After Another Tragedy, It’s Time To Make Real Change A Priority*

Author: Ed Ray, President, Oregon State University

Publish Date: Summer 2020

The primary role of police in America is to provide for the safety of all people by protecting them from criminals and to hold each of us accountable to the law. We expect police to apprehend criminals and work within the legal system to make certain that justice is blind and all are held accountable to the law.

We all have watched in horror videos being replayed over the past week showing the life of George Floyd brutally taken from him by a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minn., while three other officers sworn to uphold the law looked on in indifference. Sadly, this horrific event is just the latest in a seemingly endless stream of acts of violence against Black and other people of color by police who are sworn to protect and serve them.

We continually hear speeches and testimonials about how unacceptable and terrible these acts are and how our leaders feel the pain of the Black community. Yet, nothing changes much and we act as if these horrific events are singular or isolated events. But these are not one-offs. They are the product of a failed justice system that perpetuates racism in America and too often a culture of silence within police forces that protects incompetent and hateful people simply because they wear the badge. We are condemned to relive these tragedies unless we make real change a priority throughout this country.

America must be a land of personal and equal freedom, safety and opportunity for all people. That attitude should be universal in this country regardless of who we are, where we live or what we look like.

But how can we expect America and all people who live here — including communities of color — to thrive in the midst of such violence and injustice? How many times must we write the same messages expressing our outrage and hurt, sharing our thoughts and prayers for those harmed, and pleading for an end to injustice? How many acts of discrimination, injury and death must occur before our country confronts the realities of the lived experiences of people of color in our society? All of this must stop and that requires action not speeches.

Policing is a local function, but our system of policing requires systematic change across the country. Most police are good, dedicated, under-paid and hard working men and women, who risk their lives every day for the well-being of all people. They deserve our thanks and respect and they should not be subject to public scorn because we are incapable of holding some police accountable to the laws of our country and communities simply because they wear a badge.

The novel coronavirus pandemic has made all of us look at the inequities in our society. We call people essential workers and yet we systematically pay them less than living wages and deny them critical health care and quality education for themselves and their children, and we act surprised that they are disproportionately vulnerable to death from the COVID-19 pandemic because of pre-existing conditions and that they are disproportionately people of color. When do we get disgusted enough with what we have created and say enough?

In closing, I ask that each of us continue to participate in dialogue, leadership and understanding as we seek to alter the direction of society. I know this will not happen overnight, but by God it needs to happen soon.

*Edited to fit formatting. Full statement is here: