Sunday, May 31, 2020

Black Lives Matter: From Emotion to Strategy and Solutions

Opened my history book to take a better look
At where we came from and where we’re going
Without a sense of time
You’ve got no ears or eyes
I see a broken rhyme called human learning
You know this is serious
We’re repeating things we’ve done
Do ya wanna be a part of the solution?

-Solution by Paul Colman Trio

I spent many years finding out about world events long after they happened. I have lived in the Dominican Republic for 12.5 years. I am busy and removed with a large family, work, and studies. However, we’ve been on lockdown here since March 18th and I have been paying more attention to the news due to the coronavirus. It is amazing and interesting how the topics that spread through my social media feed change daily.

I am very glad that I have been so attentive to world events; especially U.S. events because so many of my family, friends, and contacts on social media are in the U.S. I was shocked and heartbroken by the announcement of the murder of Amaud Arbery while innocently jogging, especially since his murderers were not yet arrested at the time of the announcement. I was in disbelief when I learned of the horrific murder of George Floyd so soon after the arrests of the Amaud’s murderers were finally made.

The events that took place the days following George Floyd’s death were very revealing. I am specifically referring to the fact that the four officers, while they were fired, were not arrested right away
after such a brutal murder was caught on film. A CNN reporter who happened to be black was arrested while reporting the protests. The words spoken by the president in reference to the riots, especially when compared to words he spoke about white armed protestors in Michigan during the coronavirus lockdown exposed incredible bias.

 I think it’s safe to say that many who were not convinced that racism is still an issue in the United States and that the police brutality used specifically toward black and brown people deserves serious attention now see differently. I feel hopeful for future change that will be taking place, but there is work to be done to bring it about.

First of all, let me address something that will probably be important for many to consider my thoughts on this issue. I am a white woman. I was born and raised in Virginia. I moved to Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic permanently when I was 22 years old, having recently graduated from Virginia Tech. My husband is a black man from Haiti. We have three biological children and two adopted children.

As I mentioned, I have lived in the Dominican Republic for 12.5 years now. I have not lived in the U.S., and have honestly not spent many days there at all, throughout all of Obama’s terms and Trump’s. My race causes me to be a minority here in the Dominican Republic. To racially describe the Dominican Republic in a nutshell, it was the first place Columbus landed in the New World and was settled by Spain. They kidnapped people from Africa and enslaved them, but when slavery ended, the races became very mixed. The population that would be considered white in this country is very small. The population displays a beautiful array of skin color shades and there is no shame in calling someone by their skin color (indio, moreno, rubio, negro, kle, wouj, etc.) The race of the neighboring country Haiti is primarily what we would call black. If you haven’t studied Haitian history, I highly suggest that you do.

I have met many white friends here through Project Esperanza.
Line of white protestors stand between police
and non-white protestors.
However, they don’t live here. They visit. So on a daily basis, I am the odd one out in that way. I don’t usually even see someone that America would refer to as white, other than perhaps tourists in passing. My kids used to point and say “Look! Volunteers!” whenever they saw white people. I may be referred to as gringa in Spanish or blan in Creole. I have had to correct people many times and let them know how I feel when they talk about blan or gringos. I think about things I say and am held accountable if I say something that offends someone.

This isn’t to say that I have walked in the shoes of an African
American woman who grew up in the United States. I have surely not. I realized that I was unfairly privileged for many reasons in addition to race while I was growing up and felt guilt over the issue. This is largely why I wanted to use my privilege to serve situations that broke my heart.  Nonetheless, I do think I have some insight that I would like to share and engage in dialogue about. 

As I said, I’ve noticed that social media themes change daily. Yesterday and today I see that many are questioning rioting and how effective it is or was in this case. People are comparing Civil Rights Movement protests that were peaceful, strategically planned, and completely respectable, to the chaos of looting and burning. Perhaps only God knows if the rioting hadn’t taken pace, whether the killer would’ve even been arrested, and whether other factors would’ve changed in addition. Yes, it’s sad that rioting took place and is still taking place. However, war is always sad, isn’t it? War is a result of groups of people that were not able to effectively communicate and reach an agreeable compromise. Additionally, many people are just taking advantage of anarchy, which wasn't the intent of most protestors and isn't their fault. 

What are you going to do to protect your city from these problems that could lead to rioting, if it hasn't already? The ONLY humane solution is to effectively communicate and reach agreeable compromises on a consistent basis. The responsibility here is on
each city’s leadership to initiate this process. Take a knee and engage the people rather than shooting tear gas and rubber bullets, (both literally and figuratively). However, where this doesn’t happen, churches, schools, and organizations exist and can initiate such communication. The bottom line is that this is not the responsibility of the black community to make themselves heard. There have been plenty of cries. I particularly teach my kids that whenever they hear someone cry, they should ask what's wrong. It doesn't matter if that person cries a lot and you are used to hearing him or her cry. It doesn't matter if the person even hurt themself. You cannot hear someone cry without asking what is wrong. Every single time they cry. It’s each community’s job as a whole to reach out to the black community and listen with opened minds and hearts. The insight provided will show the direction in which each community needs to go to create needed change.

