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Markowitz: The Promise Of America

Last week my son Ari turned 22. He’s a good kid, but as most mothers do, I worried about him as he grew into a young adult. I remember the summer when he turned 14 and we discovered that he and his friends had been sneaking into the city pool after hours. We talked with him about respecting public property and the dangers of drinking and drugs. We also talked about what to do if he ever happened to be approached by a police officer. I felt confident assuring him that if he responded to authority with respect, he would be treated fairly.

Of course, my son is white.

It’s a privilege to know that when we deal with the police we can expect protection, and not risk to our personal safety.

My heart aches each time I hear about another young black man, stopped by the police for some inconsequential offense, like a broken tail light, who ends up dead. I am stunned by the horror of it. I wonder how it is that we allow this to keep happening.

Last week, in three different cases, police officers were exonerated in the violent deaths of black men, despite shocking video evidence showing that the victims did everything they could to stay safe. I think of the mothers of those men; and of their children, and loved ones. I can’t imagine what it must be like to experience the loss, fear and helplessness. I am without words.

But we must find the words. Those of us with privilege cannot stay on the sidelines. We must challenge media portrayals of black men as dangerous, violent and criminal, and address racist policies that keep many African American men unemployed, underemployed or in prison.

I’ll admit that, from my own place of privilege, there’s a lot about this issue I don’t understand. But I know, even here in Vermont, we must confront racial bias in our schools and communities. We must insist on a world where black sons are not feared, and are not presumed to be violent or criminal. We must engage law enforcement in this effort, respecting the fact that they risk their lives to help make our communities safe.

I believe in the promise of America; but until every mother can feel confident that her sons will come home to her safely, it’s a promise yet to be kept.

Deb Markowitz is the Director of Policy Outreach at UVM’s Gund Institute of Environment, and she formerly served as Vermont’s Secretary of State and as the Secretary of Vermont’s Agency of Natural Resources.
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