DESC stands with our community in calling for the major changes needed to overcome the systemic racism in our society that manifests in so many ways and especially in the killing of black people by police. The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery are only some of the most recent examples of the outcomes of our country’s pervasive and persistent racial injustice. We share our grief and solidarity with the Black, indigenous, and other people of color whose lives are harmed continuously by racism.
At DESC specifically, we must recognize that our own efforts at supporting and contributing to reform have not been enough, and it is time to follow the lead of community members whose voices have not been heard despite their powerful and sustained advocacy. Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County (BLMSKC) is using its voice to produce clear demands that must be enacted in our community. DESC adds our voice in support.
Our experience brings us to this point. As a social justice agency attempting to eliminate homelessness for people experiencing disability, high vulnerability, and marginalization, DESC has always seen the effects of societal racism on Black, indigenous, and other people of color who are far more likely to fall into homelessness and less likely to get the support they need to leave homelessness than white people with otherwise similar profiles. We see the effects of a criminal legal system that repeatedly arrests and incarcerates our clients but cannot provide what they really need. On the other hand, we have demonstrated that successful interruption of repeated incarceration occurs when people are provided with housing, care, and support. We also know that alternatives to arrest and incarceration, such as are provided by our Mobile Crisis Team and Crisis Solutions Center, and the behavioral health support DESC staff provide to SPD’s Crisis Response Team, are effective ways of providing help to people in crisis by behavioral health providers instead of police. These are the kinds of community investments BLMSKC is calling for, among other changes.
So much more needs to be done to change the roles and responsibilities of police. Even we at DESC over-rely on police support when our own de-escalation efforts are inadequate. We commit to reversing this, but it’s not simply a matter of will. Investment in a skilled workforce with enough capacity to be available to people in crisis, combined with the housing and income support people need, are critical factors in being able to change this unhealthy dynamic.
It is hard not to despair in the face of repeated racial injustice, but we wouldn’t be in this work if we didn’t believe in the inherent value of all people. We must hope and work so conditions and circumstances improve for the people we serve. That can happen when we truly embrace that Black Lives Matter. We stand together to make this a reality.