Conversation on Racism Must ContinuePosted: October 28, 2015
By Joan McKiernan
Biased policing, criminal justice system and schools; mass incarceration; poverty; income and wealth inequality were all faulted by speakers at a forum to discuss local race relations held recently in a local church. Speaking under a ‘#BlackLivesMatter’ banner, the meeting opened with the 1938 Langston Hughes poem,”Kids Who Die,” which was perfectly suited to the continued onslaught on black and brown men and women in 2015.
Dr. Sean Massey revealed research findings of bias based policing in Binghamton. His analysis showed that black people were twice as likely as whites to be stopped by the police and three times as likely to have their cars searched. Police were more likely to be suspicious of black, rather than white, residents. Dr. Massey argued for a ban on racial profiling, increased diversity in the police force, and more recording of police stops. Mayor David reacted to the proposal with minor changes in an executive order that included no mechanism for enforcement and without reference to racial profiling. With that he declared: “This conversation is over!”
Other speakers reminded us of police history, a history of control and repression. Everyone who has been at a protest or strike knows the role of the police. From slavery until today, speakers argued, black people are seen as the problem to be controlled.
Vicky Brown from the NAACP referred to the criminal justice system in which one out of three black men and one out a hundred black women can expect to be incarcerated. She and others referred this as a systemic and institutional problem, emphasizing that it is not a matter of individual attitudes, but the systematic racism on which the educational and justice systems are built. She emotionally illustrated the enormous measures taken by parents to protect their black and brown children.
Binghamton schools were described as pipelines to prison for black and Hispanic young people. Black teens were more likely than whites to be suspended from school for what is called “disrespect.” Dr. Denise Yull, from the Broome County Urban League, argued for a change in the school board in order to get more diversity. She pointed out that “We are human too!” and that people of color need to stop treating as if we don’t matter.
Hopefully, this is just the start of the discussion. The speakers provided important insights and analysis in their presentations. However, when it came, there were very limited responses to a final question on what should we do now. Yes, we need to mobilize, organize, and use our unions. But there were very specific proposals for Binghamton residents to follow up with the mayor, and local and state government officials.
The discussion made clear that there is a crisis in America, which must be addressed with radical, structural solutions. Just as in 1938 when Langston Hughes wrote, again in the 1960s, and in the 70s, we are watching the mass incarceration, the structural inequality, the killing of black women and men, under a Democratic Party administration nationally, and statewide here in New York.
To start Mayor David needs to be told that the conversation is not over! The police need to end their practice of racial profiling! The school board needs be more diverse and reflect the diversity of the student body! End the war on drugs! Move mentally ill prisoners out of jail! Change the bail system. End the private prison system. That’s just a start.