America faces a question in the aftermath of sustained protests over the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.
It is not whether the looters who hit stores in Boston, Brockton, Minneapolis and other cities in the wake of largely peaceful protests by hundreds of thousands of Americans were justified. Rather, the question is: Where do we, as a society, go from here?
To members of this mostly white industry, who often share a passionate belief in property rights, the destruction in Minneapolis and around the country doubtless comes as a terrible, even offensive sight.
But buildings can be rebuilt. Shelves can be restocked. Fortunes can be made again. Human lives, once stolen, are gone forever.
We must recognize these protests and riots grow out of awful realities. We live in a state where centuries of discrimination and redlining have infamously left the median Black family in Greater Boston with a net worth of $8. A country where the justice system waits weeks to charge a white father-son duo caught on video gunning down a Black jogger in a white neighborhood.
The majority of protesters may not be violent, but it is undeniable that the scream America heard over the last two weeks is not just one of pain but also one of fury.
The words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. are as true today as when he spoke them at a Grosse Point, Michigan high school on March 14, 1968.
“And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear?” he asked. “It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.”
Admirably, many in the nation’s real estate and banking communities are declaring now is the time for real change to begin. Let that change begin today, as you finish reading this.
Many of you are prominent members of your communities; are your police officers regularly trained in and required to deescalate situations instead of using the aggressive tactics that so often leave broken Black bodies in their wake? Start conversations with your fellow civic and political leaders to make these key reforms a reality.
But this issue is also economic. Many of you are also key leaders in your companies. Do you go out of your way to bring new faces into the personal networks that govern so many career opportunities? Does your firm actively review its office culture and workplace policies, such as those governing hairstyles, to ensure they aren’t hostile to non-white workers? Is unconscious bias training common? If you are a lender, do you seek out and empower minority entrepreneurs and homebuyers? If you’re a developer, do you seek out fair partnerships with minority-owned firms in your projects?
America burned over the last two weeks because of a 401-year legacy of slavery and discrimination that is woven into the fabric of our society. It will take time to unravel that cloth and weave a new one, and we can’t start soon enough.
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