On July 11 more than 300 people attended a community discussion at the United Church of Chapel Hill about the murders by police of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and the killings of the Dallas police officers. Many people expressed sadness, anger, and fear around the frequency of these events and the threat of future ones. Prominent community leaders were present including Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue who addressed questions and concerns. There was a realization that more focused work needs to be done around racial inequities to ensure that our community does not become the site for such tragic events.
To say the cause of these deaths is gun violence and police brutality would be a gross underestimation of the real problem. We must also acknowledge systemic racism, racial profiling, fear and anger, and unaddressed implicit biases. That evening the question for many of us became “what can I do to help?”
Everyone in our community can play a role in creating a more equitable environment for all of our citizens. One important action anyone can take is to attend a workshop by the Racial Equity Institute (REI).
Coordinated locally by Organizing Against Racism (OAR), REI provides a two-day workshop where a historical, cultural, structural and institutional analysis of racism is presented. It provides a clear understanding of how institutions and systems are producing unjust and inequitable outcomes for people of color and advantaging white people. Hundreds of local citizens including governmental and institutional leaders have participated in the REI or Dismantling Racism Works (dRworks) trainings held regularly in Chapel Hill/Carrboro, Durham, and Raleigh. These trainings are critical in helping us as a community better analyze how systemic racism continues to shape disproportionate racial outcomes in all our institutions.
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In addition, we can encourage our local elected officials to participate in these workshops and begin to use a racial equity lens in policymaking.
A lot of this work is already underway. All of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Board of Education members and the majority of the Carrboro Board of Alderfolks have completed Phase I or similar workshops through dRworks and several participated in REI Phase II, analysis to action, in August. Several members of the Orange County Board of County Commissioners and at least one member of the Hillsborough Board of Commissioners and Chapel Hill Town Council have also participated in these workshops. Moreover, the chiefs of the Carrboro Police Department, Carrboro Fire Department, Chapel Hill Police Department, and Chapel Hill Fire Department and many of their other leaders have attended. Recently Chapel Hill Town Councilmember Donna Bell boldly petitioned the Town Council and town manager to complete a racial equity workshop before the end of 2016.
Citizens can hold their elected officials accountable by letting them know how important this work is. The lack of a common analysis complicates the goal of eliminating racial and ethnic disparities and producing equitable outcomes. Beyond participation in these workshops we need to encourage our elected boards to begin discussions about using a racial equity lens in decision-making as the Carrboro board did at its last retreat and as Bell has asked her board to do in early 2017.
Moreover, the Carrboro and Chapel Hill police departments have institutionalized implicit bias or fair and impartial policing training for all officers and have implemented written consent for searches; community members have formed a Campaign for Racial Equity in CHCCS and issued a report that has received state attention; The Orange County Coalition for Bias-Free Policing has presented recommendations for law enforcement reform to our municipal governments and law enforcement agencies; and UNC has created a Leading for Racial Equity course for graduate and professional students.
To learn more about the Racial Equity Institute and sign up to attend a workshop, please visit the Organizing Against Racism-NC website (www.oarnc.org).
Our county, if we continue on this trajectory of recognizing and addressing the persistent impact of systemic racism, can become a model for our state and nation in creating institutions that exemplify our highest democratic ideals and in which all citizens have the same opportunity to thrive.
Kaleia Martin is an MSW intern with Orange County-Organizing Against Racism and Allison De Marco is a member of the OC-OAR coordinating team