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Eastern Washington Legislative Conference 2015: Raising Prophetic voices

History lends insights into relationships with police

Rachel Dolezal, who is Spokane NAACP president, teaches Africana history at Eastern Washington University and chairs the Spokane Police Ombudsman Commission, connects statistical concerns, insights from history and attitudes towards police. 

Rachel Dolezal
Rachel Dolezal, Africana History Professor, Spokane NAACP President

Her insights lead her to put in many unpaid hours to work for civil rights and social justice.

“There is much to be done, and my two black sons, 13 and 20, are at a high risk of experiencing police brutality just because they are young black males,” she said,  clarifying her motivation.

The NAACP seeks to bridge the gap between the community and police so there are safer communities and justice, and the police system works hand-in-hand with the community.

Statistics raise questions for her about criminal justice in America:  One in four black boys will be incarcerated, one in two if they do not graduate from high school.  Meanshile, one in 23 white men are incarcerated.

“The same number of black males are killed today as were lynched at the height of lynching,” she reported.

“Black Americans were forcibly migrated to the U.S. in the slave trade.  More than 200 million died in the African holocaust, including people kidnapped in Africa, one-third to one-half dying on ships in transit, plus the death toll of slavery,” Rachel said.

She suggested some reasons African Americans distrust police:

• Their first encounter with police was with plantation police who caught and returned runaway slaves. 

• With the promise of 40 acres revoked under Reconstruction, many blacks were homeless and jobless.  Soon loitering laws in the South meant black men without jobs were arrested and imprisoned.

• In a period “of domestic terrorism,” the KKK grew to 3 million members, infiltrated police departments and were often involved in lynchings, she said.

“We have a sense of urgency and hopelessness, wondering if things will ever change.  Even when there is change, another era of repression dawns,” she said. 

Rachel listed some examples of rights being revoked:

• Despite Civil Rights era gains, voting rights and freedom from slavery are being revoked through incarceration.  Some states prohibit released prisoners from voting. In prisons, people work for five to 30 cents an hour. 

• Rights are being revoked by re-segregation of schools as school district boundaries are redrawn. 

• Rights are also being revoked by police brutality that targets black boys 15 to 19.

• Rights are being revoked as some Jim Crow laws, which did not end until the 1960s, are returning in new ways.

“To maintain a status of liberty and equality, we need to resist the pull of apathy,” Rachel said. 

The NAACP also prioritizes economic development.  Along with a disproportionate number of African American students not graduating from high school or going to college, those with college degrees earn $15,000 to $30,000, not $50,000 or more, she said.

It took time for blacks to own their own businesses, but in 1921, when there were 40 blocks of prosperous black businesses in Tulsa, charges were trumped up against one resident, and more than 600 businesses were destroyed, she said.

Incarceration removes many black men from households leaving many single mothers at risk of poverty, Rachel added.

She is concerned by data that reveals that prison planners decide the number of prison beds they will need based on fourth-grade reading scores.

“The connection between education and incarceration rates is known as the school-to-prison pipeline,” she said.

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Copyright © March 2015 - The Fig Tree