A Tough Week (and What You Can Do to Help)

It’s been a tough week for the entire country, especially for anyone who cares about freedom, social justice, and the rights of all Americans.

Truthfully, it’s been a really tough decade. Trayvon Martin was murdered eight years ago, with just a pack of Skittles in his pocket. I remember when then President Obama shared that if he and the First Lady had a boy, “he would look like Trayvon.” I identified with that statement — my two sons, both African-American, were just four and six years old at the time. That’s one of the reasons it was so jarring two years later when Tamir Rice was killed — at just 11 years old, playing with a toy gun in a Cleveland park. Sadly, over the last few years, there have been far too many names added to this list, from Eric Garner, to Freddie Brown, to Sandra Bland, to Ahmaud Arberry to many, many others.

After all of those, I was struck by the difference in the lived experience among my network of friends (especially as observed through Facebook, with an instant split-screen effect). Often my African-American friends would report feeling paralyzed — unable to watch the latest video, overcome with sadness, unable to get out of bed or leave the house, sometimes for days at a time. Among my other friends there was often strong allyship but it landed differently, or sometimes not at all.

Then the George Floyd video came out and both of these worlds seemed outraged and overwhelmed. For the first time, everyone seemed rocked by the horrific video of George Floyd’s murder.

But we all know the truth. Racism of this sort has been a part of the American story since the beginning, and a part of the life of every African American family. Every parent raising African American boys has had to have the talk — to tell our kids how careful they need to be. It’s a talk that has gone on for generations, for centuries.

Only now, through the power of a video camera on every cell phone, the rest of America is getting to see in near real time what African-Americans have always known about and experienced: different treatment, sometimes deadly, based on the color of their skin. In fact, Dion Johnson, also an African American male, was shot and killed by a DPS officer on the 101 and Tatum on the same day Floyd was murdered. In Johnson’s case, the DPS officer was not wearing a body camera and we still do not have any details about this encounter.

So where do we go from here? Is it possible for something positive to come out of all of this anger and outrage? Representation matters. It is critical that we have African-Amercians serving in elected offices here in Arizona to share their story and show us the way on these incredibly important issues.

Representative Reginald Bolding, the longest serving of the three African-Americans currently in the State House, has filed a series of bills over the last six years to address exactly these issues. Representative Bolding’s ideas are eminently reasonable, including body cameras for police, sensitivity training for officers, and the creation of a database of discipline issues that police departments can use when hiring. Often these ideas were endorsed by police leaders themselves. But not one of these bills ever received so much as a committee hearing by the majority party in the state house.

I know so many people are looking for what they can do to help make something positive happen, especially after all of the protests over the last few days. While I condemn violent protests in any form, the most important question is what can we do to help with the underlying problem that has caused such pain and heartbreak for so many for so long?

My answer: act local. Get involved to make sure we have African-Americans serving in our State House of Representatives. If you want to see the underlying issues of racism and excessive force addressed head on here in Arizona, we need to make sure we have a significant number of African Americans in the State House to lead on these important issues.

Here’s what you can do:

• Give to Rep. Reginald Bolding’s re-election effort in LD27. He’s in a primary battle and we need his voice now more than ever down at the Capitol.

• Help re-elect Representative Gerae Peten. Dr. Peten is a retired, lifelong educator who serves with me on the education committee and is in what could be a tough race against a single-shot Republican candidate in LD4.

• Contribute to Mayor Coral Evans campaign to serve in the State House in LD6. Mayor Evans is currently the Mayor of Flagstaff and is our single-shot Democratic candidate in a district our Democrat candidate lost by just 600 votes last cycle.

While not everything is political, politics impacts nearly every important issue of our day. I hope you’ll consider supporting these important candidates during this difficult time. Nothing will ever bring back so many of those we have lost, but if we do something now to help ensure the election of these three leaders, something positive can come out of this difficult period.

Yours in service,