A Statement from the Center for a New Economy
We at the Center for a New Economy, just like millions of people across the United States and around the world, have been deeply disturbed by the images of the awful death of Mr. George Floyd, caused by a white Minneapolis police officer who pushed his knee against Mr. Floyd’s throat for almost nine minutes. We share the feelings of anger, heartbreak, and grief expressed by thousands of protestors in dozens of cities when faced with this act of flagrant disregard for human life. And we are troubled by the statements of several politicians describing those same cities as “battlespaces” to be “dominated” by unleashing the force of highly-trained professional soldiers against their own people.
Despite all the attention that has been placed on the looting and the violence seen in some cities, the protests in the United States and Puerto Rico during the past couple of weeks are born out of kindness and solidarity. In each one, we have witnessed countless acts of love that remind us that we are in this together—and that hate, prejudice and racism shall not prevail among us.
The United States has been moving towards this tipping point for too long. Political leaders have been so reticent to work together that even the necessary relief to mitigate the negative effects of the COVID-19 virus took weeks to negotiate. And around the country prejudice and racial tensions are palpable, as every so often, we’re reminded by countless cases of police brutality, hate crimes, and mass shootings.
The history of race relations in the United States is complicated, but a clear pattern is discernible to those who honestly search in order to find and those who strive to see. While Mr. Floyd’s death was the product of an inexcusable act of police brutality, the forces that converged on May 25th in Minneapolis have long and deep roots in American history. Indeed, they hark all the way back to 1619, roughly a century and a half prior to the foundation of the United States—a nation that based its original constitution on a clear racial hierarchy that institutionalized white supremacy.
From the horrors of the Middle Passage to the brutality of slavery; from the unfulfilled promises of Reconstruction to the terror of the lynching mob; from the enactment of “Jim Crow” laws to the doctrine of “separate but equal”; from the assassination of civil rights leaders to the fleeting hopes of the Civil and Voting Rights Acts of the 1960s; from the mass incarceration of thousands to the deaths of so many at the hands of white police officers, the list of injuries, injustices, and inequalities inflicted on African Americans is extensive and without parallel in American history.
Yet most of us have refused to come to terms with these facts, with what James Baldwin called the “American racial nightmare”, the abysmal gap between the daily indignities of life as experienced by millions of African Americans and the soothing promises of the founding mythology of the United States. Unfortunately, that gap is as large today as it was sixty years ago—if not greater.
We need not look far to find manifestations of this system of racial hierarchy in Puerto Rico. Though our particular racial identities came about through a distinct historical process, our own racial hierarchy undeniably venerates “white” features while belittling and invisibilizing the experience of Puerto Ricans who identify as black. This hierarchy informs systems of structural racism that, while perhaps different from what we see in the States, often lead to similar racialized outcomes in education, housing, poverty and police brutality, among other areas.
The legacy of policing in Puerto Rico is also fraught with racism. There is an extensive history of police repression and violence in general and toward certain racial groups specifically, including black Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, and Puerto Ricans of Dominican descent, which has been well documented by the American Civil Liberties Union and Kilómetro Cero. These trends find their echoes in the present—it is no coincidence that Puerto Rico’s state police force is still under the supervision of a federal monitor, appointed by the U.S. Department of Justice partly due to concerns over unjustified use of force.
Some may look at these histories and be tempted to throw up their hands in despair. That we refuse to do. As an organization pledged to forging a more inclusive and just economy, CNE cannot stand by as events take place. That is why we raise our voice in support of the millions who are demanding deep and radical changes in Puerto Rico and the United States.
The policy agenda to achieve the kind of broad social change we seek can seem daunting at first: we need to address complicated issues regarding education, health care, criminal law, police training, economic inequality, poverty, housing, employment creation, and many other areas. But this challenging work cannot be postponed any longer.
Successfully eliminating the long-standing inequities we have described will require the effort of all the best we have to offer from academia, business, government, NGOs, and community and religious organizations. We also need to recognize the privileges and built-in advantages that racialization and social class structures have afforded us; we need to listen to activists, community leaders, and organizers; we need to learn from prior attempts to address systemic inequality that fell short; and we need to begin dismantling racist structures and institutions in our society.
Recent events have demonstrated that this work will be hard, difficult, and oftentimes problematic. That however is not an excuse to pass this bitter cup. As the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. stated in a sermon delivered in March 1956: “true peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.”
CNE stands in solidarity with, and will always be on the side of, all those people who seek and work without rest to ensure that justice is indeed present in this world, right now, today.
The CNE Team