by Emilia Strong Sykes, Ohio House Minority Leader
As a country, we have two viruses that are disproportionately killing Black people right now: the coronavirus and racism. After the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, we are seeing people protesting injustice. People who want to be heard.
As Black people, we are learning that people do not care about eliminating racism and ensuring our health and safety. We’ve done task forces and study groups. We’ve prepared reports in fancy binders that look nice, and they sit on a shelf in an office. There is never any action.
We are witnessing around the country a begging to be seen and heard. This community, the Black community, after multiple attempts at protesting, kneeling, demanding legislation, is begging to be heard.
Racism is real. It’s the biggest health crisis the citizens of this state face. The institutional racism in our society and the trauma it causes are not okay, and that must be recognized.
Black Americans deserve to be heard today, tomorrow, and always. Racism can no longer be a burden people of color shoulder themselves. It is up to white people to check and acknowledge their privilege. We can offer conversations about the inequities facing communities of color, but until white communities truly look inside themselves and say “We would not want this for ourselves,” we will not see any change.
In order to have real and meaningful change in our society, we need EVERYONE to stand up and denounce racism, have the uncomfortable conversations to better understand one another and end it, once and for all.
I am asking anyone who is not Black: take the time to look inside yourself to find what you can do to be helpful because it is up to you. We have pleaded, protested, cried, and let you know. It is up to you. If you do not do anything, you let us know we are not a priority.
If you feel uncomfortable talking about racism, imagine what if feels like to live with it. Black Ohioans are not okay. We need immediate action, not the creation of another task force or study group to confirm what we already know is wrong and broken. The time for studying racism is over.
Members of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus will be introducing a resolution this week to declare that racism is a public health crisis. If we want to ensure there is equality, we should lead the nation and pass this resolution.
Ohio House Democrats have introduced bill after bill to address criminal justice reform, improve gun safety, increase the minimum wage, prohibit discrimination in various forms, and are constantly calling for more diversity and inclusion. These bills don’t even have a chance of passing.
No matter how we activate, organize, or engage our communities, these bills are falling on the deaf ears of Ohio Republicans. They are telling us time and time again that Black lives do not matter.
Whether or not we take action is up to the white, Republican Governor, Speaker of the Ohio House, and President of the Ohio Senate. These are the people who have the power to protect Black people. We hear you loud and we hear you clearly by your inaction that you do not believe Black lives matter.
Action can be taken legislatively, but the first thing those in the legislature must do is care enough to do something. They must care enough about the Black people in this state to act. They have to care. They have to have the will, the fortitude, and the courage to stand up and do something.
We could start with passing anti-profiling legislation, requiring data collection on who is stopped by the police, and mandating independent investigations of all officer-involved shootings. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. These are recommendations made by the Ohio Task Force for Community-Police Relations appointed in 2015 after Tamir Rice was killed in Cleveland. Five years later, none of these measures have been enacted.
Racism is truly undermining and crumbling our society. It is the willful ignorance of people in the legislature to not see it. I will not elevate it any further, it is undeserving of anything more than that. As legislators, we have a responsibility to listen to and empathize with ideas, even those that make us uncomfortable.
Racism is real, whether they want to admit it or not. Their inaction will make it loud and clear that they believe some lives matter more than others. I just hope they want to be on the right side of history.