We have to confront the racism deep at America's core
June 3, 2020
By Sen. Jeff Merkley
Even in a hard year, this last week has been especially difficult. Like so many of you, I am heartbroken. And I am so angry.
I grieve for the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery — and so many, many others whose lives were discounted and dispatched by others who saw their color, not their humanity. I am furious at those who took their lives.
But let's be crystal clear: these Americans were not the victims simply of some rogue racists — some bad apples. It's not just the apples, the entire tree has a rot of racism going back 400 years. It's the reason Amanda Cooper knew she could weaponize her privilege against Christian Cooper (no relation) in Central Park. It's why the coronavirus is killing our black friends, family members, and neighbors at a far higher rate than white people. It's why on every measure of health or education or income or wealth in America, black folks have it worse.
And that rot has poisoned our criminal justice system. It's why white men with assault rifles are met with forbearance when they invade a state capitol building, but black peaceful protesters are savagely attacked. It's why the very sight of a police car is a threat to people of color, but not to white people. Of course not every police officer is a "bad cop," far from it. But that's not the point. The point is the culture of impunity, infused by centuries of racism, that empowers the worst elements and silences those who see and recognize wrongdoing.
We cannot cure this all at once. But that is no excuse for inaction. We must start. And we must do the hard work. We have to confront the racism deep at America's core, and not just condemn the racist actions that get videotaped. We must tackle the culture of impunity in policing, which is a toxic threat to our rights as Americans — for all of us, and especially for people of color who are harassed or arrested or worse every day. When police fire or drive indiscriminately into crowds, or pull down the American flag to raise a "blue line" flag, who are they serving?
I'm working on legislation that would help make some needed changes. When officers lose their jobs because of misuse of force or racist behavior, their police departments should be required to put their names into a national registry. No more shuffling bad cops from town to town. I want a national database of police-involved killings, with mandatory reporting — something that, incredibly, doesn't exist. These are just two small pieces in a much bigger effort that we must engage in.
But we need more than policy change; we need a culture change. We all have a responsibility — especially those of us who are white — to acknowledge and confront our history, to lift up the voices of people who have been marginalized, and to work for equity and not just to denounce racism.
I believe in the beautiful principles our nation was founded on — not that they describe what America is, but that they define what America should be. We can't be so disillusioned or demoralized or exhausted or angry that we give up on that vision. The path to change is through organization, and mobilization, and building a political movement, and peaceful civil disobedience.
Let us stand together. Let us march together. Let us mourn together. And let us work to pursue justice. Together.