Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery

Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery: two lives taken unjustly, barbarically, and much too soon. Both murders in Spring 2020 forced the U.S. into a period of racial reckoning, further brought into the spotlight by the murder of George Floyd later that summer. We never forgot their names, and we never will.

This week, over two years later, justice was rightly served against the several people responsible for Taylor and Arbery’s murders. Looking at the larger picture, we know how Black bodies are treated by the justice system here in the U.S., and to see these charges can feel like a rarity. We’re thrilled that the families of Taylor, Arbery, and Floyd will see their loved ones’ murderers facing accountability, and we hope a new standard has been set. These charges sure give us hope that we’re in the process of real, tangible change.

In Arbery’s case, the father and son responsible for the murder both received a second life sentence for a federal hate crime, in addition to the first life sentence for murder. Although it feels shocking for these men to receive a sentence they deserve, statistics on hate crime convictions show that we may be entering a new era of accountability.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics analyzed hate crime convictions from 2005 to 2019, finding that the conviction rate was 83% from 2005 to 2009, and that number increased 11 percentage points to 94% in 2015 to 2019. We’re hopeful this number will increase to 100% as data is gathered moving through the 2020s.

The tragic losses of both Taylor and Floyd were different than a hate crime carried out by citizens – instead coming at the hands of police. As we know, they’re often shielded from the law and enabled to evade accountability, but the strong charges from the U.S. Department of Justice in Taylor’s case gives us hope that police accountability is becoming the standard, rather than the exception. Announced on August 4 by the DOJ, the officers involved in Breonna Taylor’s death are being charged with a litany of offenses ranging from violating her civil rights, to unlawful conspiracy, and more.

Certainly, the fight persists to both end police brutality against Black bodies and obtain justice in all cases. The strong action taken this week in Taylor and Arbery’s cases shows, however, that U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland is serious in holding everyone accountable to the law, regardless of name, stature, or nature of the crime. We have reason to hope and believe the tide is changing.

August is Black Business Month

Amid current inflation highs, we hear chatter every day on the airwaves and in our communities about economic stability. Everyone has their own proposed solution to our economic strifes, but the answer is clear to us; Investing in Black businesses will strengthen our economy at large. August is National Black Business Month, so we’re highlighting how investing in Black businesses would be a strong intervention to permanently stabilize our economy.

Let’s start with some statistics, because there’s no denying that systemic racism in the U.S. led us to the racial wealth gap we see today. According to a Federal Reserve survey from 2021, Black-owned wealth accounted for 2.9% of the country’s total wealth, yet we made up almost 16% of the survey population. Conversely, white Americans owned almost 87% of total wealth, yet comprised only 68% of households in the survey. Reaching racial wealth equality would mean that Black Americans own five times the current amount of wealth held.

Additional statistics show that particularly among small businesses, generational wealth is key to growth. A 2007 study from scholars at UC Santa Cruz, published in the Journal of Labor Economics, found that white business owners were significantly more likely to have had a family member own their business and pass it down, in comparison to Black-owned businesses. Black entrepreneurs are significantly more likely to start from the ground up, rather than inheriting an already-established business.

Moreover, white-owned businesses are more likely to be employer firms, which means businesses with more than one employee. According to Brookings Institution data from 2019, just 4.1% of Black-owned businesses were employer firms compared to 19% of white-owned businesses. Not only do Black people own less businesses compared to white folks, but the businesses are smaller as well.

So, what if there was a plan to both reach racial wealth equality and better the economy at large? The Path to 15|55 Initiative shows us how this can become a reality by investing in and growing Black-owned businesses. Research from the Path to 15|55 Initiative shows that if just 15% of Black-owned businesses were able to hire one more employee, that would grow the American economy by $55 billion, in addition to creating hundreds of thousands of jobs. It’s a clear and proven intervention that will work to eliminate systemic barriers, while growing the economy. Path to 15|55 is working to secure investments from larger entities, but what can we as individuals do to help?

