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Florida Times-Union - 7/23/2020
Note to Readers: Two of Jacksonville's respected public servants, Nat Glover, and John Delaney, are writing about social justice issues on succeeding Sundays. Last Sunday, Glover, the former sheriff and president of Edward Waters College, commented on criminal justice issues. Today, Delaney, a former Jacksonville mayor and president of the University of North Florida, offers reforms. The trigger for these columns was the death of a man restrained by police.
Recent events have shocked the conscience of America. The trigger was the death of a man restrained by police. But a larger national outrage has ensued, underscoring a deep national scar: white and black America, while making incredible social progress together, have yet to truly reconcile.
Lincoln foreshadowed this in his Second Inaugural Address in the waning days of the Civil War: there is a price to be paid for the wealth piled up by the slave owner for the "unrequited toil" of the slave and for "every drop of blood drawn by the lash." Though no slave owner or slave is still alive, that price has not been fully paid, even 150 years later.
And to this there is simply some dichotomy in response between races that was finely captured in an episode of the old TV show "ER." I don't recall the exact plot, but it centered on race. In one scene, a white doctor slapped a table and said: "I did not make that decision based on race. I did not!!"
An African-American nurse responded: "White people never think it is about race. ... Black people always think it is about race."
That scene seems to capture some broad sentiments.
There is certainly not a universal white or black experience. But to some extent each race has its own perceptions. Videotaped police brutality of blacks underscore one. But every Jussie Smollette and O.J. Simpson unfairly playing the race card undercuts a shared perception.
I asked a dear friend, African-American, what he saw when he looked at a Confederate statue. While many including me tended to see history, his response chilled me: "I see someone holding a noose."
Nat Glover often says that many do not realize the fear that African- Americans feel simply when walking out a home's front door, and the fear that black parents feel until their children walk back inside.
A local African-American CEO related to me that he is now wary of early morning walks in his neighborhood, due to the recent shooting of a young black man in Georgia while jogging in the morning. I likewise walk in my neighborhood early in the morning, often in the dark, but never once in my life have I worried about that. In fact every single African-American that I have spoken to in the past month -- every single one -- relates story after story of racist encounters. Close black friends including Nat have shared stories of encounters that they had never told me about before. They simply can't all be wrong.
Local federal prosecutions of public officials over the past 30 years have been nearly exclusively African-American. State prosecutions, rightly or wrongly, have been disproportionally black. Some legitimately argue that blacks commit disproportionate numbers of murders and armed robberies, hence skewing the numbers. In my personal view, our local state court judges are uniformly fair, but the system of police, prosecutors and judges, as Nat addresses in his companion opinion column, are predominantly white.
How can a Black person feel that such a system will be fair? Racism mocks our founding principal -- that all men are created equal.
Large numbers of arrests of all races, thousands and thousands every year, are either dropped, given time served or no time at all in jail. Then why the arrest in the first place?
If one is arrested or convicted, finding work becomes a real problem.
The notion that all police are bad is simply wrong. Both Nat and I know the hearts of many of our local officers; it is a dangerous time in our country to negatively broad brush and stereotype any group of people. That is a process of dehumanizing. And that process has been used in human history all too often. It allows for injustice to breed.
Dehumanizing police does the same thing. Dehumanizing has begotten mob justice and lynchings. Due process becomes an afterthought when the accused is already convicted before all evidence is even presented.
Law enforcement across the country knows that it has to establish trust; the damage from Minneapolis has been immeasurable. Nat has some thoughts in his column. But the issue is more than just policing, it is race.
We need to go beyond talk to concrete action. Here are ten suggestions for a way to start in Jacksonville:
1. More openness in police-involved shootings. The earlier that video can be released for the public to access, the better. Nat suggests that the attorney general or some non-political, non-elected state investigator review all police brutality allegations. That has an appeal.
2. Though rarely used, under Florida law a "Public Inquest" is an option for reviewing any death. There, the state attorney presents in open court before a judge all evidence involved in a death, which can of course be a death at the hands of police. This public airing can be healthy and appropriate. The presiding judge can then give some guidance for a disposition.
3. Consider focusing all economic development and incentives exclusively in Downtown and Northwest of the river. This is where poverty is, and of both races.
4. We should make sure that there is parity in infrastructure investment in the Northwest Quadrant; more has been done than many residents realize. But transparency helps.
5. Support the school referendum to provide investment in aging schools countywide. My mother used to say: if you can read you can do anything. An education is the best crime prevention device. It is rare to see a college-educated person prosecuted for a felony of any kind. And it is the best avenue to the middle class.
6. The programs contained in the Jacksonville Journey and the Children's Commission inside the Kids Hope Alliance umbrella have all proved effective and efficient in preventing and deterring crime, advancing education providing economic opportunities. Investment here pays dividends.
7. Reestablishment of neighborhood programs helps to build communities from the grass roots. Helping people to take ownership of their neighborhood does immense and broad based good.
8. The Intensive Care Neighborhood program brought layers of investment and support into targeted neighborhoods, including social services, Public Works, the Health Department and community policing. A comprehensive, focused approach simply worked.
9. Post-conviction jobs programs help stabilize lives, and prevent crime and recidivism.
10. Nat and I both helped create the Jacksonville Commitment. The then-presidents of our four local institutions of higher education worked with Mayor John Peyton to guarantee a scholarship for any child of poverty to attend one of the four local schools and earn a college degree. Any child of poverty qualified, with some conditions. The recession killed city and school funding. These scholarships were transformative, and if the local schools and City Hall work to establish the program again, it gives poor families hope.
Jesus said that the poor will be with us always; racism does not have to be. I often say that in America, in the end, we always get it right. Sometimes it just takes a while.
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