For the first 12 hours after reading Charles Sanders’ column, I felt deep anger. After that, my anger turned to sadness. Mr. Sanders is an elected official in Southold Town. And no doubt many people in Southold agree with his opinions.
If you did agree with Mr. Sanders, I urge you to consider points that challenge those views. Not only the ideas shared below, but the perspectives being offered by millions of black people across the country, and the views, facts and insights offered through a massive collection of incredible books, essays and research papers on race and the history of racism in this country.
I am a white woman who was born and raised in Southold Town. At every turn, I have had unseen privileges that put me at an advantage over most black people in Southold and across the country. The fact that they are “unseen” by most white people is what perpetuates, yes, systemic racism. Not an “easy,” “feel good,” “unsupported” argument but, rather, hundreds of years of well supported examples of lesser access and opportunity, fewer rights and discrimination that continues to this day, right down to Mr. Sanders’ letter.
My grandfather was an immigrant from Ireland with only an elementary school education. After enlisting in World War II, the GI bill allowed him to purchase a home in Queens. As we know, home ownership in this country has provided a pathway to the middle class for millions of Americans. My grandfather’s black counterparts in the war were denied those very loans and therefore were unable to purchase homes. My current advantages in life are directly related to my grandfather’s loan.
And the grandchildren of black veterans’ continued potential struggles are directly related to the inability to access that loan. This is only one example! There are countless very well supported other examples. And yes, black people have made tremendous progress in many areas despite these continued structural inequities. This is looking at history broadly (and accurately), Mr. Sanders. To paraphrase a few excellent writers on this topic, “we are breathing in the air” of structural inequality, and the reason you can’t see it is because you are the beneficiary. You can’t see problems you don’t have.
Mr. Sanders’ urging the reader to consider the gains that black people have made is a common yet logically faulty technique that distracts the reader from the problems to which most are pointing. Should the fact that black people have elevated to positions of power around us negate the fact that they are also being pulled over by police at higher rates, dying of the coronavirus at higher rates, dying in childbirth in higher rates, being discriminated against in access to housing at higher rates, or yes, being abused and killed by police at higher rates than white people? If your sister had cancer and someone responded, “But your other sisters are healthy!” would that be a satisfactory reply?
Most chilling, though, was Mr. Sanders’ use of the phrase “poor judgment” in regard to the murder of George Floyd. “Poor judgment” is not following proper procedure in responding to and documenting complaints about a retirement party that your friends on the force are hosting. Tell me, if someone kneeled on your child’s neck for over eight minutes while he called to his mother for mercy and died, would you characterize that action as “poor judgment”?
Moreover, Mr. Sanders neglects to characterize the “judgment” of the three other officers, who did nothing to stop and ultimately assisted police officer Chauvin’s actions. How many officers fail to report other officers’ unacceptable behavior? The only reason the world is able to know the truth about George Floyd is cellphone footage.
We know of many other black men killed and/or beaten by police — also caught on camera — who have still never seen justice. How much is happening that’s not caught on camera? This is absolutely not to say that all police are racist or participate in acts of brutality. Yet, rarely do we see accountability when it comes to officers involved in acts of brutality against black people.
If officers are willing to go to great lengths to protect their friends while having an illegal party, what lengths would they go to protect them from the consequences of very serious wrongdoing? Police reform is not about addressing a couple of bad apples, it’s addressing the problem that the culture of police departments too often incentivize officers to protect one another over the truth. Police officers who want to do right by their communities — as surely most of them do — would have to agree that protocol, procedures and policies that incentivize them and their colleagues to do the right thing is surely in everyone’s best interest.
Ms. Casey is the chairwoman of the Southold Town Democratic Committee.