While it’s clear that we’re going to look back on 2020 as the year of the pandemic, it is also shaping up as a year of awakening to the racial and ethnic disparities that continue to dog this country more than 150 years after the Civil War and more than half a century after the landmark civil rights laws of the 1960s. And it is an encouraging sign that, according to a recent Pew poll, two-thirds of U.S. adults say they support the movement, with 38% saying they support it strongly.
This is a result, not just of the demonstrations that have been sweeping the nation — most of them peaceful, some not — but even more so by the continuing series of reports in the news of Black people killed by police: George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Philando Castile; or by self-styled vigilantes: Amaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin.
Statistically, a Black person in America is roughly three times more likely than a white person to be killed by police. Thus the street demonstrations we’ve all seen — not just in the big cities but also in places like Meriden, Middletown, Wallingford, Berlin and elsewhere. And the protesters look increasingly racially mixed, another encouraging sign.
The response from state and local governments has generally been supportive, with a Black Lives Matter flag flying over the Capitol in Hartford on Juneteenth (the celebration of emancipation that’s marked every year on June 19); and with lawmakers inside announcing their commitment to a multitude of legislative proposals aimed at addressing systemic racial inequities, including wide-ranging police reforms; and with similar messages coming from city and town halls.
The Southington Coalition for Social Justice, formed last year, is delving into issues including disproportionate rates of discipline experienced by students of color, and how to diversify the school workforce. This kind of self-examination is just what we need at this time, at the local, state and national levels.
Instead, what we get from Washington is some initial stirring of legislative action while the president urges police to “dominate” the streets when dealing with protests, and the secretary of defense refers to those streets as “the battle space.”
But those protesters are not an invading army; they are, increasingly, we the people.
Meanwhile, the goals of the demonstrations have expanded to include the removal of statues glorifying officials and officers of the Confederacy as well as other historic figures — including Christopher Columbus — who are seen as figures who oppressed African slaves and native peoples.
In fact, statues of Columbus have already been removed in New Haven, New London, Norwalk and Middletown, and the issue is now front-and-center in Meriden and Southington as well. There are deep feelings on both sides of this question, and it’s too early to say how it will turn out.
But it’s not too early to say that 2020 has turned out to be a year of reassessment, a year of soul-searching, a year when millions of Americans have hit the streets in order to form a more perfect Union.
And that’s as American as apple pie.