Firstly, individuals with the capital to invest in Black business absolutely should. Most folks, however, don’t have that much extra money laying around. On an individual level, we must encourage all friends, family, and allies in our lives to support Black businesses. Speak to everyone you know about amplifying Black-owned business on social media and giving them reviews on platforms like Google or Yelp. Spread the word about the ways we support and advocate for Black-owned businesses, because striving for racial wealth equality benefits all of us in more ways than one.

BIPOC Mental Health Month

Designated by Congress in 2008, July is known nationally as BIPOC Mental Health Month. The resolution was intended to raise mental health awareness among marginalized communities and to destigmatize seeking treatment. Fourteen years after the issuance of the official observance, we need to discuss past progress and how we can build upon it going forward.

As we’ve written about before, many are aware of racial disparities in our medical system. However, the disparities within mental healthcare systems specifically are not as widely known. Studies consistently show white folks are given a higher standard of medical care than the BIPOC community, in both physical and mental healthcare.

Bebe Moore Campbell, the activist for whom the observance is officially named, understood the barriers to accessing mental health services in BIPOC communities and the need for normalizing mental healthcare. As a mental health advocate, journalist, author, and teacher, Campbell used her many talents to raise awareness about the mental health progress needing to be made. She understood the issue is two-fold: destigmatizing seeking help and improving the care BIPOC do receive.

Already this year, the Biden administration took tangible action to improve mental health services for the entire country. Although the initiative is long overdue, the new 988 mental health hotline will serve as an alternative to 911. To ensure full functionality, state governments must fund and foster the program as it did with 911.

The new mental health hotline is a much-needed intervention that should increase access for everyone, but stopping there wouldn’t be equitable. We need to focus attention and resources on BIPOC communities, and Congress is a great avenue to do so. This year, Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-CA) introduced a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives to do just that – use our resources to improve BIPOC mental health outcomes.

H.R. 1331, the Strengthening Mental Health Supports for BIPOC Communities Act, would address systemic barriers to access mental health services. States that receive federal grant money for mental health services would be required to report information regarding BIPOC treatment outcomes, recruitment and hiring of BIPOC providers, and cultural training of non-BIPOC providers.

This bill is part of a larger package that would address several BIPOC health inequities, and Congress should absolutely move on all these initiatives. What better way to celebrate BIPOC Mental Health Month than to take strong action? It’s time Congress set forth new care and accountability standards for those receiving federal grants, in turn improving our mental health access and quality of care.

Voter Disenfranchisement Part 2: Taxation Without Representation

We’ve all heard the phrase, “No taxation without representation.” Our early elementary school teachers made sure of that. It was the rallying cry of revolutionaries fighting the British occupation and control of what would become the United States. But it’s more than a nifty wartime slogan – there’s real meaning behind it. Why should our government order someone to pay taxes without giving them a fair shot to influence the spending of that revenue? We wouldn’t pay the taxes of other countries, after all. That tenet of our country’s founding is a political truism.

So why have we strayed so far from this idea?

Right now, over four million people pay U.S. taxes without any representation in Congress. The residents of Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, the North Mariana Islands, and Washington, D.C. are all subject to the whims of Congress without any say in the matter. In the U.S. Capitol, they don’t hold any votes. That group of residents equals that of Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, and South Dakota combined. This is among the largest group of disenfranchised voters in the entire world.

Territories and the District of Columbia all boast delegates in the House of Representatives. These delegates can speak and vote in committees, introduce bills, and even offer amendments during debate. They cannot, however, vote on the House floor. And there are no territorial delegates in the Senate. In short, voters from the above list of non-states don’t share the same agency as others in influencing our laws and policies. This is even more shocking when you consider residents of Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and the North Mariana Islands do not pay federal income tax. They do pay most payroll taxes, including Social Security and Medicare, however.

