizing our police departments and investing in our communities, we give power and resources back to the people who need them the most.
Last week, the LSA Diversity & Inclusion Committee held Take Action Day in which members of our community signed petitions, made calls to our representatives, and sent emails to our officials. If you were unable to attend, I encourage you to revisit the resources the LSA provided and take action on your own. These resources include petitions you can sign, organizations you can donate to, and information on how you can defund the police. It only takes a few minutes of your time to sign a petition or craft a simple email. Mobilize your friends. Vote out racist officials in your local and state elections. Protest. Look into firms and companies that will match your donations. Get creative! For example, my college student organization made donation Bingo cards and was able to raise over $8,000 in just one week. That $8,000 was fully matched by Google to total over $16,000 in donations. The ways you can contribute to change are truly limitless.
Change does not always have to be a grand gesture or a monumental action. Change can include donating or participating in a protest, but change can also include having a meaningful conversation with a racist family member or telling a friend that their racist joke was not funny. Change can include challenging yourself to reflect on your own upbringing, checking your own privileges, and acknowledging the ways that you yourself internalize and perpetuate racism and anti-Black biases. These conversations will inevitably be uncomfortable, awkward, and sometimes unproductive. But we must set aside our discomfort and our pride. Racism will not end overnight, and it will always be a part of our society. What we can do, however, is constantly and actively scout out all the ways that we are racist and interfere when we see it manifest in our system and our personal lives. It might be uncomfortable at first, but we must practice it more and more until it becomes a regular part of our lives to speak out every time we see racial injustice, not just when it’s a social media trend.
Let’s be clear: this is not a Black issue. This is a White Supremacy issue that Non-Black people need to solve. It should not be the sole responsibility of the oppressed to lift their oppression. Systemic change demands the action of the oppressor. No one expects someone to become the perfect ally overnight, but a good start is to START! After all, the only person responsible for becoming more socially conscious than the society you grew up in— is you. As lawyers, we have to be at the forefront of systemic change.
We emphasize diversity and inclusion, but we need to go even deeper. In order for our society to truly value diversity, we must actively work to dismantle systemic racism rooted in our institutions and within ourselves. Recognizing racism and standing in solidarity with Black lives is only the first step. Let’s show our support through our actions, not just our words. As people lose their lives fighting for racial equality, it is not enough to be non-racist. We must be actively anti-racist.
If we are all going to be on the same boat, we cannot be rocked back to sleep. Even after the storm settles—even after the media outlets tire and our Instagram feeds begin to return to “normal”—we must continue these conversations. We must continue to fight for change. On this boat, we all need to be advocates. On this boat, we must all be activists. This revolution is the new normal.
And it’s all hands on deck.
Rosa Kim is a rising second-year student at BC Law. She loves to hear from readers: email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.