Saying Their Names is Not Enough
Saying their names is important — but it is not enough. Black Americans who have been murdered by the police are not statistics, they are our friends and neighbors, they’re our fathers and mothers and sisters and brothers. They’re our children. Their deaths are our national shame. We should say their names.
And it is not enough, because police continue to murder Black people. Nothing has changed.
Some try to argue that a “few bad actors” are to blame, but that is a form of denial of the current police system. Across the U.S., African Americans experience the fear, anxiety, terror, and — too often — the physical and emotional scars of police violence and murder. The problem is a police culture that at best tolerates, and at worst encourages, violence against Black people. Violence against us.
When George Floyd screamed out “mama I’m going to die” as a police officer kneeled on his neck for nine minutes, three other officers looked on and did nothing. The shocking truth is that none of us who watched that video were surprised — disgusted? Angry? Enraged? Yes. But surprised? No.
The “blue line” has been working overtime to shield police officers from being held accountable for murder — even when there’s clear video evidence. They are enabled by too many complicit leaders, who choose to prop-up white supremacy instead of demanding accountability from law enforcement. Generations of police terror have been rewarded by ever-growing shares of city budgets. We’re now home to the world’s largest prison population, with many billions spent on the police, their weaponry, and the jails they have built — jails that, like the rest of the story, are used disproportionately to destroy Black communities and Black lives.
But the police are not solely to blame for this problem; racism extends its toxic roots through our society, and into our neighborhoods. In liberal New York City, a white woman who was breaking the law with her dog off leash called the cops on Christian Cooper, a Black man watching birds in the park. With police violence so rampant against African Americans, that call could easily have been deadly.
In a conservative part of suburban Atlanta, two white men shot and killed Ahmaud Arbery while he was jogging through their neighborhood, in a modern-day lynching. Did the police arrest them? No: It took months of escalating protests before the police did their jobs.
In Oakland, a security guard at a new housing development pulled a gun on Kenya Wheeler — who was the city planning official for that specific neighborhood — because he was Black.
The disregard for Black life embedded within American culture enables the same disregard for Black life among police, and empowers them to push the envelope ever-further.
We know the roots of racism in America run deep — to the very beginnings of our nation’s history. It’s woven not just into our national identity, but into American public policy. Some of America’s first police forces were hired to capture “fugitive” slaves. The structure of our Federal government still embodies white supremacy, in legislative bodies and districts designed to disempower diverse communities — and in current efforts to disenfranchise Black voters, in particular.
We believe Black Lives Matter. It is undeniably true that the experience of being Black in the United States is being told over and over again that your life is not worth the same as other lives. Our country will never achieve its promise until Black people feel safe from sanctioned state violence at the hands of police in their homes, on their streets, and in their communities.
California YIMBY and the YIMBY movement focus on housing because we believe housing is a platform for human potential — for economic opportunity, for education and health, for access to social networks, family, and friends. And the location matters: The built environment — who is allowed to live in it, where they are allowed to live, what kind of access they have to resources — is an important factor in patterns of unjust policing.
At a deeper level, we know that, like all areas of American public life, racism has played a central role in the history of American housing policy — from outright segregation, to racial redlining, to the downzonings that swept our cities in response to the Fair Housing Act. Our efforts at housing reform are inspired in large part by a recognition that the goal of racial justice requires many complementary efforts, among which housing plays a vital part.
At the same time, we know that housing reform is a necessary but insufficient part of the equation. Abundant housing will not reverse centuries of racially-motivated oppression. It will not end police violence, or reform a criminal justice system that is notoriously racist. It will not achieve wage equity, or reverse discimination in the workplace. It will not change the discriminatory ways we fund our schools, hospitals, and transportation systems. It alone can not end racial injustice.
Too many Black neighborhoods are over-policed and under-resourced, and suffer from extreme environmental racism and pollution. The higher stress of living in a quasi-police state, combined with lack of access to good health care and nutrition, has lowered life expectancies among Black Americans across the board.
These outcomes are not a caprice of human nature. They are the result of deliberately racist policies — including housing policy.
That is why all of us at California YIMBY stand with the millions of people around the world raising their voices against racist violence and white supremacy. We have been targets of its violence, and we are allies to those who have been targeted. We are united in our outrage, and in our commitment to justice.
But we know that words will not suffice when urgent action is needed. We also know that all of us must meet this moment by asking ourselves difficult questions — and engaging friends and loved ones in uncomfortable but, hopefully, transformative conversations that lead to action.
If you feel stressed and uncomfortable, if you feel anxious and afraid, that is a sign that your body and your mind are responding — appropriately — to the severity of the injustices in our society, and the police brutality that is among its worst manifestations. We want you to know that we are standing there with you in discomfort. We want to join you in using that discomfort to deepen our understanding of the historic inequities in our society, their causes — and actions we can take to dismantle them.
The events of the past few weeks have brightly underscored the need for a broad and inclusive movement for racial justice. Housing is one important leg of the stool; but we should all be better at supporting and giving voice to allies in our march for justice. An exploration of these issues leads inevitably to powerful, emotional, and often uncomfortable conversations — but we at California YIMBY are wholeheartedly committed to having them, to listening, and to taking action.
The question before all of us is: What should those actions look like? At California YIMBY, we’ve been working with movement partners, Black-led organizations, and our Black team members to push ahead with the actions we feel will lead to lasting change. We will amplify the calls to action from movement leaders. We’re committed to upping the ante going forward, and will continue to support this work next week, next month and next year — as long as it takes to accomplish true equity and dismantle racism.
This journey to justice is a long road. We’re committed to seeing it through, all the way.
Muhammad Tarek Alameldin