NOT IN OUR NAME Rally Remarks from July 26th 2018

 

My name is Laura Horwitz and I live here Clayton with my husband and two young kids.  I am also the co-founder and Executive Director of We Stories, an organization that helps families - particularly white families - start and strengthen conversations about racism and organize for racial justice.

In the past several years, I’ve had the honor of getting to know hundreds of St. Louis families who want to see our region change and to be part of that change.  And that includes many of my neighbors and friends in Clayton.

I have three messages I want to share today: the importance of defining problems, the power of apology, and the role of community in supporting action.

As anyone will tell you, you can’t solve a problem until you’ve defined the problem.  Or as Nicole Hudson, one of the most consistent and courageous voices for racial equity in our region has put it - “diagnosis determines treatment.” 

I spent a lot of time preparing for this rally by conducting imagined conversations in my head with quite a number of white folks - folks who worry that a rally is divisive, who bristle at the word racial profiling, who think this topic has been given far too much time and attention already, who use their position or power to wonder aloud if racism is OR isn’t a problem holding our region back, and who with equal fervor declare that they could not, would not, are not racist as if their individual intent alone is all that truly matters.

So let’s be clear.  St. Louis is one of the nation’s most segregated communities, with some of the starkest disparities in life outcomes between its Black and white citizens.  This is well-documented and beyond dispute.  All available data on police stops, arrests, and sentencing demonstrate that Black citizens face a higher presumption of guilt, are more frequently targeted, more frequently punished and more severely punished that their white counterparts for the same behavior.  Our state has been listed as a place not to travel not only by the NAACP but also by travel magazines. 

These patterns are driven by systemic racism, which is baked into our history, our geography, our policies, and our lived realities.  It does us no good to pretend we don’t have problems or that our problems are unknown or unsolvable. 

So it should go without saying that Clayton is not immune from these problems.  But it is worth saying and here’s why.  Many of us take a great deal of pride in our neighborhood - we relish that our schools are highly ranked, that our parks are pristine, and that our downtown is a destination.

We like to think we are special.  Well, there’s two sides to that coin.  The first is, we don’t live in a vacuum.  Not only are we not immune to the problems of the region as a whole, but the region’s problems are our problems.  And the second is, if you say you’re the best, you can’t be afraid of failure and you need to hold yourself to the highest expectations of excellence.

And that’s what this rally is about.  It’s a chance to say that we believe that Clayton can do more and should do more to enact best practices in fair and impartial policing, and lead our region in pursuing racial equity across all our municipal services.

That brings me to my 2nd point.  The power of apology.  As the parent of two kids under the age of 8, I spend a lot of time brokering apologies.  And if you have kids I bet that’s a big feature of your day to day life too.  Parents do this because being able to take responsibility for our actions is one of the hallmarks of adult behavior.  We teach our kids that we have to practice apologizing if we are to get good at it.  AND, we try to set a standard that this is what is expected, always, as a baseline, for productive relationships. 

Still, I’m struck by how very rare it is to see an incident like this one result in an apology.  To get to an apology took real courage on the part of the students, persistence on the part of the faculty and administrators that advocated on their behalf, and humility on behalf of the City Manager and Police Chief.  That’s worth remarking upon even though it should in no way be remarkable. 

I hope this becomes common practice moving forward.  And I further hope that we can all live up to the words of Daniel Tiger that I so often repeat to my children, “saying sorry is the first part” and then… “how can I help?”

That brings me to my final point.  The best apology is a change in behavior and change takes work.  I know that some of that work is already happening behind the scenes.  That’s great.

The purpose of this rally is to bring together a community of voices that give our city leaders the incentive, the support and the well-applied pressure to MAKE RACIAL EQUITY A PRIORITY -- even when and especially when change is hard. 

When our community fails to act it has a lasting impact.  It causes people to say “I think I’ll cross St. Louis off my list of places to travel, I think I’ll let other universities welcome my talents and potential, I think I’ll find another community in which to live and work, I think I’ll spend my dollars and my time elsewhere, I think I’ll invest in relationships with folks who value my humanity without proof.”

To anyone who feels that way, I want to say, I believe you.  Your concerns are justified.  And please know there are many of us working to change things.  Thank you for giving our community a chance, we’re glad to have you here.  

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The Not in Our Name Rally was organized in response to an incident of racial profiling by the Clayton Police Department. Moms and community leaders came together to call for their municipality's leadership to try harder and do better for all community members.

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