No matter how you look at it, we’ve violated our revolutionary philosophy. Instead of ensuring all those subject to U.S. rule can influence it, we’ve walled off millions from doing so. Unsurprisingly, most of these non-state residents are minorities.

Activists and politicians alike have made multiple attempts to shake something loose from this situation. Congress has proposed and debated statehood for Washington, D.C. several times. In one instance, they even offered a constitutional amendment to codify the notion. Thus far, all these movements in pursuit of representation have failed. In 2016, District residents made their will clear by voting in favor of statehood at a stunning 86%. We must do everything we can to influence our elected officials to heed their calls and enfranchise nearly 700,000 voters at once.

Perhaps accomplishing that will spur action in Puerto Rico, Guam, and all the other territories. And perhaps this is why Congress has historically opposed the idea – once the District is made a state, they’ll have no choice but to follow through with other territories. We all know how difficult voting rights reform can be, but this issue demands our attention. Wherever votes are disenfranchised, we must prioritize and advocate for solutions. Even if that means resorting to our revolutionary slogans.

Voter Disenfranchisement Part 1: SCOTUS and Black voters

From the confirmation of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the issuance of several controversial opinions, the U.S. Supreme Court made numerous headlines over the last month. So many consequential opinions were set forth last month that a SCOTUS voting rights opinion flew under the radar. Spoiler alert: SCOTUS disenfranchised Black voters in Louisiana, just as they did with Black voters in Alabama earlier this year. They’re poised to upend our electoral system as we know it by taking further steps to diminish the power of protections afforded by the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

On June 28, the court released the decision from the shadow docket, a highly criticized avenue through which SCOTUS issues emergency decisions without explanation. Through usage of such shadow docket, the court reversed the decision of a federal judge who struck down Louisiana Republicans’ new congressional district proposal.

Judge Shelly Dick’s prior ruling asserted that Louisiana Republicans’ proposal likely violated the Voting Rights Act because the map has only one majority Black district while the population of Louisiana is around one-third Black. With six congressional districts, a fair map in Louisiana would include two majority Black districts. The conservative members of SCOTUS provided no  reasoning for staying the proceedings as they noted they would hold the case until a similar case from Alabama is argued this fall.

This is now the second time this year conservative members of SCOTUS chose to block lower court orders, allowing racially gerrymandered maps to stand. Earlier this year in Alabama, SCOTUS allowed a map with one Black district out of seven, despite Alabama’s population also being approximately one-third Black.

Thanks to SCOTUS, Alabama and Louisiana voters participating this fall will vote under racially gerrymandered maps. The liberals on the bench, in both instances, voted to have fair maps re-drawn. However, they were outnumbered by the conservative justices who have proven to be indifferent toward, if not in favor of, diluting the power of Black voters.

Although the court has yet to officially rule on the merits of these cases, the majority conservative bench has a poor track record when it comes to upholding voting rights. There’s little reason to be confident that SCOTUS will protect the voting power of Black folks.

In addition to the other two gerrymandering cases, SCOTUS is set to hear arguments in Moore v. Harper this fall. After North Carolina’s highest court struck down a racially gerrymandered congressional map, the North Carolina General Assembly argued that it alone can regulate the state’s elections without oversight from the state’s court.

Electoral and legal scholars are sounding the alarm about this case for good reason. Should SCOTUS decide in favor of the so-called “independent state legislature doctrine,” argument set forth by the North Carolina General Assembly, our democratic processes will be forever changed. The Brennan Center for Justice summarized potential negative implications of the case, saying it “could make it easier for state legislatures to suppress the vote, draw unfair election districts, and enable partisan interference in ballot counting.”

From Alabama, to Louisiana, to North Carolina, state legislatures across the country work hard to disenfranchise Black voters and discount the weight of our votes. Gerrymandering is nothing new, but the fight now looms larger in anticipation of potentially catastrophic SCOTUS cases. Call your senators and representatives and demand they support the John Lewis Voting Rights Act because we need bold action before it’s too late.

