MIAMI (CBSMiami) – COVID-19 exposed health and economic disparities in the African American community. The killing of George Floyd then exposed the social and criminal injustice they face.
Many are calling for change, including former State Sen. Dwight Bullard.
Currently the president of the South Miami-Dade branch of the NAACP, Bullard joined CBS4 News at 7 to share his perspective with Jim Berry and Lauren Pastrana.
Q: What are some of the steps that can be taken right now to bring about a change in a meaningful way?
A: Well, it really falls on a myriad of elected officials and community residents to really step into the gap and make sure that real change happens. I don’t want to not reflect on what the future holds. But I want to pay attention to the past. Miami-Dade County, for instance, has the authority to create a civilian oversight panel of police. They’ve had that in statute for four decades now. And yet, the current county mayor has not funded that program. The previous county mayor had not funded that program. We talked about in 2012 the repeal and reform of “stand your ground.” And there were cries then of the disproportionate number of African American lives that were being impacted by the use of that law. After the death of Trayvon Martin, yet again, there seemed to be no interest or excitement in moving the needle on that law. So what I would say is, the redress of those kinds of policies that have severe racial impacts have to be addressed at the state, county and federal levels. And, of course, the protests and people advocating is absolutely important. But I need to find the courage on the part of these elected officials who continuously choose to, in essence, racially dog whistle by failure to pass policies that could have addressed the issues years ago.
Q: We’re just five months away from the presidential election. Right now, the messaging from President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden couldn’t be more different. What do you make of the different tones in their leadership? The president talking about law and order and the need to maintain order on the streets, while Joe Biden is speaking more from a voice of compassion.
A: Well, I appreciate the differentiation between the two candidates, if you will. I know we have a president in the White House, but the reality is that he is stirring and has continued to stir racial hate, really since his election inauguration back in 2017. In the case of Vice President Biden, I appreciate the fact that he’s been present. He’s actually convened conversations with the black community, not only in his home state of Delaware but around the country via Skype and trying to help conversation to move forward. But there has to be more. There has to be intention. The reality is that policies passed by the vice president have detrimentally impacted the black community and those issues need to be addressed. The reality is that the current administration has yet to show any compelling desire to want to address the issue of the racial divide, the racial wealth gap or any of any of the aforementioned problems. But I also want to draw attention that here in Miami-Dade County we are electing a new mayor in less than just over two months, which is a more critical election, for us here. We’re electing, the potential to elect state attorneys in Broward and Dade. The opportunity to elect the sheriff in Broward. So those are elections that are that are even more important, especially when you’re talking about addressing the critical issues around racial wealth, mass incarceration, drug policy, social justice and mental health policies. Because this is ultimately what people are talking about. People are tired of saying the same thing and seeing no redress by people that claim to be elected and certainly in our best interest. The reality is that the moment of silence, days of thoughts and prayers have to come to an end when we’re talking about addressing real life situations that are resulting in the exponential number of deaths of black people that have been happening through policy for decades.
Q: It feels as if we’ve been having this conversation for a very long time about policing and accountability. Why do you think it’s been so difficult to institute real change?
A: I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but we’re talking about an institution, you know you think of Miami-Dade County, city of Miami in particular, the first African American police officers weren’t allowed to carry guns and weren’t allowed to have to arrest white citizens in their own city. So I say that to say that from its onset policy has had racial undertones that have failed to be addressed, and have only been compounded since then. The way in which black communities are policed versus other communities is something that fails to be addressed. If you talk to black citizens in Liberty City and Miami Gardens, they view policing as an exercise of military intent, as an exercise in violence. Versus our counterparts who live in Miami Beach, who live in Coral Gables, who live in these other areas, who can honestly say the notion of serving and protecting is something they feel. Versus that of black residents who had a long standing issue with the way in which policing is now. And that’s again a combination of custom policy and practice that has gone on for far too long.