This site ( provides statistics about police violence in the U.S. Simple practices such as requiring the reporting of any use of force, ban of chokeholds or strongholds, and requiring other officers to intervene if another officer uses excessive force drastically change statistics. A Canadian friend recently informed me that in Canada, a report must be filed
whenever a police takes his or her gun out of their holster. This practice puts weight on the very act of taking out a gun, AS IT SHOULD. There are things that can be done. Sources say that progress was being made in this area during the Obama administration, but went in the opposite direction under Trump's direction. READ ONE SOURCE HERE.

And then there are cases such as George Floyd’s where the gun was not the lethal weapon. However, the killer and an accomplice had quite poor records with many red flags raised. I have to agree with my brother Matthew McHale who posted:

“We have a system designed to protect police at all costs whether they behave correctly or not. It gives them a sense of being above
the law. It should be the opposite. They should be held to a higher standard than the public given the power they are wielding. Any abuse of power should be harshly punished and not tolerated.”

My friend Maryann Glascock stated, “I think it’s just far too easy to get a badge and a gun with all the authority in the world. Police officers are public servants and we pay their salaries through our taxes. I think we need to increase police officer salaries to hire more qualified people or use the money to provide more training to the people they are hiring. I’d be happy to see my tax dollars going towards that”.

When one examines how funding toward law enforcement is allocated, it probably wouldn't be necessary to ask taxpayers to increase anything in order to pay police more in order to recruit higher qualified individuals. It would simply be a matter of diverting money spent on weapons and potentially excessive police presence toward salaries. The Black Lives Matter campaign is leading a petition for police defunding. If you READ HERE, what that really means is a diversion of funds from investments such as "military hardware" and allocating those funds toward after-school programs, mentoring, and other preventative efforts.  

I agree with all of those points. I also feel strongly that there should be a campaign to recruit minorities into the police force. I understand that those who feel targeted by the police are reluctant to become police officers themselves. Black police officers are criticized by other people of color for choosing that profession. However, this is creating more of a problem than a solution. If there was a black police officer on the team that set out to arrest George Floyd, do you think things would’ve gone down the same way?

Rather than criticizing black or brown police officers, the black community and the community as a whole should celebrate them, thank them, and let them know that they are heroic in many ways. After all, police officers do risk their lives. We know that not only do police officers kill people sometimes, but they sometimes get killed as well.

I imagine images flying around of black or brown police officers and black or brown children dreaming of becoming police officers. “This is my community. I will uphold and protect it.” There should
be a sense of ownership and pride over the community. This should be a point of dialogue. If there is not that sense of community, then why not? What can be done to change that? Incentives should be developed as have been developed for the army where special scholarships or other benefits should be granted for people of color who will serve as a police officer for a certain number of years, and other such incentives. Priority should be placed on this! Of course white police officers would be jealous as with any affirmative
Protestors protect a cop who
got lost from the others. 
action but that shouldn’t be a reason not to do it.

Let me now say that anyone in the black or brown community feeling discouraged, exhausted, fearful, etc. should know this.  You may not benefit from white privilege, but you are so very privileged. I say this not to belittle anyone's feelings or to ask them to stop complaining or protesting. Share and protest (peacefully) all you want! I support you! I say this to share a truth that I can see from a different perspective as someone outside of the U.S. which some people may forget or not be fully aware of.

I am very sympathetic to and heartbroken by these recent cases. I have lost lots of sleep this past week thinking, reading, and talking about it. However, the truth is that I often brush off issues in the United States as “first world issues”. You think your public schools are bad? You think your minimum wage is low? You think your low income communities have it rough?

Being an American citizen, no matter where you are on the unfair spectrum, is a HUGE privilege. Nowhere else in the world attracts immigrants like the United States, and many cannot get in, even illegally. As a citizen, you have access to so many benefits, including student loans, loan forgiveness programs, welfare if needed, public education through high school absolutely accessible to all, and the list goes on! To put this into perspective, many of the youth I work with have
missed years of school because no public education was available to them and their family couldn’t afford private education. READ MORE HERE. In 2013, the highest court here ruled that Haitian immigrants that had been in the country for up to four generations would potentially have their citizenships removed, depending on the migration status of their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. Minimum wage in this country is $200 per month for someone working 44 hour work weeks. These are just a few examples.

