We are living in an historic time. Our nation is in tumult with a deadly viral pandemic, on the verge of an economic collapse, dealing with a presidential administration that is shockingly unhinged in the eyes of many, and suffering from deadly viral racism.
As black, brown and indigenous folks here at The Montana Racial Equity Project, we have been working on trying to get our necks free from knees, nooses and lashings for centuries.
We’ve had very little actual help from white folks. The white passivity for actual, meaningful change has been a hindrance, not a help. No one residing in the U.S. and Montana can be passive.
Now is the time to take action and advance as an ally. We’re calling on white Montanans to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, for the challenge of actually being an anti-racist rather than being comfortable – and completely ineffective – with being “not a racist.” The position of “I’m not a racist” is very damaging and a passive way of supporting the racist systems, structures, policies and laws that have been in place in this country for centuries (and get more clever and diabolical every single day).
It is critical that non-melanated folks challenge their local law enforcement agencies on their policies and procedures as a result of these horrendous killings and attempted killings because they are some of the latest instances of deadly and attempted deadly violence by law enforcement officers or involving law enforcement investigations.
It is critical that police commissions become more racially diverse, and that conversations about how officers are appointed, and how the agency is overseen, are being had at this time.
What assurance do the non-white citizens of Montana, who make up 14% of our population, have that what happened to George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Rashard Brooks cannot happen here?
What assurance do we have that law enforcement won’t respond to calls from white citizens who seek a police response because they think that a crime is being committed simply because someone black or indigenous is in a place that a white person is uncomfortable with?
What assurance do we have that an investigation into the violent death of a black or indigenous person will be investigated thoroughly and fairly (Ahmaud Arbery?) What makes our officers, deputies and troopers different? We strongly encourage you to ask the heads of law enforcement agencies in your area to answer that question.
If diverse police commissions do not exist in your city or county, greater conversations need to be had about why they do not exist and are not prioritized. It is critical that mandates are created with the goal of ensuring that these efforts are handled with empathy and integrity so that when bias and injustice occurs, these agencies can be held accountable for not having one or asked why they chose not to comply with such mandates set forth through legal action.
What assurance do the non-white citizens of Montana have that “it can’t happen here?” What makes our officers, deputies, and troopers different? We strongly encourage you to ask the heads of the law enforcement agencies in our county to answer that question.
MTREP is happy to provide counsel, guidance and teaching but, as those of us BIPOC in the racial justice and equity field across the country have said millions of times, it’s white people that got us into this mess, it’s white people that have to do very hard work to get us out of it.
Judith Heilman is executive director of the The Montana Racial Equity Project.
Bozeman Daily Chronicle Guest Editorial 6/21/20
Ending racism will require our moral accountability
The role of ordinary citizens in times of injustice and racial societal distress is difficult to navigate. Since the importation of enslaved Africans in 1690 to provide slave labor, we have functioned in a degraded framework of racial injustice, prejudice and subjugation of black citizens. We have even extended it to other races of people with minority origins.
Slavery has particularly produced a legacy of racism, inequality, injustice, brutality and society has tenaciously held to it. The days of separate elevators, bus and streetcar back seats, separate
restrooms, separate public drinking fountains, abuse by taxi drivers, and addressing blacks only by first name, has more or less morphed into intolerable prejudicial mistreatment, violence and killing.
To engender trust some people proclaim they do not see “color.” But color is undeniably seen through our own racially impervious lens. Life experiences and historical inequities have shaped
society’s processes while feeding robust structural racism that has led to inequality, poverty, unhealthy environments, poor health, crime and social prejudicial disparities. Society, as we currently know it, is incapable of shirking off the failure to get along with one another? In a biblical sense, we are repeatedly incapable of loving our neighbor.
Protest gatherings are products of objection to ingrained attitudes inherited from early founders to prejudicially use blacks for slavery, mistreatment and abuse. Discrimination and racism have
become unwanted social determinants of health. The social contract between government and American citizens has frayed in the struggle to deal with the stresses of the pandemic, racial injustice
and police brutality. We have not recognized the additional harm inflicted by discrimination and racism. Our eyes are shut to what we are doing to ourselves.
Individual moral accountability is necessary to mold our characters to make the United States the nation we repeatedly falsely proclaim it to be.
Richard A. Damon Bozeman
Work needed to improve police, race relations
Race relations will only change when white people want them to. Black people have done what they can.
So, what do white people do? As you read this list, know that you need to hit many of these points, not a few. Donate your money. Donate your time. Educate yourself. Be political in a well-informed way. Support social spending. This will take taxation and government spending. Vote for candidates who will heal the social fabric. Reform the police: make them accountable, limit deadly force, support community policing, increase training a lot, make a national police registry, create mental health response teams, use cameras, create community oversight, racially
diversify police departments, add more women to the police force, and use more social services along with police services, have police live where they work, and there’s more: Do an internet search for solutions to police reforms. All of these will take money.
I have only partially thought this out. I urge your readers to add to this list.
Robert J. Werner
Bozeman Daily Chronicle Editorials 6/21/20