By Phyllis Boykin and Fredette West
Director, African-American Health Alliance
It is plain to see that there is a new movement afloat that has awakened the consciousness of not only American citizens, but also citizens around the world. The televised murder of George Floyd brought about unforeseen protests that have continued relentlessly for the past eight weeks, with no end in sight.
Protesters of all ages, from different ethnic backgrounds, genders, and reflective of multifaceted walks of life have joined forces to face what this time in our combined history requires to embrace a long-overdue call for change in the unjust ways that African-Americans, and other peoples-of-color, are treated around the world. They march in solidarity with one goal in mind—to unveil, expose, confront, and to eliminate systemic racism around the world.
Mostly the same dedicated protesters, with a few newcomers recruited to get on board, rise daily and begin again because they believe it is up to us to imagine ourselves and our country behaving otherwise. They now recognize the ugliness of systemic racism and they are no longer willing to ignore it. They know that what is done during disastrous times matters.
Likewise, they realize that they can no longer sit and wait for others to address long-term global problems that refuse to go away on their own, with no intentions of being ignored. So, they march with signs hoisted high, clenched fists, both arms raised to simulate the “hands up, don’t shoot gesture,” sprawled out on the pavement, simply bending in silence, often with lowered heads, daring to take a knee, while sometimes chanting their ultimatum of “No justice, no peace.”
It is a beautiful sight to witness and they all deserve our support, our encouragement and endless respect for their efforts on behalf of all of us.
Now, their way is one of many ways to support this “movement for change” that is currently underway. Lord knows that it will take multiple approaches to destroy this monster called “Systemic Racism.’’ It is an assault on our very existence and we must all do our parts if we intend to banish it from our lives, the lives of our children, and their children yet unborn.
Representatives from organizations, large and small, locally, at state levels, nationally, and globally are playing roles to end the reign of systemic racism during what has become known as “the summer of our discontent.’’
They know that the acceptance of this man-made creature in our lives should not reflect who we are as a people, as a country, nor as a world. It certainly does not reflect what our African ancestors destined for our lives—still all these years later.
Therefore, some representatives are working from many angles, often during the night time, while we sleep, using these recurring disasters to our ultimate advantage, that equate to attacks on our very existence as a people.
They recognize that we are witnessing the largest protests we have ever seen and that the protesters’ efforts and sacrifices cannot be wasted during these troubling times. They know that we have what we have to work with during this moment in time and that we must not waste a single moment.
One such non-profit organization is the African-American Health Alliance (AAHA) that focuses on the elimination of racial and ethnic disparities in health and healthcare, and serves customers worldwide.
For this article, Fredette West, the Director of the division in Dunkirk, Md., was contacted for details on what the AAHA recommends to address systemic racism, to improve policing practices, and community investments. She shared a wealth of information that we are providing for your reading readiness.
The AAHA’s recommendations are designed such that in addition to the federal level, they can be implemented at the local community and at state levels.
West stated, “Most often, state and local officials and communities move faster on adoption and implementation of recommendations and provisions made at the national/federal level.”
West added, “AAHA strongly believes communities need to be putting to paper their plans for their tomorrows. Our recommendations are designed to help start that process and communities’ officials will themselves take it further and launch what they find viable as they must and should.’’
She added, “Leaders in our communities know their specific needs and the AAHA’s recommendations simply help to stir their thoughts in order to accomplish their targeted own outcomes that should be designed around improving all of their citizens’ lives.’’
West provided the following recommendations relevant to addressing Systemic Racism, Improving Policing, Enhanced Community Participation, and Community Investments:
Racism, Improved Policing and Community Investments
Point of Contact: Fredette West, Director email@example.com
African American Health Alliance (AAHA),firstname.lastname@example.org.
Declare Racism a Public Health Emergency: Declaration to provide for inclusion of racism elimination and prevention provisions in all policies, practices, campaigns, initiatives and decision-making and implementation at national, state and local levels. [Within that is AAHA’s declaration of “Racism a National Public Health Emergency.”]
This action systematically takes into account adverse consequences of racism in all social determinants impacting the quality of life for all including but not limited to health, education, employment, advancement, business, and housing, individually and collectively such limits and helps to prevent the harmful effects of racism across the lifespan.
Helping to improve the quality of life for all, the elimination and prevention of racism is critical to helping to ensure that all persons achieve their fullest potential, freedom and justice. Conduct racism impact assessments, elimination efforts including engaging state and local and community workgroups for the purpose of informing decisions that promote elimination thereof.
Additionally, investigate police departments to determine discrimination violations against African Americans and communities of color.
