Feeling the moment after Floyd killing
Patrick says policy reforms will flow from genuine grappling with race issues
WHERE DO WE GO with the outrage and window for a reckoning on matters of race in the country that’s been opened by the police killing of George Floyd?
Two themes emerged from a conversation on that question led yesterday by former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick. It’s important, Patrick said, for people first to feel genuinely the emotions being stirred in order to begin shaping the policy prescriptions that should follow. It’s also clear that this is a movement for social change, like so many others before it, being led by young people, and those in power, including leaders of color, will be pressed to do more.
Dr. Myechia Minter-Jordan, a physician and president of DentaQuest Partnership for Oral Health Advancement and Catalyst Institute, said we’re facing a “crippling trifecta” of racial and social health inequities from a global pandemic and the high black unemployment it is causing on top of the horror of the Floyd killing.
She joined Patrick for the online conversation sponsored by CommonWealth along with Juana Matias, the COO of MassINC, the public policy think tank that publishes CommonWealth, and Lee Pelton, the president of Emerson College.
There was also talk of the need for training police in de-escalation techniques and the need for more diversity in the law enforcement pipeline. Minter-Jordan said health care models that empower community health workers, not just physicians and nurses, to deliver care may point toward ways we can rethink approaches to how to deal with the complex issues currently addressed only by police.
But the conversation didn’t dig deep on lots of policy specifics, and Patrick said that was intentional. “We didn’t talk on purpose about specific policy or we didn’t dwell on that,” he said toward the end, “in large part because I think this may be one of those times where we just need, all of us together in our community, black and white and everyone else, to feel this deeply and genuinely so we can understand from that feeling what it is we need to do.”
He gave voice to those raw feelings himself in a recent television interview with NBCBoston reporter Alison King where he revealed that he was once stopped, while serving as governor, by State Police as he was being driven by a black State Police driver. Patrick also said he long ago stopped going to football or baseball games because “I’m just tired of hearing some drunken fan yell n—– ape at a player.”
Pelton issued a powerful letter to the Emerson community following Floyd’s killing, a missive that has gone viral, he said, with 8 million views. In it, he said he “didn’t want to write the kind of platitudinous letters that ordinarily appear after these kinds of killings.”
Instead, Pelton spoke of his own experience and of his gut-wrenching feeling that, like Floyd, “Black Americans are invisible to most of white America. We live in the shadows – even those of us, who like me, sit at the table of bounty.”
“In my lifetime, I have been called the n-word by white people in every state and every city that I have ever lived in,” he wrote, “I have been pulled over driving while black more times than I can remember. I have been spit on by a white parking lot attendant.”Patrick said that as he’s watched the current protests unfold, he’s worried that the effort might come unraveled. “We have for a lot of years now been treating justice as if it was in limited supply. So if somebody got a little bit over here, you had to take away from somebody over there,” he said. The fact that the protests have continued and have drawn very diverse crowds, he said, makes him hopeful.
Pelton agreed, but said it’s important to recognize that young people are largely leading the current protests. “Those of us on this call — we’re part of the power structure, so we’re going to be uncomfortable too,” he said. “As a college president, I’m going to be uncomfortable because I know that a lot of these issues will come to my campus and it’s a new world.”