An Open Letter to Lancaster on Racialized Police Violence
LANCASTER, PA (Tuesday, October 11, 2016) – We need to apologize to our community. YWCA Lancaster’s mission is to eliminate racism and empower women. It’s an awesome commission. But putting hands and feet to it can be incredibly overwhelming. How do we truly eradicate racism in Lancaster County? How do we empower women and girls to step into a bright future with strength and confidence? The enormity of it can get in the way of sustainable action.
Yes, YWCA Lancaster has been pioneering change since 1889 and has been at the forefront of important movements for women’s rights and equality in the workplace. Ironically we’re also a predominately white organization with a bold mission to end racism and the truth is we haven’t always been as involved as we should. Today, we recognize that.
We’re stepping forward to say that the racialized police violence that has swept our nation is unacceptable.
The senior leadership team of YWCA Lancaster sat together a few weeks ago, discussing the most recent racialized police violence: the shooting deaths of Terence Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott. As we weighed what steps we could or should take, Director of Social Justice and Advocacy Nick Miron shared why the killing of Crutcher impacted him personally. Just after the birth of his daughter, Miron enrolled in Harrisburg Area Community College where he immediately felt camaraderie with many of the other non-traditional students: they were parents, full-time workers, had rich life experiences, and spent many hours together when they wished instead to be home with their families. On one particular evening, in a desperate attempt to get home quickly, Miron ran out of gas. Without a cell phone, he walked to the nearest house, knocked on the door, and asked to use the phone. The kind people not only let him use their phone to call his family, they also gave him their portable gas tank.
“In many ways, Terence Crutcher was like me,” Miron reflects. “A father and son, a worker and a student at a community college. He too had car trouble one evening returning home from class. We were very similar, except for one major difference: the color of our skin.”
Crutcher’s car trouble drew several police and a helicopter to the scene. Miron’s stalled car drew no attention. Rather than serving, Crutcher’s bystanders suspected, which later led to his shooting death. He was labeled “a bad dude” right before his life was taken. Miron was handed a gas tank and sent on his way.
“Neither Crutcher or I were armed,” Miron continues. “We each had a desire to learn and study, and then to go home. I made it. Because of a system of white supremacy that allows racially-biased authorities to react violently, Crutcher did not.”
To read about a step you can take now, please see the end of the letter.
It’s hard to understand the racially-motivated acts of violence sweeping our country without first stepping back and looking at our national history. The vision and possibilities on which the United States of America was established were profound and innovative for their time. To truly live into that vision of human equality, however, we need to be clear on how we got here. Our nation was founded on systems of power meant to elevate a very specific group of people: wealthy white men. The bleached textbook versions of American history read quite differently than Christopher Columbus’ personal diary, oral and biographical stories of Indigenous Americans, and the accounts of our Founding Fathers who owned slaves. American history is defined by those who took power, and dominantly preserved through the accounts of white men. Enter “white supremacy” and its far-reaching influence: norms, values, and social codes that overvalue certain ways of being and living. Within generations, racism – which combines racial prejudice with systems of power – became an incredibly powerful tool to enforce the values and norms of white supremacy.
Racism has always been far bigger than any one person, and so to eliminate it we need to look beyond the individual. It is bigger than us. It’s bigger than the officers involved in the shootings of unarmed men. It’s even bigger than the victims themselves. We need to move past the most common responses of defensiveness or guilt. We need to recognize our roots, lay open our wounds, find common ground, choose respect, build relationships and move forward.
YWCA Lancaster struggles with how to be involved and how to affect real change in this critical area. We’re on a learning journey. But we’re certain of one thing: as a community, we’ve been far too silent for far too long. Silence perpetuates hatred, racism, violence, sexism and bigotry. Our individual and collective silence is the great teacher of today’s children, forcing them to listen to those who ARE speaking up. And it’s often those who speak the loudest that have the most damaging message.
We recognize and stand with the communities across our nation whose wounds have been laid open to the public. Violence in Lancaster has not made national headlines. Yet. But it might some day. Saying it can’t happen here, or ignoring the implication of the news perpetuates a myth. Just like every other community across the nation, we have hatred and anger and racism and prejudice brimming just below the surface. Are we going to be another community caught unaware when it erupts, and watch horrified as “Lancaster” becomes a household name? Or, are we going to be a community that chooses proactive conversations, strategies, solutions and relationship-building? As an organization, we choose the latter.
Moving forward, YWCA Lancaster will be working with other justice-minded organizations to step up our efforts here at home to dismantle racism and the effects of white supremacy. We’ll be working hard to break down those silent, destructive walls.
One way to take action now is to join us for our November 2nd-4th Anti-Racism Analysis. This two and a half-day intensive workshop will equip participants with a foundational analysis of the systemic and institutional power of racism. Participants will come away with a common language and understanding for communicating with others about racism and its manifestations. Participants will also develop working tools to identify and begin to dismantle racism within their respective institutions and organizations. For more information and to register, visit www.AntiRacismAnalysis.eventbrite.com.
YWCA Lancaster is on a mission. We hope you’ll join us.
YWCA Lancaster Senior Leadership
Michelle McCall, Interim Chief Executive Officer
Cheryl Gahring, Chief Operating Officer
Nick Miron, Director of Social Justice & Advocacy
Lisa Cameron, Director of Empowerment
Lori Michener, Director of Human Resources
Gretchen Lusby, Director of Communications & Community Engagement
Gordana Mujan, Building Manager