Autopsy by Board Certified Pathologists: The autopsy is considered to be the key element of the death investigation. Every individual who perishes in conflict with a police officer must receive an immediate autopsy performed by a board certified pathologist.
The autopsy report must be made public within a date certain from the accident. This report must be made available for review at the state and federal level, Department of Justice.
Pathologists shall assume responsibility for all errors and misrepresentations found upon any further review. [Note: While it is the job of the coroner or medical examiner to investigate the cause of death, it is important to note that coroners can be elected or appointed, some are also sheriffs or funeral home directors, and many are not doctors. The National Science Academy Blue Ribbon Panel recommended an overhaul of the nation’s death investigation system. It described coroners as the weak link, and also pointed out the lack of mandatory standards for autopsies and the absence of oversight into the performance of coroners and medical examiners. The Panel recommended that the goal of every state should be to move away from a coroner system, which is not based on medicine, and instead hire board certified forensic pathologists and put them to work as medical examiners.]
Mental Health Exam: Require police officers to have regular appropriate mental health exams. Determine what mental health exam would be most appropriate. Such exams are as important as other required health exams for police officers. They would benefit themselves, their families and the public they serve.
Detainees’ Medical Needs: For all involved, critical comprehensive steps must be taken to help ensure that policing does not result in needless deaths, disabilities or other forms of physical and mental harm. When medical attention is needed and/or requested by a detainee, officers must request such service immediately and ensure that it is provided. Know that there are also mental and medical conditions including sickle cell crisis that appear and/or present as adverse behavior (including intense suffering and pain) and/or substance use.
They must be understood by and police must be trained to recognize and respond to them for the benefit of all involved.
Training: Ban use of chokeholds, strangleholds and excessive force. Provide police specific training in behavior approaches including that based on age, race, and mental illness. Integrate behavior experts at every level of policing in order to develop appropriate policies reflecting what human behaviors mean and what they don’t mean.
With regard to transparency, use of body cameras is a must: when and how. Additionally, citizens should be able to look up the record of all police forces and officers just as they can physicians. Incident review boards should include a health provider—at least a mental health provider. Peer support counselors are integral. They should be thought of similar to community health workers—persons from the community forming a bridge to the police bureaucracy.
Juvenile participation is very important, ongoing situations warrant that provisions state strongly that a teen is not a young adult. Teens should not be locked up in adult facilities. Provide all police officers appropriate courses in teen behavior. In fact, a stronger and expanded focus on behavior would be most beneficial to all.
Against the backdrop of long-standing injustices and those that have continued to take place, conduct a comprehensive examination of the entire justice and legal system. The systemic and entrenched unchecked misconduct that has continued to ensue in the use of senseless deadly and disabling force requires that cases of this nature must be examined/investigated for violations of civil rights. Investigations must be transparent, thorough, complete, and timely.
In addition to addressing civil rights, federal investigation of cases that involve such conduct, biases and abuses in the system will help examiners identify common threads; what went wrong, where; how to fix, prevent and control them, and to improve the system for all.
Enhance Community Participation
Community Involvement: Transparency and direct community participation are essential across the justice, legal and correctional systems. Police must also function as part of the community and steps must be taken within the community and within the police structure to achieve this. The police force should reflect the community/population they serve in race, ethnicity, gender, educational background, and maybe even in familial familiarity with the correctional system.
Overall, America must invest in “we the people.’’ Police and community must work in partnership and in transparency for the overall wellbeing of each other, the nation, and the world. This helps in fostering good: policing, community relations, business, national security and more.
Community Oversight: Implement civilian oversight throughout the nation’s police systems. This would help to make a tremendous difference in transparency and outcomes. Ensure that body-cameras are used and that video/recordings are also made available to the public. Police need to be part of the community instead of an outside overseer. Develop policies and provisions within the community and police structure to make this happen.
Community and the police who serve them would be vested and accountable to one another. Establish post-traumatic stress units in the health system to help provide mental health support to communities in need and/or those considered “at-risk.”
State and Local Office on Community Relations: Establish Offices on Community Relations to help communities empower themselves for success and to better address the challenges they face. Make available to communities technical expertise, linkages, and resources. Create and make available a community relations improvement resource toolkits and one that communities can tailor to fit their needs.
Excessive Policing Community Crises: Identify and make accessible resources communities need to help respond to the problems presented by excessive policing crises. Make available to communities access to trauma and mental health services to cope with the crisis.
Where access to daily needed services are interrupted, help facilitate access to physical and mental health services, meals, and medicines, and ensure access to resources needed by the elderly, disabled, children, adolescents, pregnant women, the school system and others with special needs.
