Statement of Jill Savitt, CEO of The National Center for Civil and Human Rights
We start our week against a backdrop of pain and injustice in our country because of the recent murders of black men and women by vigilantes and law enforcement.
There is deep suffering all around us. This despair is showing itself in protests that have included violence—because of a lack of justice and accountability for these murders.
Like racial discrimination more broadly, this injustice is not new – it has been with us from the founding of our country. The murders of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd and Breonna Taylor are just the most recent reminders that we live in an unjust and unequal society. Had some of these deaths not been captured on film, many people would have just gone on with our lives, as we have so many times before.
The explosion of outrage we are seeing in cities across the country is the predictable result of unpunished crimes. The Center believes nonviolence is always the best response – morally and strategically. When making this case himself, Dr. King sheds light on the violence we witnessed over the past weekend. “Riots,” he said, “are the language of the unheard.”
This outpouring of rage and grief is not only about the death of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, it’s about Eric Garner and Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice and what has become a tragically long list of victims and a policing community that has resisted calls, over decades, for reform.
It is also about what the coronavirus has revealed to us. Covid-19 has made it starkly clear that some people in our country are safer than others. The individual deaths and the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus on African Americans, on immigrants, and poor people make it deadly clear that one’s security in America is largely determined by your race and your income. These deaths are the results of years of discrimination and disinvestment.
That’s not how democracy is supposed to work.
Democracy is supposed to recognize everyone as equal before the law, that we are all born with rights and dignity that our government and our law enforcement officials are obligated to protect these rights.
In our social contract – the agreement between the government and the governed – our leaders’ most fundamental duty is to keep people safe.
Our democracy is broken.
The question is, what do we do now? Can we change this dangerous path we are on?
The simple answer is yes. There’s no other option. We can and we must.
And we know how. The exhibitions in our Center tells the story of how committed individuals transformed our country – ending segregation under the law. They tell how advocates around the world are waging campaigns for freedom.
Human rights provide the way forward.
But only if we act. The change will only come when we – we, the people, all of us – demand it.
Today we launch a campaign – the Campaign for Equal Dignity. Our goal is to galvanize people – you, your friends and family, and their friends and family – to demand equality for all.
You can go to equaldignity.org to get started.
In undertaking this campaign, we offer a special word for my fellow white people. George Floyd was killed because he was black. The same is true for all of the others I listed earlier.
All of their killers were white. White people have a special responsibility right now to demand justice – to make clear these killers do not represent us or our values. Our African American friends and neighbors are tired of doing this work alone. We need to stand together, as human beings and people of conscience.
As Dr. King said: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
The division and inequality in our country won’t be solved overnight. But I guarantee you it won’t be solved at all unless we act — together — to re-animate our core national values of a government by the people, for the people that demands the promise of equality and justice for all is made real for everyone.