We must rise to meet this moment. We must not lose sight of the real and necessary pursuit of justice and change.

I, like many of you, have been absolutely consumed by the news unfolding over the last week since the horrible footage of George Floyd’s murder took over our airwaves and newsfeeds. I have been at a loss for words, watching another innocent African American man’s life being taken by force by an officer of the law and the reprised outpouring of grief and outrage that have followed. I have been infuriated by the actions of offending police officers and those who have risen to his unconditional defense. I have been inspired by images of police peacefully protesting beside their citizens. I have been outraged at news of violence incited from outsiders who have detracted from and diluted the powerful message of the protests. I have been heartened by the actions of citizens coming together to clean up the destruction that has been left behind by misguided rioters.

In times like these, the public often looks for guidance, looks towards those who have a seat at the table and can be the leading force to enact change. The responsibility I feel both as a white woman of significant privilege in this community and an elected representative is one I do not take lightly. Though I’ve sat down many times to craft this message, nothing I’ve written has felt adequate to address this moment. I suppose that is part of the issue we often face when forced to confront the enduring, deep-seated racism in our country. I think many of us often feel inadequate in our ability to navigate this topic and too often choose to avoid it at the detriment to ourselves and our community. Then, yesterday evening, one of our own very own county commissioners published a formal statement that was nothing short of inflammatory, hateful, divisive, and racist. I now feel that raising my voice, however faltering, is a necessity.

I do not condone violence or destruction, but I do believe that condemning the effect without understanding the cause is a very dangerous thing. The violence and destruction we are seeing are the physical manifestation of centuries of inequality, in conjunction with months of further marginalization and isolation of our black communities in the wake of COVID-19. This pandemic has affected all of us and has, without a doubt, contributed to the violence that has erupted across our commonwealth and county. The COVID-19 crisis has led to massive unemployment and widespread economic instability. It has taken an enormous toll on our country’s mental health. It has exhausted every one of us in innumerable ways. This type of mental and emotional exhaustion, and the accompanying fear and helplessness, is something black communities have felt for generations.

What is happening now is not just about George Floyd. It's about Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray, Philando Castile, and countless other lost lives. Their deaths and the protection given to their murderers have sparked a fire fueled by 400 years of institutionalized racism, systemic oppression, implicit biases, and countless socially acceptable ways to dehumanize black people. The continual enactments of police brutality in our country – disproportionately committed against young black men – is behavior that our community, that all communities, must denounce and reject outright with authority and urgency.

However, there is no need to look to the breaking news to see instances of racism that must be confronted. One has but to take the merest glance at the numbers to see the inequities of the lived experience of African Americans in this country: black mothers are two and a half times more likely to die in childbirth than white mothers; the achievement gap for black children begins before kindergarten and continues to widen throughout their education; black men have disproportionately higher rates of unemployment; and the significant salary gap between the white and black workforce persists.

I see it in my dear friends mourning the innocence of their children as they warn them that they will have to behave differently than mine simply because of the color of their skin. I see it in friends suffering panic attacks at the thought of being pulled over and remaining hypervigilant on the road due to fear that a speeding violation could be a death sentence. Feelings I will never know.

Even in my own office in the past week, blatant racism reared its head. My staff is working incredibly hard to meet a significantly increased need with fewer resources than ever. Last week, someone called my office enraged by the ongoing shutdown and was verbally abusive to a member of my staff, screaming racially charged profanities at her. This is completely unacceptable, and no one should be forced to tolerate this type of treatment anywhere, least of all their workplace.

We cannot continue to live in a country where an entire population is afraid to be approached by law enforcement, to go out on a run in their neighborhood, or to simply exist. We must make a change, as a society, to prevent prejudice and violence from defining the black experience in our country and ease the ongoing grief and trauma inflicted on our black families, neighbors, friends, and colleagues. This will require listening to the people who live and work in the communities most affected by this violence and prejudice.

I am grateful for the thoughtful voices of my friends, family, and colleagues of color who have filled my personal newsfeed over the past week. I am grateful for the police officers who conduct themselves with integrity, respect, and compassion, committed to working with communities of color to heal divides and to breaking this cycle of violence. We must come together to face the realities of the racial tension in America and have the uncomfortable, honest conversations about racial inequity and the ways we can dismantle the systemic racism and implicit biases embedded in our culture and in ourselves.

I know I will never be able to fully comprehend the experiences of our black communities or the emotions they are forced to cope with each time another innocent black life is taken by the hands of those sworn to protect. But I do hope to understand as best as I am able. And while I cannot substitute my own knowledge or understanding for what I perceive to be the lived experience of black Americans, I can share my beliefs and my promise for action. I want to listen and learn and ensure that I am doing everything I can in my personal life and my legislative work to move the needle towards progress and justice for all.

We must rise to meet this moment. We must all recognize that we did not arrive here without years and years of pain and suffering of our black and brown neighbors. We must not lose sight of the real and necessary pursuit of justice and change. My heart is with George Floyd’s loved ones as they grieve his death and with all who have been affected by his murder and the ensuing escalating violence nationwide. We cannot remain silent. All our voices must rise in the face of injustice. We can do better; we must do better. #BlackLivesMatter