Commentary Rodney Ellis Harris, County Commissioner
George Floyd was laid to rest this week in his hometown of Houston, Texas, two weeks after his tragic his death at the hands of Minneapolis police officers.
The grief, frustration and anger from the loss of Black lives to police violence, all while we’re in the midst of the Coronavirus Pandemic, where Black people are getting sick and dying at disproportionate rates to other groups, has mobilized people not only in our nation but communities around the world to demand immediate changes to a system that perpetuates racism, criminalizes the poor, and those facing mental illness and substance abuse.
The calls to re-imagine how we define justice and fairness for America means we must first recognize all the ways our justice system is historically discriminatory and how that system has devalued Black lives, unjustly incarcerated countless Black and Brown people, and resulted in a wealth gap as wide today as it was in 1968.
The oppressive and discriminatory system manifests itself in over policing of Black and Brown communities, police brutality, and egregious imprisonment. Texas has the 6th highest incarceration rate in the nation, higher than any nation on the planet. Here in Harris County we have ¬twice as many people at the Harris County Jail than at the jails in New York or Cook County and our jail doubles as the county’s largest mental health facility. Harris County sends Black people to Texas prisons at almost FIVE TIMES the rate of White people while Black people make up only 12% of our state population but 33% of our prison inmates.
None of this has made us one bit safer.
We are at a turning point. We can continue on a path of ineffective and discriminatory criminal practices that destroy lives or we can choose to have a society that uplifts communities, makes them safer and helps them thrive.
REAL healing can happen when we have REAL change. Bringing meaningful changes to our communities starts with investing in the people and a commitment to end the harm NOW. By reallocating funds toward community resources we can begin to build a better quality of life for communities of color:
• We need all of our law enforcement agencies to be accountable to the communities they serve, starting with real use of force protections for the people of Harris County.
• We need to invest in violence interruption programs, social workers, education and affordable housing. We must uplift our communities, make them safer, and divest from structures that criminalize people based on their class, race, or health.
• We must stop criminalizing poverty, homelessness and mental illness. Incarcerating people for being poor or sick doesn’t make us any safer. It simply compounds our challenges.
America is demanding change now. We must meet this moment with bold and transformational action to heal the wounds of centuries of injustice.
We’re fighting for our communities.
We’re fighting for Black lives.
We’re fighting for America.