This afternoon, faith and community leaders from throughout New Rochelle gathered on the steps of City Hall (wearing masks and six feet apart) to express our shared commitment to justice and peace. In the anguished aftermath of the murder of George Floyd, it was a moving demonstration of our city’s unity and determination. The full text of my remarks follows below or you can download them as a pdf.
UPDATE: Here is video of the entire event.
Good afternoon. I welcome you to City Hall. To our City Hall. To everyone’s City Hall.
It is an honor to stand today – at least six feet apart – in the company of faith leaders from throughout New Rochelle – partners and friends, who have through word and deed sustained the life and spirit of our community in both good times and bad. And never more than in these difficult recent months. I thank you all.
And I am honored to stand also with leaders in government, who represent the remarkable cross section of New Rochelle. As well, of course, as our City Manager and our professional staff.
Finally, it is meaningful that members of the New Rochelle Police Department are here today standing at our sides, and I thank them for their service.
My friends and neighbors. This afternoon we are united. We are united in grieving with the family of George Floyd. We are united in our determination to seek justice for every family that has suffered such a loss. We are united in calling for our nation to live up to its self-professed ideals. And we are united in advocating for peace, here in our own city and across our land.
I wish I could say also that we were united in shock. But it is not truly so, is it?
Because although the murder of a man pleading for breath until that breath runs out fills us with despair, how can we really be shocked at a thing that occurs over and over again. Is it is any wonder that the hundredth such episode is met instead with rage.
The hard truth is that 244 years after this nation proclaimed that all men are created equal, our lives – all of our lives – are still shaped and bounded, lifted up or cast aside, and sometimes extinguished entirely by the color of our skin.
To see this hard truth, it is not necessary to know with certainty every detail of every incident. It is not necessary to argue over what happened just before the cameras started rolling, or whether someone’s hands were up or down, or who said what and when.
It is only necessary to widen our lens.
Across this nation, Black men are six times more likely to be jailed than white men and then are held in prison far longer for the same crime; black drivers are three times as likely to be searched during a stop.
Black students are three times more likely to be suspended or expelled from school, and four times more likely to attend schools with under-qualified teachers.
The typical white family has ten times the wealth of the typical black family.
And even in this pandemic, we see where the rates of infection and illness and death have hit the hardest – the virus preying upon layers and layers of inequality in housing and health.
And those are only the effects we can quantify.
For those who look like me and doubt these facts, I plead with you to take just five minutes to have a real conversation with a black neighbor or friend.
You will hear that to be born black in the United States of America is to live constantly with the knowledge that the integrity of one’s body and humanity can be stolen away at a moment’s notice.
When nearly every black person reports the same experience, the same minute-to-minute burden of needing always to be better just to keep from being treated worse, how can we deny that this is the reality of our nation in 2020?
Those statistics and those experiences reveal another truth also. That the problem is not the Police.
There is nothing wrong with Policing that is not also wrong with medicine. There is nothing wrong with Policing that is not also wrong with education. That is not also wrong with banking. Or real estate. Or law. Or government.
I’d guess everyone here has a friend or a family member who has served as a Police officer, everyone here has at one time or another called upon the Police in need and been grateful for their response. You know the vital work they do and the sacrifice they make.
And so the problem in policing is just the same problem as everywhere else, it is the stubborn injustice of American society as a whole.
So let us not restrict this conversation to just one room of our house, let us instead take responsibility for repairing every room of our house.
Including our house here in New Rochelle.
To our good fortune, we have a head start. A commitment to justice and equality is in our DNA. You can see it in the pleasure and pride so many of us feel in neighbors and classmates whose history and experience is different from our own. You can see it in multi-racial partnerships from MBK, to NewROAR, to the Coalition for Mutual Respect.
You can see it in the work done by this City Council to advance equal opportunity and invest equitably in neighborhoods and parks and services.
And you can see it in the work already done by our PD: the ongoing community dialogue, the training to de-escalate conflict, the prohibition of brutal practices like neck restraint, and the introduction this year of implicit bias training for every officer.
I truly believe – thanks to many of the people standing behind me – that New Rochelle has confronted these issues better than most. But “better than most” is no longer good enough.
When the City Council returns to a more normal schedule of meeting and discussion – which we all pray will be soon – I will ask my colleagues to begin an intentional process of examining racial inequality in New Rochelle, so that all of our public actions, across the spectrum, can be weighed and measured in part by whether they bring us closer to a more just and fair community.
Let us channel our energies into lifting each other up, instead of tearing each other down. Let us in New Rochelle set an example of a better way.
Especially at this moment, when in so many cities across America, rage is spilling over into violence.
In some sense, this can be understood. As James Baldwin wrote during another troubled time: “you’re accusing a captive population who has been robbed of everything of looting.” He asked: “Who is looting whom?”
And yet we must be clear in saying that justice and peace run together.
To meet violence with violence dishonors the core tenets of the civil rights movement, and visits destruction on the very people and neighborhoods that have already suffered too much.
It is wrong.
And it is fruitless. Be sure that every violent act plays right into the hands of those who would deny our common humanity, because it lets them change the subject – from justice to order.
To be angry and loving at the same time, that is strength, that is power. Or as a woman much wiser than me once said: “when they go low, we go high.”
My friends and neighbors, in our house of many rooms, let all who dwell within see honestly the things that make us different, take joy in the things that make us the same, and then together know justice, peace, and the hope of a better world.
God bless each of you. And God bless New Rochelle.