Roe V Wade: Disproportionate Impact on Black Women

It happened – the highest judicial body in the land overturned Roe v. Wade last Friday. We saw it coming after the leaked draft in May, but that doesn’t make the decision any less terrifying. Through a revocation of our right to privacy in the doctor’s office, women became second-class citizens. This decision affects everyone, including men. However, statistics clearly show Black women will be most afflicted and disproportionately harmed, largely due to systemic racism. Let’s discuss the decision and its implications, for this is truly a human rights atrocity.

The United States has the highest maternal mortality rate of all wealthy and industrialized nations, with 17.4 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2020. On top of that, Black women in particular died from pregnancy complications at a rate of 37.1 per 100,000, which is more than double the rate of white women and triple the rate for Hispanic women. Reproductive health experts are now warning that maternal mortality rates will rise in a post-Roe world, exacerbating the race disparity even further.

In addition to the increasing maternal mortality rate, Black women are over-represented in the most restrictive states. Take Mississippi for example, where Black people represent almost 40% of the state’s population, in comparison to 13% in the U.S. total. Henceforth, Black women in states with trigger laws like Alabama, Arkansas, and Louisiana have been planning for the fall of Roe for years. In the Bible Belt, women will now have to travel thousands of miles to access care, considerable barriers that will be logistically too difficult and expensive for many people to overcome.

Since the decision was handed down last Friday, the anti-abortion movement both celebrated and admitted the truth about their motivations. Illinois U.S. Rep. Mary Miller, at a rally with the former President, called the reversal of Roe, “a victory for white life.” Miller of course tried to walk back the statement, but we’re quite unconvinced she made a mistake. Those in favor of banning or severely restricting abortion access are so clearly aware of the racial health disparities, it seems to be a perk to them.

Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy knows Black women are at higher risk, yet he is clearly not concerned about it. “About a third of our population is African American; African Americans have a higher incidence of maternal mortality. So, if you correct our population for race, we’re not as much of an outlier as it’d otherwise appear,” said Cassidy.

Miller and Cassidy know the most restrictive states are places where Black women are over-represented. In the absence of a family planning option like abortion, they know women will have less financial opportunity. Anti-abortion operatives are well aware of the disproportionate negative effects on communities of color; this is a white supremacy issue as much as it is a human rights issue.

The fight for human rights and bodily autonomy is not over yet, rather this is just the beginning. If there’s one thing we know, however, it’s that Black women will show up just like they always have. We’re calling on everyone to show up to your local protests and demand change. If we remain steadfast, they cannot ignore us.

The First Pride Was A Riot

June is Pride Month, meaning it’s an excellent time to discuss people of color in queer history. Some folks forget the integral role Black and Latino activists played in establishing what we know today as Pride Month. Furthermore, we must combat whitewashed accounts of LGBTQ+ history by celebrating these trailblazers and their stories.

The Stonewall riots in June 1969 are widely regarded as one of the most important milestones in the gay rights movement. Police in New York City’s Greenwich Village neighborhood utilized a warrant to raid a gay bar and arrest gender non-conforming people, which was legal due to New York state law at the time. Gay men of color and drag queens filled the bar, fighting back by throwing bricks and other projectiles. This of course wasn’t the first gay liberation riot, with other notable events preceding it like Compton’s Cafeteria riot. However, it is the event that kickstarted the Pride Month tradition, giving rise to the phrase, “The First Pride Was a Riot.”

Stonewall’s importance to the LGBTQ+ movement cannot be overstated, yet some accounts of the riots in popular culture don’t tell the whole story. The 2015 film, “Stonewall” received strong backlash as many critics lamented the erasure of trans individuals and people of color. The movie’s protagonist is white and cisgender, despite the role trans women of color played during the real Stonewall riots. Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera are widely recognized as leaders at Stonewall and for the gay liberation movement as a whole, yet they are reduced to minor characters in the screenplay depiction.

