The murder of Minneapolis resident George Floyd May 25 was abhorrent. So was that of EMT Breonna Taylor in Kentucky. And Ahmaud Arbery of Georgia. The list of African Americans killed by police is too long to cite because it extends over 400 years and leaves out the disproportionately high number of Black victims of non-fatal but highly traumatic abuse, torture, harassment, and degradation by law enforcement nationwide.
Social workers in metropolitan DC witness the short- and long-term harm caused by these and other racial injustices every day in their jobs—in schools and hospitals, in government agencies and health clinics. As the largest number of behavioral health providers in the country, social workers receive extensive training, follow a code of ethics, and advocate fiercely for the advancement of inclusiveness, tolerance, and equality.
Now, others—having heard Mr. Floyd repeatedly plead, “I can’t breathe!” to no avail under the deliberate knees of arrogant policemen--are using their own breath with ours to scream, “Stop! Enough!” Their own breath with ours to chant in the streets, call out legislators and leaders, yell for accountability, and turn to each other for vigorous discussion of possible actions to upend embedded racism from America’s myriad social systems.
A traumatized America is finally moved from indignation to outrage to action. We as social workers see and affirm the pain of the African American community and acknowledge four centuries of past wrongs done to fellow community members due simply to skin color.
We know we have not done enough to redress past racism and promote equality, and we are angry as hell—at police in Minneapolis, at indifferent and complicit law enforcement and judicial leaders nationwide, at a largely privileged and purposely blindered American society, and at ourselves for excelling at advocating strongly for individual clients and lamenting less on the larger reasons for their concerning conditions.
Despite our shared training and values of tolerance and acceptance, we as social workers have yet to fully unite our strengths in ways that leverage our profession’s full potential to advance racial justice and equality, to take more responsibility in this newly awakened world.
As social workers in metro DC specifically—where 46% of the population is Black—we know that our African American clients feel disenfranchised. We see their demands for attention to inequities around education, housing, employment, health, and criminal justice continue without redress from generation to generation. We continue to witness the costs--in higher numbers of COVID-19 deaths among minorities due to health disparities, in lower school graduation rates, in lopsided unemployment and wage gaps, and—yes—in lives under the guise of “keeping the peace.” Black lives do matter!
As we all face our ugly past, we as social workers also pledge to look ahead and create new understanding and hope based on active listening, purposeful inclusion, and mutual respect. We pledge to be active, committed leaders who will bring our training and skills to accelerate this transformation of American democracy.
As a reinvigorated chapter, we are asking all DC Metro social workers to join with us to find a path that moves the issues forward. This statement is our launching pad. Next is our Town Hall Meeting “Advancing Racial Justice and Equity” June 8 from 6 to 7 p.m., where we will listen first to inform our actions later.
While our tactics remain unclear, our mission is not: We will do better. We as a chapter pledge to work harder to ensure that two systems of criminal justice, two systems of mental and physical health care, and two systems of education and employment are united into one country where freedom and justice is for all.