Column: Racial Injustice Is Violence

Column: Racial Injustice Is Violence

Develop evidence-based actions to protect dignity and humanity of Black and brown lives.

We call upon our legislators to develop proactive and preventative measures to uplift the rights, dignity, and well-being of Black people. Racial injustice is violence and must be aggressively treated as such.  

In July 2020, Racial Justice Alexandria began meeting with each council member to discuss the Vision for Black Lives, a comprehensive and visionary policy agenda developed in 2016 and updated in 2020 by The Movement for Black Lives. It would be an understatement to say that we’ve been disappointed by the response. Most council members were unprepared and unfamiliar with the policy platform developed by experts in the field of racial justice, including SNCC veterans and leading social justice advocates.  

This lack of respect for experts and Black voices is evident in the current calls to put SROs back in school after ending the program earlier this year. Over and over, researchers have found that SROs do not make schools safer or reduce school violence, gun violence, or mass shootings.  Repeatedly, researchers find that the presence of SROs results in greater numbers of suspensions and expulsions and criminalizes school discipline matters. Additionally, students of color and students with disabilities are disproportionately referred to and arrested by police in schools. SROs do not make schools safer for anyone but they do make schools measurably less safe for Black and brown students and students with disabilities. Why would the City continue to fund an ineffective and harmful program? Without bothering to gather local data for decades, our city leaders would have us believe Alexandria’s SRO program is magically different from every other program in the nation.

Our current reliance on the police does little to reduce violence and harm, and actually perpetuates systemic racial inequities. That’s not to say that tragic things can’t happen. No one wants to see any of our students or community members harmed by gun violence. So why aren’t our city leaders developing structural justice instead of continuing to entertain carceral solutions? When will the school leaders finally begin exploring a variety of ways to dismantle this harmful cycle of violence? There’s a growing body of research to support investing in mental health support instead of continuously feeding Alexandria’s pipeline to prison.

Dr. David R. Williams is the Florence Sprague Norman and Laura Smart Norman Professor of Public Health, and chair of the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Dr Williams is also a Professor of African and African American Studies and of Sociology at Harvard University. During the Black People, Health and Wellness: A Historical Perspective Panel of the 106th Annual Meeting and Conference of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, Dr Williams shared a brief summary of global research findings on racial discrimination using the Everyday Discrimination Scale he developed.

The research found that discrimination is having an adverse effect on the physical health and mental health of the African American population, and other populations who experienced these measures of discrimination, even after accounting for income and education.

Here are a few highlights from the research findings Dr Williams shared:

  • If you are growing up in the African American community, you experience the loss of life of others in your social network, disproportionately

  • Over 70% of black mothers are worried about what might happen to their children in the hands of the police

  • Children of African American mothers in 20 cities in the United States, on average, had been stopped by the police at least once by age 15

  • Mothers whose children had been stopped by the police had worse mental health, which led to poorer sleep because of anxiety and depressive symptoms

  • African American teenagers who scored consistently high on the Everyday Discrimination Scale at 16, 17 and 18 years old, showed biological dysregulation by age 20. They had higher levels of stress hormones, blood pressure, weight, and inflammation at age 21.

Dr. Williams offered three resources that are shown to reduce the negative effects of stress and discrimination on teen mental health.

  1. Quality Social Ties and Close Relationships with Friends, Family, and Teachers

  2. Scoring High on Three Aspects of Religious Involvement (Attendance, Social Support, and Seeking Guidance in Life)

  3. Engaging in Protest, Advocacy, Empowerment, and Having a Building Where Their Culture is Celebrated

Why haven’t our city leaders explored this established and growing body of research? Shouldn’t our community want to fund effective programming?  When will our school board and city council begin backing systematically marginalized community protests, advocacy, empowerment, and investment in spaces for Black and brown students to celebrate and stay connected to their history and culture? This is the type of community Alexandria deserves. This is a true commitment to peace and public safety.

Council and school board must show the same determination, patience, and all-hands-on-deck response to develop real solutions for this public health crisis of discrimination as they have with COVID-19. Instead of returning armed police to schools, the school board, council and residents of Alexandria must deconstruct harmful ideas of power, punishment and justice, and take tangible, evidence-based actions to protect the dignity and humanity of Black and brown lives.

On behalf of the Racial Justice Alexandria Collective