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Statement from Barry Ford in Response to a National Tragedy
As millions take to the streets in communities across this country to express their outrage and anger at the senseless and horrific killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, we are confronted by a sense of tragic deja vu. Year after year, and sometimes month after month, unarmed African-American men and women are killed by the police with impunity. Efforts to reform police policy and practices have been slow and halting, making the work of the vast majority of good and honorable law enforcement officers and leaders more challenging.
George Floyd died because of the actions of one bad cop and the inaction of three other officers, but his death is not an isolated incident. It is the latest manifestation of deeply embedded systemic and persistent racial bias, whether implicit or explicit, in our society. So, while the quick decision of Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo to fire the four officers involved and the universal condemnation of the actions of those officers by the law enforcement community nationwide is heartening, it is only the first necessary step in what will be a long process of healing and justice.
When I saw the video of the killing of George Floyd, I didn’t see a stranger. I saw my son. I saw my late father. I saw myself. I am an African-American husband, father, son and non-profit leader. My sense of these identities has been heightened by this moment. I worry about the safety of my family, both nuclear and extended. I worry about the safety of my children, particularly my twenty-year-old, 6’3” son, who, after the killing of George Floyd, asked me if he is ever really safe when he leaves the house. And I worry about the civic and social fabric of our country, given our unfinished business on addressing systemic racism.
I am confident, despite the real pain of our current moment, that we can meet the challenges that lie ahead. I have that confidence because of the strength, courage and perseverance of my parents’ generation, the leadership and vision of many in my generation, and the activism and commitment of our children.
As president and CEO of Council for a Strong America, I think a lot about what it means to be a strong nation. For us, it starts with our vision statement, which is: “To strengthen the nation by promoting solutions that prepare young people to succeed.” What do we mean by wanting young people to succeed? We mean every child having a genuine opportunity to realize his or her full potential. What does that take? It takes every child being able to enjoy the benefits of high-quality early care and education. It takes every child having nutritious, balanced meals and safe and healthy spaces to play. And it takes every child getting what he or she needs to succeed academically, including access to high-quality K-12 schooling, afterschool, and summer learning programs.
As an organization that recruits, educates, and mobilizes law enforcement, military, business, faith, and sports leaders to be champions for public investments in kids, we approach our advocacy on these issues from the perspective of our members. Our members advocate for these investments in children and families because they strengthen our national security, build a smarter, more productive workforce, and keep kids and communities safe. We know, however, that the positive impact of these investments on children, families and communities is directly related to their equitable distribution and effective implementation.
For our nation to be truly strong, we must commit to the public investments necessary to ensure that every child can grow up safe, secure, healthy and well-educated; where a child’s life-chances are not dictated by the zip code in which they reside, the ethnic group to which they belong, or the financial circumstances of their family. That means we must take seriously the ongoing impact of systemic racism and structural disinvestment in communities of color throughout our nation, and dedicate ourselves to removing the barriers that prevent us from becoming the nation we aspire to be.
I do the work that I do, and lead the organization I lead, because I continue to believe that America can realize the promise of its founding documents. A society that is intentionally inclusive, where everyone has a real opportunity to realize their dreams, and where our public institutions are committed to the equitable allocation of resources and the fair provision of services in communities across our country. I do not know when America will realize its promise, but I know that it will only happen when we have made systemic and structural racism a relic of history.
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