The crushing knee of systemic racism

Photo of protesters walking their bikes carrying signs that say "stop criminalizing blackness" and 'white silence is complicity", with more protesters marching in front of them.

Protestors march against police brutality and systematic racism on June 6, 2020 on 16th Street in Washington, D.C., Photo by Cody Bahn

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y heart broke upon news of the murder of George Floyd. It is further proof that not all Americans believe that Black Lives Matter. As I see it, that we even have to utter “Black lives matter” is a testament to the moral shortcomings of our nation.  As far as we may have come, we’ve not nearly come far enough. Not nearly.

Street Sense Media stands with the protesters demanding justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others who have lost their lives unjustly. We join them in calling for an end to police brutality, systemic racism, and public policies and discourse that discriminate and marginalize on the basis of race.

According to a 2019 article published by The Pew Charitable Trusts, “African-Americans make up 13 percent of the general population. Twenty-one percent of people living in poverty in the United States are Black, according to census data. But African-Americans account for 40 percent of people experiencing homelessness — and half of homeless families with children.” In the Washington, D.C. metro area, more than 80 percent of people experiencing homelessness are Black.  Study after study finds that while homelessness happens to people of all backgrounds, it more commonly happens to white Americans due to an economic shock, such as a job loss, injury, or natural disaster, while the root causes for Black Americans are most often ongoing, even generational, social discrimination and disadvantage.

[Read more: University of Maryland public health professor investigates connections between race and homelessness]

Structural racism and inequality — in housing, child welfare, education, credit and lending, policing, and health care delivery — have long contributed to an over-representation of Black people among our neighbors experiencing homelessness. Well-documented racial disparities in arrest rates for nonviolent crimes put Black Americans at a significantly higher chance of becoming homeless because they interrupt , often permanently, the ability to obtain stable employment. So too do historical performance disparities in public schools, establishment and repair of credit, and health disparities, most recently seen in the current pandemic. In exceedingly tight and competitive housing markets, a single eviction can become a permanent barrier to housing. These factors also make it more difficult for Black people experiencing homelessness to access the services, jobs and support needed to move towards stability and opportunity.

Simply stated, for too many of our brothers and sisters there is an American nightmare, not an American dream. Systemic racism places a knee on the necks of all Black Americans.

Street Sense Media continues to offer support to anyone experiencing homelessness who may need it. In recent nights, some of our homeless brothers and sisters were injured and further traumatized as police forces used pepper spray, tear gas, and rubber bullets on crowds. People without homes, who live on the D.C. streets that became battlegrounds, were vulnerable to injury. They had no place to retreat to. Our case management team is working to serve some of those who were hurt. If you or someone you know is homeless and in need of assistance, please call our offices at 202-347-2006.

We abhor the politics of division. We were shocked when force was used to interrupt peaceful protests outside the White House for what could only be called a campaign stunt. We join with those of you who cry out for leaders who speak honestly about our nation’s problems and employ the tools of unity and inclusiveness.  

 “A riot,” said Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “is the language of the unheard.” Nearly 250 years ago, protesters violently stormed mercantile ships in Boston Harbor and threw the looted goods into the water. Undoubtedly, some labeled their actions in words akin to “domestic terrorism.” Today, we describe them as patriots. Freedom fighters. Founding fathers.

At Street Sense Media, we will continue to provide a platform for Black voices and the causes they espouse. In support, we will add our voices and amplify others that highlight injustice and point at solutions. We do this to advance our mission to end chronic homelessness and the injustice that causes it. Please join us in our work toward building a more perfect union.

Brian Carome is the CEO of Street Sense Media.


Issues |Civil Rights|Death|Systemic Racism

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