Dear West Palm Beach neighbor,
Let me share with you some deeply personal thoughts about events from the past few weeks. The recent tragic deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, the subsequent acts of violence across the country, and the mayhem and destruction in cities, including our own, have broken my heart. These events, combined with the impact of COVID-19, have exposed deeply entrenched systemic racism in our country. They shined a bright light on significant racial disparities in this country in the areas of healthcare, housing, economic development, criminal justice and education.
For me, there was something eerily reminiscent of the past in the video of George Floyd. Its brutal harshness reminded me of images from the Civil Rights era when high-pressure water hoses and police attack dogs were used against demonstrators—images that were forever seared in the minds of those who viewed them. A significant difference between the demonstrations then and those occurring now is the composition of the demonstrators. No longer is it just black citizens marching. We have seen a wide variety of people --crossing racial, ethnic and generational lines-- literally risking their lives during this pandemic to protest racial injustice. This gives me hope that significant policy changes will result from the demonstrations.
I want to explain why this moment is so personal to me. I was born and raised in Wichita, Kansas. I first felt the sharp sting of racism at the tender age of 9 years old when I entered the 4th grade. To provide me with a better educational opportunity, my mother sent me to an all-white elementary school on the other side of town. This was before busing, so I had to rely on public transportation to get to and from school. Since I was the only black student in the entire elementary school (K-6), I was the subject of racial taunts and ridicule. Let’s just say that kids can be quite cruel, even at that young age. By the time I entered the 6th grade, Wichita had adopted district-wide busing to address school segregation. But, I had learned all I wanted to learn about racism. I had experienced all the racism I wanted to experience during those two years of being the sole black kid in an entire elementary school. Witnessing the cold-blooded murder of George Floyd by a white police officer brought back so many unpleasant memories of the ugly face of blatant racism. I understand the frustration felt by people when an injustice is done or when there is even a perception of injustice. I decry racism. I hate seeing what happened to George Floyd. Enough is enough.
I learned then, and I know now that—as a black man— I have to move through and beyond the searing pain of racism. One cannot stay stuck at that point. Growing up, I worked through those challenges as I pursued my education. My mother STRONGLY encouraged me to continue working hard for my better tomorrow. So, too, must our community move through the pain of this moment and work together to address the larger issues of systemic racism in healthcare, housing, criminal justice, economic development and education. I view the events that transpired over the last few weeks as nothing less than a clear and resounding call for our community to engage in the active search for solutions to these problems. Truly, it would be a shame if, in a year from now, we don’t see any significant policy changes in our nation and in our city as a result of these demonstrations.
So, where do we go from here? Once the protests end and the TV cameras go dark, what do we do? Systemic racism won’t be solved overnight, but that doesn’t mean we don’t do the work to find solutions. Rome wasn’t built in a day. It took years; one brick at a time. I am committed to being a brick-layer. No one of us can do everything, but each of us can do something.
The movement is the catalyst for change, and our success will be defined by the current and generational momentum we must create. This begins with serious conversations that extend across racial, ethnic, socio-economic and generational lines. These conversations must allow for grievances to be candidly aired, and genuine solutions to be honestly discussed. At the root of these conversations must be the recognition that we (white, black, brown, rich, or poor) are all in this together. As the saying goes, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
Most importantly and most immediately, however, this energy must be taken to the commission halls, classrooms and polls in upcoming elections. No matter the policy recommendations that come out of any heartfelt, intense, honest discussions, such policies can be implemented only with the collaboration of residents and elected officials who share the vision. The passion and energy brought to the marches must be matched by a commitment to speak up and vote in upcoming elections.
My vision for the City of West Palm Beach has always been to create a Community of Opportunity for All, whereby anyone—regardless of their race-- can achieve their dreams. This process involves honestly confronting systemic racism wherever it rears its ugly head, whether it is in education, housing, economic development, criminal justice, or healthcare. We are making progress in our city in the law enforcement area.
In 2019, police killed over 1000 persons in the United States, most of whom were black. I am proud of the steps taken to build trust between law enforcement and the African American community in our city. West Palm Beach Police Chief Frank Adderley, who I hired in June, 2019, works tirelessly to improve the relationship between police and young African American males. The West Palm Beach Police Department (WPBPD) is committed to increasing dialogue and transparency in order to have a better understanding of racial discrimination within the criminal justice system. The WPBPD has already adopted the #8CANTWAIT recommendations, including banning chokeholds and strangleholds, mandatory de-escalation training, requiring warnings before shooting, requiring the exhaustion of all means before shooting, imposing a duty to intervene, banning shooting at moving vehicles, implementation of a use of force continuum, and requiring that all uses of force be reported. The WPBPD has also recently established the first Use of Force Review Board in the agency's history.
There is so much more work to be done in so many areas. Please join me in building a community free of systemic racism, one brick at a time. We can do it. We must do it.
I have faced these issues as a child, student and resident. As Mayor, I am stepping up to do my part. One step I am taking is to host a virtual community town hall on Tuesday, June 16th at 5:00 p.m. Come join me to discuss the issues of social justice, racial equity and police/community relations. This will be the first of many conversations, actions and collaborations held in our city with the goals of developing a mutual understanding among our residents and strengthening the unity in our community. One movement, one voice and one day at a time.
Yours in service,