Special Edition Notes from the Trenches

Enough is Enough: It's Time to Take Action

We find ourselves infuriated and profoundly saddened as yet another inexplicable and inexcusable act of violence was perpetrated against a black citizen by those who are entrusted to protect the safety and welfare of that citizen.

Our hearts go out to the families of George Floyd and all our other fellow citizens who have been victimized by the very system that is supposed to protect them. This is not the America we want to live in. These are not the American values to which we aspire and to which we want our children to aspire, and it needs to stop.

We’ve seen many comments from other organizations directed to the black community along the lines of “We Stand With You” and while we appreciate that people’s hearts are generally in the right place as they make these statements, as two white men ourselves, we believe that these words lack perspective.

For one thing, we can’t possibly understand what it’s like to be a black man or woman watching this pattern repeated for decades now. We can’t possibly know what it’s like to feel at one’s core a combination of outrage and hopelessness; to wonder when or if this is going to end, and at what point does something like this happen to our brother, daughter, cousin, parent or friend.

To appreciate this, you only need to watch Merck CEO, Kenneth Frazier’s interview with CNBC where he said that George Floyd “could be me or any other African American man,” or read Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s op-ed in the LA Times about the differences in how we react to these events. These distinctions in perspective are critical for us all to understand.

Second, the simple fact is that we (all of white America) have not stood with our black community, and that’s why this problem persists. It’s not enough to just be empathetic and it’s not enough to just say, “Well I’m not a racist, so I’m doing my part.” What’s become clear to us (and shame on us that it took this long) is that we as a society can’t expect this pattern of racial violence to be broken with three-quarters of the voting public sitting out the fight.

As San Antonio Spurs coach Greg Popovitch so aptly stated in a recent podcast interview (which we’d highly recommend you all listen to) if we, as empowered white Americans, don’t proactively work to effect change, then we become complicit in each new instance of racial violence.

There are micro and macro issues at play here and we intend to put our efforts toward addressing both. The first and most pressing issue is to end police killings. To this end, we’re donating to an organization called Campaign Zero and are calling on our entire network to put their support behind this organization as well.

Founded in 2015, Campaign Zero has taken a very smart and thoughtful approach to end police killings, using data to identify the key reforms that their statistical models indicate will have the greatest impact, and sharing this data and their recommendations with the municipalities who have the power to enact these reforms.

They’ve additionally launched a shorter-term reform package called 8 Can’t Wait, a set of 8 very straightforward and simple reforms that they want to see enacted across the country immediately, and which they estimate will reduce police killings by more than 70% if broadly implemented. In addition to spending some time looking through their sites, we’d particularly recommend you review their 2016 study on the effects of the use of force by police in the US.

The report is extremely well done and the data is as compelling as anything we’ve seen on the topic, particularly in refuting several fallacies that are often used to excuse police violence (for example, that police safety is compromised by less restrictive policies, when in fact the data shows the exact opposite to be true).

We’d encourage you all to please consider joining us in supporting Campaign Zero, which you can do here, as well as using the resources they provide to demand action from each of our local governments and national representatives.

Police violence toward black citizens is also part of a larger problem of bias in American society that we all need to continue to work to change. Nothing makes this clearer than the emotionless, callous demeanor of Mr. Floyd’s killer, as he calmly squeezed the life out of a man lying motionless on the ground, ignoring bystanders’ pleas to move off him and check his pulse.

No amount of police reform can fix the vile corruption of that killer’s soul. That change can only come when people grow up in an environment with not only zero tolerance for overt acts of racism, but where racial biases are eliminated at their core.

As we all saw in the video of the white woman in Central Park calling the police on a black man because he asked her to put her dog on a leash (as she was legally bound to do), racism isn’t limited to violent attacks or hateful language, and racist biases exist even in educated people who consider themselves progressive and enlightened, whether we recognize them or not, and we all need to work harder to honestly assess our own biases and work to eliminate them.

Martin Luther King said of his dream for his children that they would, “one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” He said this almost 60 ago. 60 years. And as the woman in Central Park who probably considered herself a tolerant, progressive person proved, it’s still not true. Not even remotely.

Reverend King dreamed of this world for his children but isn’t even true for his grandchildren. That’s what we need to change. And we need to practice it every day.

When we read things online or see things on the news, we need to stop and examine our reaction and understand how our underlying biases may have impacted that reaction, and then work at eliminating those biases. We need to make concerted efforts not only to hire, work for and befriend people of different backgrounds, but to proactively seek to understand and appreciate their perspectives, however different from our own.

High-minded ideals are easy to utter, but they rarely make a real impact and they won’t work here (and if you don’t believe that, take a look at where the world’s capital of high-minded ideals sits in the below chart of police killings per million inhabitants, courtesy of Campaign Zero).

Real change will take place by individuals, taking small, thoughtful, targeted and consistent daily actions over many years. This won’t be easy, and it won’t be fixed overnight, but it will be worth it.