Debate addresses institutional racism against black people

Ashish Samaddar/Staff

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The Debate Union at Berkeley, in conjunction with the campus’s Black Student Union, hosted a discussion Sunday night about institutional racism against black people.

The debate, Black Voices: From Little Rock to Ferguson, was held in Anna Head Alumnae Hall and marked the Debate Union’s first of the fall semester.

The speakers at the event addressed broad questions about race relations by considering the extent to which racial issues dating back to the Civil Rights Movement pervade the educational, law enforcement and housing systems.

“Change and progression are two different things,” said Luke Tailor, a Sacramento rapper and speaker, at the event. “It might look different, but there’s no real change.”

Blake Simons, a member of the BSU and the deputy communications director of the Afrikan Black Coalition, cited the Federal Housing Administration’s practice of redlining as a possible source of recurrent poverty in black communities. Redlining rendered home ownership less accessible in predominantly black areas by denying mortgages based on a neighborhood’s racial composition.

BSU chair Cori McGowens said the BSU is interested in addressing police brutality incidents against black people. Tailor believes that relations between the police and black communities are naturally rocky because the laws that police officers enforce do not favor those communities in the first place.

Oakland Police Department Capt. Ersie Joyner acknowledged at the meeting that racism does exist in the law enforcement system and that some civilian shootings by police haven’t been sufficiently investigated in the past, stressing that police officers must remain honest and credible.

“We need to have the most competent people around who can do the job,” Joyner said.

OPD is working to increase police officer transparency and reduce unfair racial targeting through a new training standard called procedural justice, according to Joyner.

The police department has also launched a program called Ceasefire to identify groups or individuals involved in a crime and offer them resources to pursue a healthier path.

Some speakers remained cynical about whether social or political changes could reverse the effects of historical discrimination against black people.

“The status quo is so deeply embedded,” said Terrence Roberts, a speaker at the event and one of the nine black students who desegregated Little Rock Central High School in 1957.

Both Tailor and Joyner, however, emphasized how crucial providing educational resources to youth is to creating positive change in the black community. Simons pointed out that black students composed only about 4 percent of the total UC Berkeley population in 2014.

“People shouldn’t be so excited when black students go to Cal,” Tailor said.

Simons also suggested that black citizens defend one another after witnessing racial injustice.

Joyner believes that a national discussion about the current problems in the black community is necessary to address many systemic flaws.

“Racism and biases exist amongst all of us,” Joyner said. “There’s an issue, but at the end of the day, we need to have a narrative.”

Contact Kimberly Nielsen at [email protected].