We’re watching, we’re listening, and we’re outraged by the latest examples of police murder of Black people.
AVLF’s mission is to create safe and stable homes and families by inspiring the fight for equal justice. We know that our clients – the vast majority of whom are Black – are disproportionately and relentlessly targeted by the criminal justice system.
Whether tenants have access to safe and stable housing is directly impacted by their experience with the criminal justice system. Our clients are disproportionately subjected to and harmed by police surveillance, harassment, violence, arrest, incarceration, unaffordable cash bails, biased courtroom outcomes, and unjust conditions of probation and parole. And the collateral consequences of arrests and convictions in Georgia too often prevent our clients from getting housing, as well as jobs, education, and much more.
The resulting lack of trust between our clients and law enforcement also impacts our ability to help our clients advocate for safe living conditions. Police reports are helpful pieces of evidence in matters involving unsafe communities or illegal self-help evictions – but many of our clients’ past experiences with police have convinced them that calling the police will only make the situation worse.
Other insidious forms of discrimination and racism in the rental and sales market further minimizes people of color from safe and stable housing.
Survivors of intimate partner abuse often are apprehensive of calling the police on their abusers not only out of fear of being arrested themselves, but out of fear of their abusers being violently mistreated or even killed by police. Even when they do get a protective order, the phrase, “it’s just a piece of paper” becomes all too real for survivors if they cannot rely on police to safely enforce the order when responding to the call.
A One-Size-Fits-All approach does not work in intimate partner abuse response and prevention. Failing to address the lived experiences of survivors’ identities as more than their victimization is problematic and irresponsible of mainstream advocacy. Comprehensive advocacy must be rooted in constant acknowledgement of the cultural expressions of survivors’ unique circumstances as they face issues related to intimate partner abuse and violence towards their communities.
The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and more are a reminder of the dangers of calling police. When we tell our clients to call the police in the event of an emergency, what exactly are we communicating to them? Our Standing with Survivors program is a great example of how developing relationships with law enforcement and educating and training police officers can help our community. But as a community – and a nation – we have a long way to go. Our pursuit of civil justice for low-income Black and Brown clients is necessarily informed by these realities.
As an organization, we have lots of work to do.
We recognize that white people carry the responsibility to dismantle white supremacy. In an organization like AVLF – led by a white Executive Director, a white Deputy Director, a majority-white group of staff Directors, and a Board of Directors and Leadership Council that are largely white – this recognition means taking a searching and long-overdue look at ourselves. As an organization, we need to be sure we are speaking up when we see racism and injustice – and play an active role in changing the world for our clients and staff members of color.
Earlier in 2020, we began the lengthy and challenging – but critical – process of starting an internal conversation about race and racism at AVLF. The recent murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd have driven home the urgency of doing this work, and doing it thoughtfully and well.
We believe that white silence is a form of racism.
We exist within a system of white supremacy and must call out systemic racism. Our work to examine our own place in a white supremacist system will be, and should be, deeply uncomfortable for our white staff and Board members. But if we don’t commit to that work, we take refuge in a tainted silence.
AVLF is committed to supporting our Black staff and other staff members of color, at the same time that we recognize we have a long way to go before our diversity resembles true equity. We are committed to our clients, and to listening and learning with humility so that our relationships with them can be truly effective.
- We are planning workshops that address and teach our staff how to deal with the vicarious trauma they experience as they bear witness to the effects of racism on our clients – and experience it themselves.
- In the coming months, we commit to hiring a professional consultant to work with AVLF and organize trainings around racial equity for our Board and Staff members.
- We have always been committed to providing our clients with the highest quality legal representation. We recognize that if we are not actively working to provide our volunteers with anti-racism training and the tools to meaningfully represent Black clients and other clients of color, we are failing to live up to our own standard. On June 3, Trevi-Ann Thompson and Cynthia Padilla Pearson presented a webinar on Working with Women & Girls of Color in Intimate Partner Abuse cases. We highly encourage all volunteers who were not able to participate live to watch the recorded training.
As you can see, these plans are a small start – and we have a lot of work to do. Even so, we’re determined not to let our inevitable mistakes stop us from doing the work, and we invite any white leaders at other organizations to work alongside us. Our collective liberation depends on it.
Your Friends at AVLF