The exclusion of queer Black and Brown bodies is anything but a new phenomenon. When looking back on gay liberation history, it’s important to remember what it meant to be both queer and a person of color. A year and a half after Stonewall, the Red Room protest in Houston, Texas showed how the gay liberation movement was not devoid of racism. The bar’s owner was welcoming of only white LGBTQ+ individuals, prompting an organized protest and boycott. In response, organizers wrote, “These racist attitudes oppress all gays as long as the Red Room and others discriminate against blacks,” and that sentiment still rings true today.

As Pride Month winds down, we must never forget the intersectional struggle of trailblazers like Johnson and Rivera. At the time, very few spaces were welcoming of LGBTQ+ folks and even fewer spaces were welcoming of LGBTQ+ people of color. Facing both racism and homophobia, these trailblazers stood tall and proud despite experiencing vile bigotry.

May we remind our friends that true allyship and advocacy are not exclusive of any particular group. Let’s uplift our LGBTQ+ friends and family by taking a moment to remember the people of color that were vitally important leaders in the gay liberation movement.

Emancipation Day, Freedom Day, Jubilee Day: Juneteenth

Following the American Civil War, states were slow to officially end the practice of slavery. In fact, over eight months passed between the surrender of the Confederacy and the full ratification of the Emancipation Proclamation. States like Texas, too remote for a perpetual Union presence, resisted the end of slavery and served as a sort of safe haven for slavers. This general refusal necessitated federal intervention.

On June 19, 1865, Union Major General Gordon Granger marched into Galveston, Texas, and formally announced the abolition of slavery:

The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.

From that day forward, June 19 has been celebrated as the end of slavery. The next year, freedmen organized the first Jubilee Day and celebrated by distributing voting instructions and pooling money together to buy land. For decades, Texas and the national Black community recognized Juneteenth until the Great Depression and Jim Crow-era oppression forced an end to the annual celebration.

In the latter half of the twentieth century, however, Juneteenth saw a resurgence in popularity. In the late 1970s, Texas declared the day a “holiday of significance . . . particularly to the blacks of Texas,” becoming the first state to do so. Up until 2021, only Hawaii, North Dakota, and South Dakota hadn’t yet recognized the holiday annually. By proclamation of the federal government last year, Juneteenth became a full-scale holiday, on par with Memorial Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and all of the others.

There is implicit value in recognizing June 19 nationally. Slavery is one of our country’s original sins and one we still haven’t fully reconciled. Establishing Juneteenth as a federal holiday has aided in this process, which requires total awareness and honesty. It’s one of the most important holidays in the Black community and thus deserves this designation.

In Juneteenth’s second year as a federal holiday, may we remember how far we’ve come, and how much further we must go. Whether you call it Emancipation Day, Jubilee Day, or Juneteenth, let us all celebrate freedom with our Black and Brown brothers and sisters.

We Must Address Healthcare Inequity

The pandemic was a mask-off moment for our country. It laid bare a system of inequity that previously escaped significant media coverage, let alone public attention. Suddenly, the plight of service workers, mostly Black and Brown citizens, was on full display. Additionally, the virus moved through our communities in different ways. Access to quality healthcare became vastly important overnight while government loan programs stiffed minority businesses. These problems have all existed for decades, but the pandemic revealed them to our large, mostly apathetic populous.

Another such disparity is vaccine rates among Black and Brown communities. As of April 4, Black people were significantly less likely to have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose. In the 47 states that report such figures, only 57% of Black residents have been (at least partially) inoculated against the virus. In comparison, 85% of Asian, 65% of Hispanic, and 63% of white people have received the same. Despite targeted community outreach and aggressive ad campaigns, the Black community still lags all others in terms of vaccination. Given the recent reporting that 100 million Americans could be infected this fall and winter, this inequity deserves our attention.

This isn’t the only medical inequity the Black community experiences. According to recent studies, Black children are three times more likely to die following surgery.

