June 2, 2020 — New York
AJC continues to mourn the tragic death of George Floyd, whose life was crushed out of him May 25 under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, while three other officers stood by and watched, if not abetted, this harrowing act of murder. He was the latest victim of a chronic and insidious affliction.
We condemn the wanton acts of vandalism and violence committed by a small minority of those taking to the streets in protest across America – acts that dishonor the memory of George Floyd, whose death in police custody brought a country besieged by contagion and economic misery to yet another rendezvous with its history of racial injustice. Those who disrupt and subvert peaceful protest set back, not advance, the cause of racial justice.
What must not be obscured by the lawless behavior of some on our streets is the larger context: the unfinished journey of America’s progress toward racial equality – toward finally healing this great nation’s 400-year wound of slavery, suffering, and discrimination. Now, as we mourn yet another needless death of an African American in police custody, we and our fellow citizens confront once again the most fundamental questions about our society, the enduring gap between its principles and lived realities, and what additional steps we must take to fulfill its laudable promise.
Although recent history is replete with markers of African American success – none more definitive than the election and re-election of President Obama – the disparities between black and white Americans a century and a half after Emancipation remain stark: in life expectancy, educational and employment opportunity, income, and, this year, in mortality and economic stress from Covid-19. Black lives, in raw statistical terms, still share too little in America’s prosperity, face steeper challenges across multiple indices, and end too soon.
Add to that the specific disparities African Americans face in confrontations with law enforcement. Four years ago, after the deaths of two black men – Philando Castile, outside St. Paul, Minnesota, and Alton Sterling, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana – at the hands of police officers, AJC called for “justice – and for an appropriate, systemic response by law enforcement authorities and government leaders at every level.”
We added, in language equally appropriate today: “Police across America put their lives on the line every day to protect their fellow citizens, and often face excruciating split-second choices in situations that could veer into tragedy. We honor their selfless and essential service. But when the race of a suspect matters in the outcome of a confrontation with police, as the evidence has suggested in too many cases in recent months, something is broken in our criminal justice system. With honesty and respect – for all our fellow citizens and for the brave men and women in blue who protect our way of life – this failure must be acknowledged, diagnosed and repaired. Justice demands no less.”
Closing the wound of American racism will require more than the reform of law enforcement procedures, important as that surely is. It will require letting down our guard and listening to our neighbors. It will require redressing stubborn inequities and indignities. It will require the courage to face hard truths in our communities.
AJC, with more than a century’s experience on the front lines in strengthening the fabric and fiber of American pluralism, stands in solidarity with the multitudes who have demonstrated peacefully against racism in the wake of the death of George Floyd. We pledge to continue relentlessly our pursuit of the realization of America’s promise: that “all men are created equal.” Not some men – and women – but all.