Invest in Community Development: Increase investments in jobs (with living wages); quality education Pre–K through 12th grade; safe schools; meaningful employment training; job creation and placement; entrepreneurial opportunities; creation of avenues for innovation; grocery stores and transportation; business development, growth and sustainability; safe affordable housing; convenient access to quality affordable healthcare; safe communities; and affordable quality daycare.
These interlinking investments are absolutely essential to viable, productive communities. Establish and make available to communities a team of federal government experts from Department of Justice, to Department of Education, DHHS to EPA, to Office of Preparedness and Response, to Department of Labor, SBA, DHS and others to work in partnership with local agencies, community leaders, business and others.
Provide technical assistance focused on helping communities identify and establish linkages and partnerships with business and industry. Fund at such sums as necessary.
Community Empowerment Zones: Provide community partnership grants to establish community empowerment zone programs in communities that disproportionately experience over-policing. Funding provided for Black communities that seek to improve economic, race relations, health, education, environment and policing to help reduce disparities. Assist community in accessing federal programs; to obtain and coordinate the efforts of governmental and private entities regarding the elimination of racial and ethnic justice disparities and over-policing crisis.
Communities to be served by the empowerment zone program are those that disproportionately experience over-policing and economic opportunity deserts. The community establishes an empowerment zone coordinating committee: determine priorities, establish measurable outcomes, obtain technical assistance, and utilize, but not limited to community and evidence-based strategies, including goals, management, implementation, monitoring, assessment, and evaluation. Submit to the Congress community empowerment zone reports. Fund at such sums as necessary.
Conflict Resolution Training: Include conflict resolution in the education curriculum Pre–K through 12 grades. The techniques learned in Conflict Resolution Training would be beneficial across the life span. They would be helpful in encounters with police and all other relationships. Fund at such sums as necessary.
Expand Academic Opportunity and Achievement: Have school systems, courts and police work with the community and academic institutions to implement mentorship programs focused on youth including troubled youth to provide them with insight and opportunity to better benefit from the powerful value of education and training beyond high school. Tie college and training scholarships to these programs, and help to ensure that free community college becomes a real accessible opportunity. This investment in the individual’s and America’s future helps to further innovation, entrepreneurial development, research, business, industry and technology advances on all fronts in all fields. Fund at such sums as necessary.
Summer Enrichment and Afterschool Programs: After school and summers are the most unsupervised period of time facing latchkey children and teenagers. Effective programs must be implemented that provide that supervision ranging from summer jobs, to summer education and training, to sports and arts, to innovation and business, to enrichment programs and Junior Achievement.
For young children, provide summer Pre-K. Overall, programs must also provide meals and transportation for those in need. Fund at such sums as necessary.
National Teaching-Learning-Tutoring Corps: [Establish, Provide, Conduct, Monitor, and Fine-tune as necessary]: Provide students and parents the academic assistance needed to bring students up to grade level and beyond.
This must be a joint goal. The portfolio must include but is not limited to materials, computers, technologies, skilled supplemental personnel and other resources needed. Students and parents must not be penalized for the education and stress crises created by the Pandemic.
Additionally, establish a family support hotline professionally staffed to address family stress, mental and behavioral health control and management support. Compile, train and provide techniques and exercises that parents and students need to help control and manage stress.
Also, identify and provide parents and students the privacy tools needed to help keep online schooling and socializing safe. Remain mindful that our nation’s children and parents’ sudden thrust into full scale homeschooling, online learning/educating has thrust students at increased academic disadvantage and to successfully close the void, they must be provided the necessary resources. Fund at such sums as necessary.
Voting: In closing, the African-American Health Alliance would be remiss to not highlight voting. Voting, no matter what form or forms it takes, must be protected, voter-friendly, and facilitated. Fund at such sums as necessary. Voter registration and polls must also be respectively facilitated and protected. Every vote counts and must be counted.
Also, as a nation, we can and must improve the response to all aspects of the Coronavirus national emergency. The response deficiencies are life threatening especially for Blacks. Clearly, everyone must be a part of the solution to the nation’s emergencies, racism, policing, and the COVID-19 Pandemic.
If you, the Reader, are a leader or an affiliate of a local, state or national organization, please review the AAHA’s recommendations and make a conscientious effort to implement those that could benefit your city, town or state.
The current race dialogue is encouraging, but will require measurable improvements and the development of policies that are considerate and inclusive of all of us. We as a people, living in a nation that clearly may not fully recognize, nor appreciate our true value, have mountains yet to climb. So, let us not waste one moment of this valuable time in which we currently find ourselves. Stand and deliver.