The voices we need to be listening to and hearing right now are not privileged white women running for political office with limited first-hand experience of the struggle and pain that comes with seeing your friends and family and yourself pushed aside, ignored, threatened, attacked, killed because of the color of your skin. The focus moves too quickly from the specific injustices and the systematic oppression to how those with power experience and feel about it. It is disrespectful and trivializing to turn tragedy and injustice into a campaign speech; I feel like as a candidate, everything I say becomes a campaign speech no matter if I want it to or not. But if I say nothing it furthers the oppression… there is no keeping silent at this moment.
People of color have been shouting from the rooftops for decades-- asking, begging and demanding that we stop killing them in the streets and their homes. There is a moral obligation to do more than listen, to do more than hear. We must act-- and we must not place the sole burden of action on those who have been directly living with and fighting the impacts of institutional and individualized racism. It is on all of us to use what power, authority, and knowledge we have to confront and change this.
I got started in Eugene politics by reading zoning and land use code. Make no mistake, Eugene is built on a literal foundation of exclusion and racism. Zoning like Eugene has was created after courts struck down explicitly race-based exclusion in zoning codes, with the clear and stated goal of putting a sheen of legality on the intent to keep people of color out. Whatever is in the hearts of the people of Eugene now, many of our systems have been built from the ground up to keep people down, and they are producing the outcomes that were intended. This is true in housing, this is true in politics, this is true in employment and economics, this is true in public health. And critically, it is in built into our criminal justice and policing systems.
Eugene has made some positive steps. The CAHOOTS program implemented in Eugene is a national model for establishing alternative approaches to mental health crises. We have body cameras, and a civilian Police Commission and Review Board. There is a long way to go. We cannot ignore the deep roots of the problem; we cannot be satisfied with the steps we have taken, or think that because we are a little better than somewhere else, we don't have work to do. We are in no way done.
We should strengthen our independent Police Auditor and Civilian Review Board, give civilians the power to do more than recommend. The use of force policies should be revised and improved. We should invest in more rigorous training, particularly around implicit racial bias-- more time should be spent on learning how not to shoot than on learning how to shoot. Stop the use of military equipment. Examine jurisdictional issues so that all forces with police authority in our community are held to the same level of accountability.
Because our community has already taken some first steps, we are in a place where we can do even more. We can work to tackle the tough, systematic issues and be a leader in finding innovative paths forward. Organizations like Campaign Zero and people of color around the country have been telling us what we need to do for decades. Our leaders need to hear it, and act-- the Eugene Police Commission meets the second Thursday of every month at 5:30; Eugene City Council takes public comment the second and fourth Monday at 7:30.
"It is better 100 guilty persons should escape than that one innocent person should suffer" is theoretically a foundational principle of our justice system. But the system we have actually built sentences people to death for no crime other than having a broken taillight, holding a cell phone or a wallet, sleeping in their home--and the color of their skin.
The number of names that we need to say and hear is in the thousands.
George Floyd, 46, security guard, 2020.
Breonna Taylor, 26, emergency medical technician, 2020.
Atatiana Jefferson, 28, pre-med student, 2019.
Stephon Clark, 22, brother and grandson, 2018.
Philando Castile, 32, school nutrition services supervisor, 2016.
Walter Scott, 50, forklift operator, 2015.
Tamir Rice, 12, elementary school student, 2014.
Michael Brown, 18, recent high school graduate, 2014.
Eric Garner, 43, husband and father, 2014.
Kenneth Chamberlain Sr., 68, former marine, 2011.
Aiyana Stanley-Jones, age 7, 2010.
Oscar Grant, father, 22, 2009.
Tarika Wilson, 26, mother, 2008.
Kathryn Johnston, age 92, 2006.
Ousmane Zongo, 43, arts trader, 2003.
Patrick Dorismond, 26, father, 2000.
Amadou Diallo, 23, vendor, 1999.
Nathaniel Levi Gaines, 25, veteran, 1996.
Anthony Baez, 29, security guard, 1994.
Phillip Pannell, 16, high school student, 1990.
Michael Stewart, 25, artist, 1983.
Arthur McDuffie, 33, salesman and former Marine, 1979.
Bernard Whitehurst Jr., 33, father, 1975.
Samuel Hammond Jr, 18; Delano Middleton, 17; and Henry Smith, 19; students, 1968.
And on and on and on…