NIRS honors the life and loved ones of George Floyd, who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer one year ago today. On this memorial, we also remember the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre on its 100th anniversary (May 31-June 1), when a white mob attacked the thriving Black neighborhood of Greenwood, burning down and bombing Black homes and businesses, and beating and killing hundreds of Black citizens of this country. We also honor the racial justice protest movement that has risen up in response to the murder of Mr. Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many others, and has made sure that the person who killed Mr. Floyd will be held accountable for it.
It is just and fair that a jury convicted the former police officer, but there is nothing just in Mr. Floyd’s death and we are very far away from a broader achievement of racial justice, or of real accountability and reform of the Minneapolis Police Dept. and of policing more broadly. Congress has still not passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, because the Senate has failed even to hold a vote on the bill in 11 months.
Many people in the US are having more urgent and frank discussions about racism and racial equity, and about police violence and policing. More policymakers are speaking out and proposing legislation, and some local governments are taking action. This amount of engagement at the policy level, however notable is is for the US, is necessary and well overdue. But until there are actual changes in laws and government programs to lift up Black communities, resolve structural inequity, end racist violence, and, yes, make reparations for the historical and ongoing trauma and inequities of structural racism, we have not achieved true justice. And it is vital that Black people themselves are the ones to define what justice, equity, and reparations entail.
It is an injustice in itself that it took millions of people protesting in the streets, for nearly a year, during a raging pandemic, to win a conviction of a single police officer in just one case. None of the other officers involved in the killing of George Floyd have gone to trial yet, and the officers who killed Rayshard Brooks, Philando Castile, Freddie Gray, Atatiana Jefferson, Alton Sterling, Breonna Taylor, Daunte Wright, and so many others, have either been acquitted or never even faced criminal charges.
That alone is a clear indicator of structural racism and an institutional inability to hold police departments and their officers accountable. In July, NIRS endorsed the call to #DefundThePolice. We stand in solidarity with the Movement for Black Lives and the broader racial justice movement. As we explained, the call to defund the police is fundamentally the same as NIRS’s call to end nuclear power and rooted in the goal to end violence on communities of color:
Over decades, police department budgets have increased significantly, at the same time that budgets for schools, healthcare, social services, infrastructure, and other vital needs have been cut. Defunding the police will make the vast amount of public tax dollars that are spent on police departments available for services and programs to meet community needs, and to address racial injustice and inequity.
This is no different than the anti-nuclear movement’s call to stop nuclear power. Since we were founded in 1978, NIRS has called for an end to nuclear power and a transition to safe, sustainable, clean, affordable renewable energy. We do this because we have seen that simply reforming or better regulating nuclear power is not enough to protect people and the environment. And we see this most directly in how the industry is rooted in environmental racism and human rights violations: systematically targeting underprivileged and low-wealth communities for its polluting and dangerous operations from its very beginnings in the 1940s, through to today.
There is a direct connection between policing and environmental injustice. Black communities are disproportionately targeted for pollution, resulting in harm to the community’s health. Policing of Black bodies enables that pollution to continue by intimidating people from challenging authority in their own communities. In one recent example, Black people and white allies protesting environmental racism in Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley” have been routinely arrested and threatened by police. In many cases, policing is used to protect the polluters through the enforcement of “property rights.” Sometimes this is done by punishing activists through mischaracterizing nonviolent protest as “terrorism,” rioting, or vandalism, and still others through trumped-up charges of resisting arrest, unlawful assembly, and more.
Just like we need to divest from nuclear power generation and invest in a just and equitable transition to 100% renewable energy, we need to divest from the oppressive force of policing and invest in solutions that Black communities need. Defunding policing and resourcing education, economic opportunity, and social and medical services that address community needs directly would help end the oppressive, anti-democratic functions of police departments that enforce structural racism and suppress Black citizens’ rights to protect their communities and their health from inequitable and unjust environmental burdens.