Additionally, having English as your native language is a privilege. I have a strong advantage with many online work opportunities I have done and looked into because of this privilege. However, I fully understand that just as a child who grows up in a loving, united lower class family may turn out more well-rounded and have a happier life than a rich kid who has a lot of toys and gadgets, but a cold family life, the effects of feeling like the underdog or whipping boy in society can be emotionally debilitating, keeping groups of people from reaching their potential despite available opportunities. Some would even say they feel as though society hates them. It’s a complex issue. And please don't think that by mentioning these benefits available to American citizens that I don't acknowledge all that has been denied to black American citizens throughout history since the Civil Rights Movement and the struggle it has been. The recent events are just a sample of proof that was made visible to the world, representing centuries of the same cold heartedness. 

Although the oppression still goes on, as has been witnessed so clearly lately, we shouldn't lose sight of the progress that has been made through the Civil Rights Movement. There are many amazingly successful African Americans in the United States. Two of my personal favorites who I’ve watched and loved since I was little are Oprah Winfrey and Will Smith. How many black Americans have become millionares through professional sports? Do we realize what a small percentage of the world has such an opportunity? While there is still work to be done before we can say that true equality is being practiced in the U.S., no one should let the horrific stories like George Floyd’s take away from the countless successes. And as they say, we're not going backwards.

Therefore, in reference to black and brown readers, if you can keep a global perspective, you may feel more encouraged by remembering that despite what it may look like in your home town, you are actually on top of the world! You also could consider spending time in or even relocating to a country like the Dominican Republic where your race would not make you a minority. Project Esperanza would love to have you as a short term volunteer, or even serve as a year or two as volunteer coordinator. 

In response to the George Floyd case, black Americans who have relocated here were posting about how grateful they are that they had done so as they don’t face the same fears of police brutality
here. And for any white Americans that would like to remain in the majority with these changing times where whites will likely no longer be the majority within the next few decades, you could consider going somewhere like Australia. I suggest this (and don't actually expect anyone to even take it seriously but you never know) because it's an English speaking country that is not too cold and there is a strong white majority. The point is, there is surely no changing the direction that the U.S. is going. The only choice is to embrace it. 

Anyone who is offended by the light suggestion of relocating should realize their American privilege right there. Do we deserve to stay in this promised land we call the U.S.A. generation after generation? Did we ourselves build it? Rather than fighting to keep others out and maintain it a certain way, why don't we explore other parts of the world and share our best practices? CHECK OUT MY TEDx TALK for more thoughts on this. 

For anyone at all wanting to teach their kids about race issues, I highly suggest watching the Netflix series Family Reunion.  There are a few episodes that deal with police brutality, reporting the officer, and consequences for the officer, starting on Episode 10. However, the whole series is great. MORE ON THAT TOPIC HERE.

It’s encouraging that so many are taking a stand and showing they
MLK's tomb site during a protest taken
by Project Esperanza
board member Edna May Hermosillo.
care by at least speaking up on social media. I hope and pray that the follow-up remains strong and these cases are seen through. If the murderers of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd don’t get a just punishment, then a lot of the efforts put forth so far will have been in vain. Also, we have to continue to share insightful information with others. Racism isn’t something we recognize when it’s never challenged and those who are in very homogenous groups can benefit from these insights that they might not be exposed to otherwise.

I saw some posts about “policing the police” where people who see what seems like potentially an unnecessary amount of police officers around a car or individual stop and watch the situation to make sure there’s no foul play. I also saw, “stay with my son” which means that you stay with the black male being questioned by police until it is over to also make sure there is no foul play. These both seem like great efforts and ideas. Let’s keep it up!

I am dying for raw, honest, tranparent dialogue on this issue. Please share your thoughts in the comments. Let's work through this together! Thanks! 

2,000 years ago the greatest radical walked the earth and said we are forgiven souls
Have we forgotten him and made religion king? Love and grace is what we should be offering
You know this is serious
We’re repeating things we’ve done
We must be delirious thinking it’s new under the sun
Do ya wanna be a part of the solution?
To be one, to be one, to be one is the solution, yeah, yeah! 
Junior Jean
Unity is Strength (taken from Haitian Flag)
A cord of three strands is not easily broken.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Caitlin for your always thoughtful and honest thoughts. I strongly encourage anyone thinking of visiting Project Esperanza as a volunteer to do so. So many people think of the DR as a wonderful place to vacation and it is a beautiful tourist destination. But if you really want to understand how blessed we are in the US by our schools, food pantries, sanitation facilities, and the list goes on, take time to really see how Haitian immigrants live in the DR. Education will make a difference and Project Esperanza is answering the call to feed and educate those who have "fallen through the cracks."