We can’t stop police violence against Black people without economic justice

OPINION: To protect Black people from police brutality, we need to surround them with economic opportunity. Passing “baby bonds” legislation is a crucial first step in helping to close the racial wealth gap.

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Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Tyre Nichols may have died at the hands of several Black cops, but the root cause of his death was systemic racism.     

Many will try to say that police brutality is not a systemic issue. They argue that police brutality happens because of a “few bad apples,” but it’s hard for them to admit that the criminal justice system is designed with racist intent. There are those who can admit that maybe we have a racist policing problem — but they believe that if Black people just worked hard enough, they can achieve prosperity at the same levels as white people. There are those who see injustice in both the criminal justice and economic systems in the United States, but they cannot see how they are connected. What’s hard for many to admit is that the entire economic system is stacked against Black communities.   

We must come to a point where we admit that racism isn’t the expressed bigotry of a few individuals. It is systemic. It is pervasive. It is inseparable from every social, economic and political facet of life in the United States.     

The refusal to believe Black people when they speak on their experiences and traumas is one major reason my organization, Prosperity Now, keeps a running scorecard on Black quality of life in every zip code. With clear data, we see the trauma. Black communities are constantly told they must prove their traumas are real, but they are consistently denied the data to do so. This hinders our ability to remove obstacles and carve out pathways in the courts and through policy. We must work aggressively to ensure that the systemic and interconnected nature of racism in the United States is undeniable. And we have the data to prove it.     

We know that white households enjoy five times more assets than Black households and close to twice the income. White businesses number in the millions, while Black businesses still struggle to break the 100,000 mark. Black students are still three times less likely to attain a degree than their white counterparts. And Black people are three times more likely to be killed in a police encounter than white people.    

These gaps in equity and experiences of economic, political and social brutality aren’t caused by a few bad apples. Nor is economic injustice the result of a few bad bankers. These are all rooted in the same systemic injustices that Black people have faced for several hundred years in every sector of life in every corner of the nation. 

We should all stand with the Nichols family as they demand justice from the Memphis Police Department, the district attorney who will indict the officers involved in the killing of Tyre and the courts that will try them. But these actions alone will not protect Black people across the country from the systemic injustice that threatens our collective lives. To truly protect Black people and communities, we must end the systemic racism that both fuels police oversight in Black communities and encourages their brutality. To that end, we should support the passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.    

The work, however, does not stop there.    

Police brutality is inseparable from economic injustice. Economic divestment in Black communities causes the blight and crime that politicians so often argue we can fix with increased police presence. The increased police presence leads to more frequent contact between the police and community members. Increased contact with representatives of a violent and racist system leads to increased brutality in Black communities.     

Let’s have a smarter conversation about that. Instead of investing in systems of violence, we need to invest in Black people and Black communities. This is why we’ve been advocating aggressively for the passage of “baby bonds” legislation in Congress and in state legislatures, as well. This week, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., reintroduced a bill, the American Opportunity Accounts Act, which would provide a federally funded savings account for every child.

With baby bonds, as our careful study of the issue shows, governments would make essential investments for children at birth as a bold step towards closing the racial wealth gap. This is generational wealth building happening on an enormous scale. We saw a glimpse of what investments can do for Black communities in despair when we had, briefly, a pandemic-era Child Tax Credit: Nearly four million children, including almost a million Black children, were kept out of poverty at the end of 2021 as a result. President Joe Biden, Congress and all policymakers on the state and local level should be pressing for passage of the baby bonds bill as a way to eliminate the poverty that cripples Black neighborhoods and leads to the increased levels of gun violence and increased police presence, which results in the unnecessary and completely avoidable loss of Black lives.   

To protect Black people from police brutality, we need to surround them in economic opportunity. That means robustly investing in Black education. It means removing the obstacles to Black employment and homeownership. It means creating security through intergenerational wealth so that children, parents and grandparents have the footing to forge their own paths and find their own prosperity.     

Investing in Black communities means we make the revolutionary transition from seeing Black people as threats to police and start seeing them as valuable people and places that deserve our care, our protection, and our investments. If we want to end police brutality, we must end economic injustice. We must change the way we see Black communities and revolutionize how we protect them.

Gary Cunningham is president & CEO of Prosperity Now

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