Dear social justice learners, leaders, changemakers, advocates, and warriors

July 4, 2022

We write to offer you encouragement and hope during a time culminating with more than disappointing Supreme Court rulings, but, quite frankly, a tumultuous year filled with violence; 2022 has been difficult for our community and country. We are still recovering from the social and economic costs of the COVID-19 pandemic with the threat of the virus still on our minds while we wait for a return to “normalcy,” and we are still reconciling that this environment may be our new normal. We are still seeking a reckoning over the systemic racism and prejudice over various identities that plagues our nation and a way for atonement, resolution, and healing. Today, of all days, is celebrated across the country based on the historical narrative that “all Men are created equal,” but, this is not our reality then or today. Today is Independence Day, but our right to autonomy, independence, and freedom is subject and subordinate to an authoritarian government once again. This is an environment where violence can thrive, and where it most definitely has:

On January 3rd, the COVID-19 daily infection rate in the United States exceeded one million for the first time, with a total of 1.08 million reported cases.  It has disproportionately impacted people of color.  People of color are more likely to work in occupations that cannot be performed remotely, to live in multigenerational households in crowded conditions and densely populated areas, and to rely on public transportation. This increases their exposure risk. These factors are also intensified when we look to the inequities in healthcare for people of color. This virus is an act of violence against a community who lacks the means to effectively combat it. We believe in health equity and justice and affirm that the pandemic has brought to light the need to re-evaluate transactional and labor structures.

On March 28th, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed Florida House Bill 1557, commonly referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay Bill.” The bill restricts what teachers can say about sexual orientation and gender identity in school classrooms without defining what that is, limiting discussion of these issues altogether.  Ultimately, this law empowers parents to sue school districts over LGBTQIA+ teachings against their own morals/beliefs, similar to suits that occurred over mask and vaccine mandates and teachings on critical race theory.  Other states are modeling bills similar to the “Don’t Say Gay Bill.”  These bills serve to ostracize the LGBTQIA+ community and further threaten students’ mental health, physical safety, and well-being.  We believe in a government and democracy that is inclusive and that represents the spirit of equality and justice for all.

On May 14th, a mass shooting at a Tops Friendly Markets supermarket in Buffalo, New York left ten Black people dead. The 18-year-old gunman, Payton Gendron, penned a manifesto citing white supremacist terrorists from past shootings and detailing his plans for the attack, including the semi-automatic rifle he would use, clothing and body armor he would wear and the portable camera that would allow him to stream the massacre live on the internet. His motivation for the attack was to prevent Black people from replacing white people and from eliminating the white race, and to inspire others to commit similar racially motivated attacks. He is currently facing hate crime charges in federal court. We believe in education on racial equity and anti-racism teachings to understand how events like this occur and to prevent them from happening again.

On May 24th, one of the deadliest school shootings in American history took place at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Nineteen children and two adults were killed in the massacre. Several law enforcement officers arrived at the school within minutes of being informed of the presence of a gunman but delayed their entrance into the building by over an hour against protocol for active shooter situations. The children inside repeatedly called 911 and begged for help, as parents waited outside the school and were physically restrained if they interfered.  The 18-year-old shooter, Salvador Ramos, was killed at the scene in an eventual shootout with police, but the lack of police response has raised critical questions about the role of police in schools and whether their job is to protect students or to punish them. We believe in re-allocation of some resources from police to mental health resources, to job training, to affordable housing, and to other community investments.

These are just a few of the acts of violence at the forefront of our collective community’s mind and conscious, but certainly not the only ones.  But these acts of violence have only been inflamed by political institutions and government decision-making.  For instance, the Supreme Court decision in New York Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen (6/23/22), will likely result in more people allowed to carry guns with relatively few, if any, checks even as the U.S. is facing an increase in incidents of gun violence.  The Supreme Court also ruled in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization (6/24/22) that the Constitution does not confer a right to abortion, overturning Roe and Casey. Whether a woman can receive an abortion is now up to each state to decide.  Thirteen states had trigger abortion bans that went into effect immediately after this ruling, many of which do not have exceptions for rape or incest.  Further, the Supreme Court has made several rulings in June that have weakened the separation of church and state (see Carson v. Makin and Kennedy v. Bremerton School Dist.) and accountability for the failures of law enforcement officers and lawyers (see Vega v. Tekoh and Shinn v. Martinez Ramirez, respectively).

Lest we not forget, there are ongoing hearings about the January 6, 2020, mob; we have an ongoing refugee and migrant crisis at our borders; we are struggling with an opioid epidemic and a mental health crisis; and we have a climate crisis that needs to be addressed.  Our country, our world is on fire – literally and figuratively.  The Jones Center does not condone these acts of violence. We are deeply disappointed, saddened, frustrated, and outraged over the pain and suffering of the many lives that have been and will be subjected to because of these events. We are especially disheartened reading and watching various news sources in which these people have been reduced to their status as victims, their experiences have been rewritten in favor of political battles, and their stories have become only representative of statistics and the need for change that never seems to come. In the face of this, we cannot be silent.  This is a pivotal moment of reckoning and a time where we must stand and answer.  Our struggles may be different, but liberation and our rights – even more so for women, LGBTQIA+, and people of color – are bound together and we must protect them together.

We encourage collective action in response to these acts of violence, which can come in various forms of collaboration, engagement, and participation. First and foremost, we ask you to examine your beliefs and habits because advocacy begins with self-reflection. Next, we believe in educating yourself on social justice issues; donating to/volunteering with local and national allyship groups; getting involved in politics (particularly through voting in elections); making your voice heard through writing, speaking, and/or creating content for social media platforms; supporting minority-owned business and creators who speak out against injustices; and finally, asking more of the government in acknowledging the rich diversity of people in this country and the vitality and strength they bring to our lives. 

On this Fourth of July, we leave you with this:  ignoring injustice is an injustice. It is time for the Jones Center to live up to our namesake… and answer the call. We hope you will join us. 

In Unity,

The Jones Center for Race, Gender, and Social Justice

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: