What Richmonders Should Do To Move Toward Racial Justice
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) says he will stand with and support those marching in the commonwealth’s streets. Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney (D) apologized for local police launching tear gas into a crowd, and said, “I want us to do better.”
The politicians will have plenty more to say and much more to do in the weeks ahead. But let’s put them aside for a while.
I asked two people — Kamau Bey, a 21 year-old Virginia Commonwealth University student who has participated in the peaceful demonstrations, and Conaway Haskins, a former U.S. Senate staffer and policy advocate who now works in higher education — whether they felt safe in Richmond.
Age, neighborhood, and life experience separate them. But they share a commitment to change. The question is how to make it happen. And how long it will take.
“I have not been accustomed to using the term ‘safe’ in my child or adult life to describe the places I’ve lived in Richmond,” Bey continued. “There is a sense of general security in certain populated locations,” he said, but that safety can be limited.
“I can feel as safe as I want to believe until I remember where I am and who I am, and that is a reality I imagine most feel on a regular basis.”
In an email, Haskins wrote “as a black man living in a country for which anti-blackness is all too endemic and feels nearly eternal, I cannot say that I and my son feel nearly as safe as you and your son probably would.”
“I’m incredibly angry that this keeps happening,” Haskins said, “but more importantly, I’m extremely hurt that our country just can’t get itself together on this. This is America, and we can do better.”
Haskins added, “I don’t think that it’s too much to ask for my family, and other black families, to be able to live and thrive in this country without the ever-present fear of being pulled over for no good reason (again), arrested for no good reason, have someone call 911 for no good reason, or even be killed just because someone feels uncomfortable with us walking around being our black selves.”
That’s a ridiculously heavy burden for people to carry, and, as Langston Hughes worried, that kind of burden often festers and sometimes explodes.
But can it be defused — beginning with a change in policing and law enforcement culture?