Neustadter: Lawmakers, now is the time for radical change

Corinne Neustadter

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

In the past month, nationwide protests in the wake of George Floyd’s murder have forced many to reckon with the continual impacts of the United States’ systemic racism, confronting the disproportionate impacts of police brutality on marginalized communities.

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Changes are being made in direct response to these protests, with the Minneapolis City Council intending to replace the police department with a public safety system and the district attorney finally prosecuting the officer that killed Floyd as well as the three others complicit in his murder. In Colorado, Denver Public Schools have ended their contract with the Denver Police Department, signifying how these protests have led to a nationwide movement to defund police departments and invest more in educational and social programs.

At the same time, public support for police reform and the Black Lives Matter movement is growing exponentially. A study from The New York Times found that in the past two weeks alone, public support for BLM increased as much as it has in the previous two years.

Millions are finally waking up to the realities of police brutality and injustice in this nation, which is long overdue, and it is imperative that we capitalize on it. Now is the time for lawmakers to create radical change to combat structural racism if we want to move towards a more fair and equitable society.

As thousands have taken to the streets over the past several weeks, police forces have used military-grade weapons to combat them, despite the protests’ largely peaceful natures. Police forces across the U.S. have come out in force, using armored cars, tear gas and rubber bullets to push back protesters, calling into question why they have these weapons in the first place.

The militarization of police began in 1990 with the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act. This legislation allowed the Department of Defense to transfer small arms and ammunition to state and federal agencies to combat the war on drugs.

This system continued under the 1033 Program to today, providing police departments around the country with $4.3 billion in equipment. Meanwhile, health care systems can’t protect their own workers from COVID-19 and millions remain unemployed.

Now is the time for lawmakers to create radical change to combat structural racism if we want to move towards a more fair and equitable society.”

With systemic racism present in residential housing and the healthcare system, people of color are at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19, revealing how inhumane our society truly is.

COVID-19 has clearly shown what our nation’s priorities are, and people are demanding action to change them. Demilitarizing and reforming law enforcement is imperative to eradicating police brutality. To create progress on a national level, however, economic and social policies need to be instituted to correct centuries of systemic racism and white supremacy.

Instead of funding military police departments, we should be investing in the health of our communities by prioritizing funding for education and social programs, specifically to address racial disparities.

Education is a powerful tool that has been proven to lower crime rates and therefore lessen the need for policing, but segregation and redlining have perpetuated public school funding gaps between white and nonwhite school districts.

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This problem is only compounded when housing and wealth disparities are taken into account — according to City Lab, despite efforts to change how funds are distributed to school districts “a majority of low-income, students of color (reside) in overpopulated and underfunded school districts.”

At the federal level, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos continues to ignore the problems of public schools in favor of elevating private and charter schools. The CARES Act educational funding, which was primarily meant for public schools and colleges, is now being used for private and religious schools.

DeVos has already directed $180 million for “microgrants” for elementary and middle school parents to use towards private school tuition and has directed school districts to share millions intended for low-income students with private schools.

This means that substantial changes to how money is distributed must happen at the local and state level, as long as an education secretary that continues to perpetuate educational inequality is in office.

If the U.S. can spend $4 BILLION militarizing police against its citizens, it can afford to correct the overwhelming racial and socioeconomic disparities that still persist.”

Moreover, we need to invest in the health of our communities. People of color are more likely to suffer from health problems and lack access to adequate health care — when they are able to receive treatment, implicit biases of health care providers can affect the quality of care they do receive.

According to the American Bar Association, “Black people simply are not receiving the same quality of health care that their white counterparts receive.”

Substantiated action is sorely needed in the health care field to ease the structural barriers to health care treatment and to address the implicit biases of doctors themselves. Lawmakers are beginning to recognize the popularity of Medicare for All in the wake of COVID-19.

Now, 69% of Americans support Medicare for All, a significant increase over the last two years. It is devastating that it took a pandemic for Americans to realize how broken our health care system is, but it presents an opportunity for real change. Guaranteeing health care coverage for all Americans would help millions more access the health care they need at a time of grave crisis in the country.

If the U.S. can spend over $4 billion in police equipment — militarizing police against its citizens — it can afford to correct the overwhelming racial and socioeconomic disparities that still persist, especially as it ignores the frontline workers risking their lives in the middle of a pandemic.

Radical change can happen, especially at a moment that could redefine our society. While there will always be progress to be made, these significant changes can help move us towards a better society.

Corinne Neustadter can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @corinnen14.