AN EXAMPLE ON THE WAY RACIAL INJUSTICE WORKS
Justice Is a Verb!
©Wendell Griffen, 2016
September 8, 2016
Two nights ago Little Rock City Directors rejected an ordinance proposed by Director Erma Hendrix that would have required new police officers to live in Little Rock. The white directors (Gene Fortson, Kathy Webb, Joan Adcock, Vice Mayor Lance Hines, Dean Kumpuris, and B.J. Wyrick) voted against the ordinance. Mayor Mark Stodola did not vote (his practice is to vote when there is a tie).
Director Hendrix had the candor and courage to declare before votes were cast that racial injustice is pervasive in Little Rock, and that local civic and business leaders are unwilling to respect black voters. She is correct. Directors Hendrix, Doris Wright, and Ken Richardson are trying to move Little Rock policy making in ways that will address longstanding systemic racism. But their efforts are opposed and defeated because of the way racial injustice works in Little Rock, in Arkansas, and across the United States.
In January 1969 (almost a year after he was murdered) Playboy Magazine published an essay written by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. which included the following observation:
“Why is the issue of equality still so far from solution in America, a nation that professes itself to be democratic, inventive, hospitable to new ideas, rich, productive, and awesomely powerful? The problem is so tenacious because, despite its virtues and attributes, America is deeply racist and its democracy is flawed both economically and socially. All too many Americans believe justice will unfold painlessly or that its absence for black people will be tolerated tranquilly.”
Those words are as true today as they were when Dr. King penned them.
Law enforcement efforts are flawed and relations between law enforcement agencies and communities of color are strained because the culture within law enforcement is “deeply racist.” White police officers in the Little Rock Police Department by and large are unwilling to live in the capitol city of Arkansas. Police Chief Kenton Buckner and Little Rock City Manager Bruce Moore, black men, opposed the ordinance proposed by Director Hendrix that would have made residency a requirement for new police officers. Chief Buckner and City Manager Moore show that “deeply racist” attitudes and practices within law enforcement work are not corrected because black politicians and governmental officials often join white civic and business leaders in perpetuating them.
Public education remains practically segregated because attitudes of political, business, and social leaders are “deeply racist.” The January 28, 2015 takeover of the Little Rock School District, ouster of the democratically-elected and majority black Little Rock School Board by the Arkansas Board of Education, and ongoing conditions within the Little Rock School District show how “deeply racist” thinking and policy-making by local and state political, business, and social leaders (including religious leaders) have taken political and fiscal governance for the Little Rock School District from voters. In 1957, black leaders opposed Governor Orval Faubus. The 2015 takeover and ongoing effort to deny democracy in the state’s largest school district was and continues to be enabled and defended by hand-picked black political appointees on the Board of Education. Yes, black people can be enablers and defenders of “deeply racist” thinking and policy-making.
During the September 6 Little Rock Board of Directors meeting Vice Mayor Hines and Director Kumpuris agreed with Director Hendrix that the residency ordinance debate exposed the glaring distrust and discord between black people and the police. At best, their comments were no more than lip service. I and others were insulted. We don’t need socializing. We need systemic change. It’s absurd to think, and offensive to suggest, that the attitudes and conduct that killed Eugene Ellison and Bobby Moore III will be corrected by having black and white people “have a beer together.”
Racial injustice continues in Little Rock, in Arkansas, and across the United States because of “deeply racist” thinking and policy-making. Racial injustice continues in Little Rock and Arkansas because “at large” politicians initiate and can count on black political functionaries to defend “deeply racist” thinking and policy-making. Racial injustice continues because too many people are unwilling or afraid to do what Directors Erma Hendrix, Ken Richardson, and Doris Wright tried to do Tuesday night—challenge and change “deeply racist” existing policies and practices.
Racial injustice will end—in Little Rock, in Arkansas, and across the United States—when people oppose, disrupt, dismantle, and eradicate the “deeply racist” thinking, policies, and practices that routinely control the way things work. That requires a lot more than chat and chew sessions, polite dinners and banquets, and photo opportunities.