In 2017, blacks represented 12% of the U.S. adult population, but 33% of the sentenced prison population* In the mental health field, that has meant blacks are often routed into corrections for behavior and problems that need treatment. That is how my advocacy work in this area started over 30 years ago.
One of my first clients, Matthew, a Vietnam vet discharged for PTSD and psychotic reactions to combat, routinely came to the attention of law enforcement and the justice system. He was big, black and angry, making him an easy target. For over 10 years I ran interference on his behalf, as he crisscrossed the country showing up at the White House, and courthouses to loudly bellow in protest. The Secret Service had a file on him and would call me. While Matthew was never treated with the brutality we see happening today, I am certain if he was still alive and doing what he did then, he would be shot.
Back then, to help Matthew, I met with police, jailers, judges, and corrections officers to educate them on how to ID and appropriately intervene when people have mental health issues. Later I launched formal training programs and with this expertise now train and consult nationwide to divert people from corrections. I continue to dedicate this work to Matthew, in recognition for what he taught me.
Now we’ve reached a tipping point with the incidents of police brutality and prejudice toward African Americans, prompting outrage worldwide. But this unrest is the product of prejudice and discrimination that has been cultivated for generations. Despite the civil rights act of 1963, presidential campaigns twenty years later intentionally and erroneously linked crime, drugs and African Americans to systematically turn the Southern states, traditionally Democratic, into a Republican strong hold. For the past 40 years, the politics of hatred and racism has been used to gain and maintain power, reinforcing prejudice in the minds of Americans. Police and corrections in jurisdictions around the country have been trained to use force, in response to the prevailing mindset that African Americans are dangerous. (One of the exceptions is our police department in Lexington, KY which has had decades of excellent leadership and training.)
This systemic prejudice and injustice is not just a police problem, it is in the hearts, minds and policies of many who are currently in power and those who support them. It is not going away overnight. It’s deep in our culture and it is up to all of us to turn this around. What can we do?
Notice – Nothing will change until we acknowledge and recognize inequity. Where is it present in your world? Look for patterns of discrimination in hiring, pay differences, housing discrepancies, banking inequities, along with the actions of police, the legal system and corrections.
Speak Up – Nothing will change until we speak up, over and over, because silence = consent. Be courageous and insist that policies and actions toward African Americans are fair. No matter where you are in public, be the voice that calls attention to what is wrong and unjust.
Advocate – Nothing will change until we take a stand for the rights of African Americans. Help break the cycle of racial disparity. Join action groups, provide financial support and vote for candidates who endorse change in institutions that have systemic discrimination and prejudice.
Model – Nothing will change until we are an example of racial equity for our children or our friend’s and family’s children. How you treat African Americans and others of different race and creed sets the tone. Lead the way with your actions, attitudes, and beliefs.
Being a white American women of middle class privilege makes me an unlikely voice for advocacy for African Americans. It’s through my clients’ experiences that I have come to witness and understand the pain of discrimination and the need for action to reverse the travesty and political strangle hold in our country. American’s have been systemically brainwashed with lies perpetrated for political and financial gain. Let’s put a stop to it now!
If you want help to learn how to use your power to be more strong and effective in supporting the greater good, reach out. That is the focus of my Coaching and Counseling work. See www.spectrumtransformation.com for more information.
*Reference : Pew Report documenting the inequities between white and black Americans in prison. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/04/30/shrinking-gap-between-number-of-blacks-and-whites-in-prison/
*Photo – by Mayor Muriel Bowser with Congressman John Lewis seeing Black Lives Matter in DC – 6-7-20. The Hill and Twitter
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