Rev. Barber on Charlotte: We must “mobilize to vote like never before” to combat systematic injustice

Rev. barber 2Rev. William Barber II, President of the North Carolina NAACP and, increasingly, a national leader on a raft of social justice issues, has authored a fine op-ed on the situation in Charlotte that appears on After pointing that there is much that we still do not know about the specifics of the most recent police shooting, Barber presents a list of things we do know that are clearly contributing to the unrest in Charlotte. Here are some excerpts from “Charlotte is Drowning in Systematic Injustice”:

“We know that the law, as written and enforced, cannot protect us from police violence. We know Darryl Hunt and Henry McCollum, two in a long list of African-American men wrongfully convicted in this state. We know our criminal justice system does not function to protect black life, but to control it.

We also know, since the Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s ruling on August 31st, that Governor Pat McCrory, former mayor of Charlotte, targeted African-Americans with ‘almost surgical precision’ when he signed a 2013 voter suppression bill. When the highest court in the land declared the law intentionally racist, McCrory made no apology. His party’s chairman doubled-down by trying to use the state Board of Elections to limit the number of polling places in areas where African-Americans generally vote.

We know that, despite the fact that it would benefit more poor white people than African Americans, our legislature has refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, denying health insurance to the most vulnerable among us, simply because they don’t like a black man in the White House.

We know that, while 56 percent of African-American workers make less than a living wage, Governor McCrory signed the mean-spirited HB2, which not only writes discrimination into state law but also forbids municipalities from passing a living wage ordinance or even measures to protect children in the workplace.

We know that our legislature, while touting an average increase in teacher pay, reduced total funding for public education and supported policies designed to undercut schools like the one Keith Scott’s son was coming home from on the bus when he lost his daddy.

We know that they increasingly funnel public money to private academies, which lend themselves to the resegregation of public education, even though we know segregation hurts poor kids.”

Barber also offers a powerful analogy to the instinctive behavior of a drowning person when reflecting on the recent unrest in the city:

“I am a pastor. I will not condemn grief. But I was trained as a lifeguard, and I learned a long time ago that when people are drowning, their instincts can kill them and anyone who tries to help them. If a lifeguard can get to a drowning person, the first thing the lifeguard says is, ‘Stop struggling. Let me hold you up in this water, and we can get to the shore together.’

The riots in Charlotte are the predictable response of human beings who are drowning in systemic injustice. We must all pray that no one else gets hurt. But we must understand why this is happening.”

And here’s his conclusion:

“As hopeless as the situation may seem, we also know what’s needed to change the conditions under which Keith Scott lived and died. Right here in North Carolina, we have seen how people impacted by unjust policies can come together in coalitions across color and lift up a moral agenda that embraces the good of the whole.

Just last week, I was outside Pat McCrory’s office with clergy and the Fight for 15, with Black Lives Matter activists from Charlotte and education advocates, with healthcare workers and citizens fighting coal ash pollution. This coalition that came together in North Carolina’s Moral Mondays has spread to 30 states, uniting people who can elect new leadership and continue to push for a more perfect union in this nation.

This kind of coalition movement building is not easy, and we cannot win the change we need in a single election. But every step forward in this nation’s history has come from movements like this one. This week our decision is as clear as ever: it’s the ballot or the riot. We who believe in the possibility of democracy must mobilize to vote like never before.”

Click here to read the entire essay.

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