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Facing Racial Injustice – for caregivers, empathy can be the path to racial healing

When a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd on May 25, it wasn’t the first time a white man acting on behalf of the government asphyxiated an unarmed Black man. Thousands of African-Americans were killed, often by public hangings, in the period after the Civil War and into the late 1960s.

We don’t like to talk about the ugly parts of our history, but we must. For Black people in America, lynchings never really stopped, they just took the form of police brutality. When the video of George Floyd’s murder went viral, it didn’t touch a nerve because it was something new, it touched a nerve because, for Black people, this kind of terror is very, very old.

UDW is a union that is, by majority, women and people of color. People look to us to lead on issues of equality and we do: we take bold stands on issues of social justice because we are made up of thousands of people who have been made to feel less than those in power in our country.

Last year, we took a stand against police brutality by co-sponsoring AB 392, a law that gave California one of the most restrictive police use-of-force laws in the country. This year we are co-sponsoring AB 2054, which will pave the way for communities to change the way we respond to emergencies—many situations, for example, may be better handled by mental health professionals and social services workers than police.

Our legislative work is important. But helping to build a racially just society will take more than passing police reforms: it will take all of us connecting to our shared humanity to create real equality.

“We can make policies, we can make laws, and they are effective up to a point,” said UDW member and District 6 Chair William Reed, who contributes to ending racism in his community by teaching courses on racial healing at local colleges. “But they will be ineffective unless we change what’s in people’s hearts.”

Changing people’s hearts means employing the tools caregivers use every day: empathy and compassion.

“When you care for another human, your heart leads the way,” said Wymon Johnson, a UDW member in Bakersfield. “We are now in a time of significant social change; that scares a lot of people who are used to the divisiveness and don’t want change. But we can’t let them keep us divided. There is power in our unity. Fighting for racial justice is a form of caregiving. It starts with love.”

Want to get involved with our Civil & Human Rights Council? Call your local office to learn more.