This Juneteenth marks 155 years since the emancipation of the last enslaved persons in Galveston, Texas. The Emancipation Proclamation had been signed almost two and a half years earlier, but its enforcement had been slow and inconsistent. It was justice denied. Since then, America continued to perpetuate injustice through Jim Crow segregation, redlining, employment discrimination, mass incarceration, policing and more. And still, systemic racism and anti-blackness take our breath away.
“I can’t breathe.” These are some of George Floyd’s last words before he was murdered last month, on camera, by a member of the Minneapolis police force sworn to serve and protect.
This type of brutality is all too familiar to Black residents of the District of Columbia: the families of Jeffery Price, Marqueese Alston, and D’Quan Young are still waiting for answers about why their loved ones are dead at the hands of police. The citizens of our city remain incarcerated in distant federal prisons, hundreds of miles away from home. Whole communities suffocate under the weight of racist institutions and systems. A District of 700,000 people, denied even the basic rights to autonomy and representation, because the skin color of our city’s population provokes fear among those in power. A city that can’t breathe.
Through the COVID-19 pandemic, we have learned the importance of wearing masks. Experts tell us that masks are a critical public health measure, not because they offer much protection to the wearer (they don’t), but rather because they prevent the unwitting transmittal of the disease to others. We wear masks for others, and we wear them to protect the community as a whole. Anti-racism work is no different. The disease of racism has been exposed—over and over again—and there is no choice but to address it. Everyone, but especially those with privilege, must affirmatively take on the work of being proactively, aggressively, unrelentingly anti-racist. It is a moral imperative, it is a legal imperative, it is a public health imperative. Justice is not about just us, it is about all of us.
The Constitution and Bill of Rights, the documents we rely on as the ACLU, have their own racist history. We commit to using our privilege and power to show up in service not only in this moment, but also in this movement for liberty, for liberation.
We stand in solidarity with those who are demonstrating, across our city and country. We stand with those who are educating—themselves and those around them—about how to dismantle 400 years of entrenched institutional and systemic racism. We stand with those who are elevating and amplifying Black voices. We stand with those who recognize that racial justice and civil rights are not the same thing, yet one cannot exist without the other.
We commit to continue holding people and systems accountable—including the Mayor, the D.C. Council, the Metropolitan Police Department, and the federal government. In return, we ask you--the D.C. community—-to hold us accountable. Watch our actions—the cases we take that challenge systemic racism, the policies we support and oppose, the partnerships we forge—and hold us accountable to the anti-racist work we must do.
Juneteenth is a celebratory day. It is a day that honors and lifts up Black freedom and joy. By doing this work, by holding each other accountable for collective liberation, anti-racism, and dismantling white supremacy—we can joyfully demonstrate that “Black Lives Matter.” And only then will our Black family, neighbors, friends, and colleagues be able to breathe.
— Allison Green, President, Board of Directors
Monica Hopkins, Executive Director
ACLU of the District of Columbia