What is the solution to systemic racism? (Letter to the KeizerTimes)

My name is Ramiro Navarro and I am running for State Representative for House District 25. I had really hoped that my first letter to the Keizertimes would be to outline my policies and history of advocacy, but today I felt like I had to address something that’s been weighing heavy on my mind. With the recent opinions on riots, police defunding and support for school resource officers, it seems that we have forgotten how we’ve gotten to this point in the first place.

I’d like to start off by saying racism is as American as apple pie. That is to say that although it didn’t originate here in America, it sure has become something we’re known for. This isn’t news that we are just now learning. This is an issue that has been documented for ages, but we are just now looking at the bizarre statistics. So the question shouldn’t be whether or not racism exists but rather why it continues to exist here? The short answer to that is because America, or in this case Oregon, has provided the atmosphere.

When Oregon was still a territory, Black exclusionary laws were passed to prevent Black people from living here for longer than three years, and then another law was passed to prevent them from re-entering after leaving. When Oregon became a state there was a clause in our state constitution that prohibited Black people from owning property or making contracts.

While that racist law was repealed, the language still existed in the state constitution until 2002. It was finally removed but even then, only 18 years ago, 30 percent of voters were in support of keeping the discriminatory verbiage. I have to mention this today after a conversation I had with an individual here, in my hometown, that believed two percent of our state population commits 50 percent of the crime, which is why Black people account for 10 percent of the total incarcerated population.

It’s been documented that Oregon’s history hasn’t been kind to people of color and yet some still refuse to believe Oregon’s criminal justice system isn’t fair for all.

I’d like to clarify what I know to be true that I believe is a misunderstanding regarding the Black Lives Matter movement. The movement is saying we need to pay attention to the disproportionate amount of minority lives impacted by police violence and systematic racism in our nation because they are the most at risk. It isn’t saying Black lives matter more than others. That perception is being pushed by bad-faith actors who are saying All Lives Matter, knowing they are the very people the message is intended for.

Another translation can be found in Matthew 18:12, “If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety and nine and go into the mountains looking for that one which has gone astray? And if he so finds it, he’ll rejoice more of that one sheep, than of the ninety-nine which had not gone astray.”

It pains me to say this but I’ve seen first-hand how thousands here in Oregon being led astray by bad policy and bad policymakers. As a community, we must come together as one and focus on the most in danger of being harmed. Oregon’s systemic racism is real, and nothing is going to fix that issue until we admit as a community that it’s an issue, to begin with.

Even those who have the privilege to say it doesn’t exist, because they’ve never experienced it personally, are saying so because they read the reports on failed policies like Measure 11, which unfairly sentences people of color while offering white offenders plea deals for lesser charges.

Another example is a recent study by the Congressional Research Service that found very little, if any, statistics to indicate that police in schools prevent mass shootings and keep students safe. On the contrary, the study actually concluded that children (more particularly children of color) are negatively impacted by the presence of School Resource Officers (SRO) due to the use of the criminal justice system for minor offenses and the fact that SROs are typically paired with schools which have a large percentage of black and brown students. Meaning they cause more harm than they support student success and it disproportionately affects people of color.

To a hammer, everything is a nail, and with school resource officers, studies have shown that people of color tend to be the nails that stick up. To correct another misunderstanding, saying defund the police doesn’t mean to abolish police here in Oregon. It means we need more tools in the toolbox; let’s re-allocate funding and invest in more proficient tools.

When I was building houses for veterans here in Keizer, my tool belt held a catspaw, a pry bar, a hammer, and a nail gun along with my bag of nails. We don’t expect to raise a home with just one tool so why would we expect that method to work when it comes to raising a community?

The police are still just one call away as they should be for more dire situations but being in schools criminalizing kids is not one of them. The Parkrose High School shooter was stopped not by a bullet but by a bear hug, which I think is a testament to us needing to listen to our youth because they want to be heard. When you listen, the youth are saying we need more funding for mental health services, job training, culturally informed programs and programs that foster open communication. Not handcuffs for a minor offense that starts them on the pipeline for the rest of their lives.

This is exactly what is being paraphrased when you hear Black Lives Matter or defund the police. Knowing this, I believe we can support officers in focusing on leads for local kidnappings, burglaries, and shootings while promoting school support services like more counselors, programs for graduation rates and staff-to-student ratios. After that, together we can evoke a passion in our state to make systemic change this November. That way those dark parts of our past become something that should never gain 30 percent of support.

(Ramiro Navarro lives in Keizer.)

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