Right now, you’re probably dealing with just trying to ensure that your small business survives the impact of Covid-19. But America is at a turning point, and your voice matters. Small business owners are some of the most respected members of their communities. What you say, what you do is important.
Last week yet another unarmed African-American was killed at the hands of police. Watching the video of the murder of George Floyd is heart wrenching. But it’s just the latest in a string of police killings of unarmed black victims—often killed for the smallest of suspected crimes or no crime at all.
People of color, especially those who are black, literally risk their lives just walking down the street in this country. Last week, an African-American man was birdwatching in New York’s Central Park. When he politely asked a white woman to leash her dog (dogs were not allowed off-leash in the area), she called the police claiming an African American was threatening her. The woman knew calling the police could end up terrorizing the innocent man—putting potentially lethal force on her side, even if she was the one breaking the law.
The murder of George Floyd has made it all too obvious that America is a country where an unarmed person of color can be killed by a person in authority for the smallest reason, or no reason at all. That is the definition of a police state.
Peaceful protesters have taken to America’s streets to demand justice. Others have used this moment to vent their anger, turning to destruction and looting. All too often, it is small businesses that are the unintended victims of such destruction. That makes us angry, and afraid.
But boarding up windows in your small business, or getting a security camera, or even getting a gun won’t make you safe. More police won’t make you safe. The only solution to injustice is justice.
Here are things you need to know:
- Police killed 1000 Americans in 2019, three a day. In comparison, in 24 years, British police only killed 55 people; German police only killed 15 people in 2010 and 2011 combined. Killing is often the first, not the last, resort in American policing.
- Blacks were 24% of those killed, though they are only 13% of the population.
- Over the last three decades, spending on prisons and jails has grown three times faster than spending on K-12 education. The disparity is even worse when it comes to spending on college education.
- California, like many states, spends six times as much on a prisoner than on a student—$64,642 per inmate versus $11,495 per student.
- Income inequality is great and growing. In 2016, upper income families had 75 times as much wealth as lower income families. In 1983, they only had 28 times more.
Years ago, I asked a Texas school specialist what could be done to reduce juvenile delinquency. His answer surprised me: “give workers a living wage.” Most parents, he said, want the same things for their kids—to get a good education, to behave, to get ahead. But when a parent has to work two, three, even four jobs to put food on the table, they don’t have time to sit down and do homework or go to church or eat dinner together. And that was before the “gig economy” and outsourcing and internet platforms that keep essential workers as underpaid, overworked ‘independent contractors.’
We must change American priorities, culture, attitudes. What can we—you and I—do?
- Contact elected officials—federal, state, local levels. Demand a change in our spending priorities: more money for education, housing, health care; fewer resources for police and prisons.
- Demand accountability. Call for those who abuse power—including or especially the police—to be held accountable for their actions.
- Call on police of good will to speak up, to insist the culture of policing in America be de-militarized. Let’s have police who are once again public servants instead of public threats.
- Be very, very careful before calling the police on a person of color for a minor crime. Recognize they might be put in a life-or-death situation for something as small as running a stop light or passing a bad check.
- Talk to your children, and to your friends and family members. Let them know that while we may want a color-blind society, it doesn’t exist and people of color will be treated differently in every aspect of life.
- Pay a living wage. Create jobs that pay enough so that your employees can go home to their families at night instead of needing a second or third job.
- Make common cause with entrepreneurs of color to demand a change in priorities and justice. Mentor a young person of color to help them become an entrepreneur as well.
- Register to vote and vote. This November your vote can help change the tone and direction of America.
When you see looting or rioting—and this is not to excuse it—if you or your neighbor thinks or says something like, “well those people behave that way, what do you expect?” ask yourself the more pertinent question. “If our society behaves this way—if we do not give people respect, equal opportunity, quality education, decent housing, access to affordable health care, a chance for a better life—what do WE expect?”
Americans like to think we’re the greatest country in the world. But America is not great if it is only great for some. For America to be great, America must be fair and just. As small business owners, our voices have weight. We must demand accountability for those who abuse power. We must work for equal opportunity for all. And in November, all of us must vote—vote for leadership that works for a just and fair America, an America that works for everyone. Your voice matters. #BlackLivesMatter
Copyright Rhonda Abrams, 2020
This article originally ran in USA Today on June 3, 2020