Post: June 2, 2020

You're Not Powerless

Resolve to turn anguish into action.


For there to be balance, there must be change. For there to be change, we must come together and define — redefine — our future.

There were only 27 days in all of 2019 where the police in America did not kill someone. Black people are three times more likely to be killed by the police than white people, and are more likely to be unarmed when it happens.

We fully support the people who are further interrupting their daily lives, at personal risk, to protest racist police brutality. We stand with and support those who demand a just and legal response to the murder of George Floyd. A just and legal response to the murder of Ahmaud Arbery. A just and legal response to the murder of Breonna Taylor. A just and legal response to the murder of Tony McDade.

Support is more than words and feelings. We are not powerless. We can take appropriate action. And when considering our next actions, we're going to follow former U.S. President Barack Obama's lead. The following is an excerpt from a message posted yesterday. We encourage you to click on the link and read it in its entirety. It includes links to several high-quality resources.

As millions of people across the country take to the streets and raise their voices in response to the killing of George Floyd and the ongoing problem of unequal justice, many people have reached out asking how we can sustain momentum to bring about real change. . . . the waves of protests across the country represent a genuine and legitimate frustration over a decades-long failure to reform police practices and the broader criminal justice system in the United States. The overwhelming majority of participants have been peaceful, courageous, responsible, and inspiring. They deserve our respect and support, not condemnation — something that police in cities like Camden and Flint have commendably understood.

If we want our criminal justice system, and American society at large, to operate on a higher ethical code, then we have to model that code ourselves.

I’ve heard some suggest that the recurrent problem of racial bias in our criminal justice system proves that only protests and direct action can bring about change, and that voting and participation in electoral politics is a waste of time. I couldn’t disagree more. The point of protest is to raise public awareness, to put a spotlight on injustice, and to make the powers that be uncomfortable; in fact, throughout American history, it’s often only been in response to protests and civil disobedience that the political system has even paid attention to marginalized communities. But eventually, aspirations have to be translated into specific laws and institutional practices — and in a democracy, that only happens when we elect government officials who are responsive to our demands.

It’s mayors and county executives that appoint most police chiefs and negotiate collective bargaining agreements with police unions. It’s district attorneys and state’s attorneys that decide whether or not to investigate and ultimately charge those involved in police misconduct. Those are all elected positions. In some places, police review boards with the power to monitor police conduct are elected as well. Unfortunately, voter turnout in these local races is usually pitifully low, especially among young people — which makes no sense given the direct impact these offices have on social justice issues, not to mention the fact that who wins and who loses those seats is often determined by just a few thousand, or even a few hundred, votes.

So the bottom line is this: if we want to bring about real change, then the choice isn’t between protest and politics. We have to do both. We have to mobilize to raise awareness, and we have to organize and cast our ballots to make sure that we elect candidates who will act on reform.

I recognize that these past few months have been hard and dispiriting — that the fear, sorrow, uncertainty, and hardship of a pandemic have been compounded by tragic reminders that prejudice and inequality still shape so much of American life. But watching the heightened activism of young people in recent weeks, of every race and every station, makes me hopeful. If, going forward, we can channel our justifiable anger into peaceful, sustained, and effective action, then this moment can be a real turning point in our nation’s long journey to live up to our highest ideals.

Let’s get to work.

Additional Resources

Anguish and Action
[Obama Foundation]

New Era of Public Safety
An Advocacy Toolkit for Fair, Safe and Effective Community Policing
[Obama Foundation]

Anti-Racism Resources for White People
[Public Google Doc compiled by Sarah Sophie Flicker and Allysa Klein]

If You Want to Protest Injustice But Can’t Because of the Pandemic

NAACP Legal Defense Fund

Color of Change

Love is the motive, but justice is the instrument.
— Reinhold Niebuhr