By Bill Bolling
I have branded the summer of 2020 as Our Summer of Discontent. We have seen much controversy over the past few weeks. Our Summer of Discontent has included passionate and merited protests, sparked by the senseless killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. I stand with anyone who wants to peacefully protest brutality like this and who supports equal justice under the law.
We have also seen violent riots that included vandalism, the destruction of personal property and businesses, many of which were owned by African Americans. We are a nation of laws. This type of violence is never merited. It hurts innocent people and I stand in firm opposition to those who feel that it is somehow appropriate.
We have seen vandalism, destruction, and the subsequent removal of historic monuments across the Commonwealth. I disagreed with these actions and supported adding context to the monuments because I feel they educate us about and remind us of important parts of our past, even if those reminders are not always comfortable.
In addition, due process of law is critical. I’m concerned that many of these monuments, particularly the ones in the City of Richmond, were not removed in accordance with the law, which required Public Notice, a Public Hearing, and formal action by City Council, none of which occurred. The way in which you go about achieving a goal is often as important as the goal itself.
We have even seen efforts to get professional sports teams, colleges and universities, and businesses to change their names in a perceived effort to combat systemic racism. This is superficial political correctness at best. At the end of the day, these name changes will do little to create real and lasting social change.
Obviously, I do not agree with some of these recent events, but it has given some a chance to voice their hurt and frustration, and others, including me, a chance to see the world through someone else’s eyes. That can always be a valuable experience.
But through all this discontent there are a few things that are not being discussed, things that I believe are profoundly important if we honestly believe that Black Lives Matter … and I do.
• We have not discussed the inadequate and unsafe public housing that many minorities live in every day.
• We have not discussed inadequate public education, crumbling public school buildings, excessive high school dropout rates and the fact that young people (of any color) will never succeed without a quality education.
• We have not discussed the fact that many minorities still do not have access to affordable health care, especially primary health care. They struggle with massive health disparities as compared with white communities and higher rates of food insecurity.
• We have not discussed unacceptably high unemployment rates in minority communities, driven in large part by a lack of education, job training and access to job opportunities.
• We have not discussed alarming crime rates in minority communities that should be a concern to everyone, regardless of the color of their skin.
• We have not discussed teen pregnancy rates that result in almost 40 percent of young Black teens having children out of wedlock, when they are in no position to care for them; and the fact that many of these children will grow up in a single parent family.
• We have not discussed criminal justice reform, that is desperately needed in a country that has 5% of the world’s population and 25 percent of the world’s prison inmates, not to mention a recidivism rate of 40 percent!
In short, we are not discussing several substantive issues that impact minority communities, many of which may in fact be the result of systemic racism, in whole or in part. Where are our leaders and why are they not stepping up to debate and address these critical issues?
I realize that protests, riots, the removal of historic monuments, and the other things we have witnessed during our Summer of Discontent attract great interest, especially among the media and political leaders who are focused on short term gain. But they are just low hanging fruit in the fight to create a more equal and just society. If we really care about our Black neighbors and other minorities, these are the conversations we should be having.
Bill Bolling spent 22 years in elected office, including 8 years as Lieutenant Governor of Virginia. He now teaches government and politics at Virginia Commonwealth University and George Mason University.