A study published in the journal Pediatrics looked at 172,549 child surgery recipients and found Black children were 3.4 times more likely to die within a month of surgery than their white counterparts. Similarly, Black children were 1.2 times as likely to develop postoperative complications. Researchers have known about these disparities for years. We didn’t know, however, just how significant they were.

Other studies have found people of color often receive a lower standard of care than white Americans. This is the result of systemic underinvestment in minority communities. Hospitals there simply don’t have access to the same level of resources as others. The situation grows more dire every day. We don’t have the means the aggregate hospital data, meaning disparities like these slip through the cracks too often. When groups undergo a large, national study, of course they’ll find disparities. But outside of that infrequent attention, Black families aren’t a priority in healthcare.

This investigation certainly hasn’t helped with the Black community’s general distrust of medical figures. Who can blame them? In the early 1900s, the Tuskegee Study exposed Black men and women to untreated syphilis, ravaging generations of participants and their offspring. In the late 1900s, the Black community came to carry the burden of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. And now, beginning in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic especially impacted Black and Brown neighborhoods.

Black children’s higher likelihood to die or experience post-surgery complications won’t help the medical community address its legacy of racism, inequity, and neglect. This history, however, is real to millions of people of color every day. To ignore this when we discuss vaccination rates or healthcare standards is shameful and dishonest. It’s the medical community’s job to rebuild trust as we continue to face the legacies of systemic inequity.

Drug Courts: An Alternative to Mass Incarceration

Incarceration as we know it doesn’t work. It’s not rehabilitative, economical, nor fair. We lock up a disproportionate number of minorities and most of the country doesn’t ever seem to notice. That’s surprising when you consider the U.S. incarcerates more people than any other country. In fact, although we constitute just 5% of the global population, we make up 20% of the world’s prison population. We need an alternative to traditional drug policy and we need it now.

Rikers Island has been in the news lately for its worsening conditions and unsafe atmosphere for both prisoners and prison staff alike. If you look at other prions throughout the country, you’ll see similar developments. We simply have too many people locked up behind bars. This doesn’t mean, however, that we need to boost corrections budgets and go on a hiring spree for officers. Rather, we must address the systemic issues that have led to our current state.

In short, we can blame drug policies for this mess. A vast plurality of federally incarcerated persons are imprisoned for drug-related offenses, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Over 45% of all federal offenders have been found guilty of crimes like possession, intent to distribute, or holding paraphernalia. This significantly outnumbers the next most common offense, weapons possession, by roughly 24%. The same pool of prisoners demonstrates significant racial inequity as well. Despite making up around 14% of the population, Black prisoners account for almost 40% of all federal inmates. Remember, this is only federal data – not state-by-state data.

The answer to these disparities is to reform our drug-related policies. Legalizing marijuana would be a huge first step in this process, as we’ve discussed several times in the past. This reform has proven difficult, however. Perhaps there is an alternative, in-the-meantime solution to address root inequality in our judicial system.

Spoiler alert: There is.

Drug courts are an alternative judicial discipline seeking to overturn our country’s legacy of mass incarceration. In 1989, Miami opened the first of these bodies in response to a local crack cocaine epidemic. These are small councils, locally authorized to craft tailored rehabilitation plans for drug-related offenses. Drug courts offer free testing, clinical treatment, and individualized case management rather than locking someone up and throwing away the key. They’re also very effective.

Of our 3,000 drug courts, many report a 40% drop in recidivism. This saves the taxpayer somewhere between $5,680 and $6,208 per offender in the long run. It’s clear we need an alternative to traditional incarceration and drug courts might just be the way.

Until we can effect more substantive change, drug courts are an elegant stopgap to our problems. Although there are thousands across the country doing this work as we speak, we must continue to advocate for their presence and establishment in all our communities as we seek to overturn our country’s legacy of inequitable incarceration.

Scroll to top