At this painful historical time, social workers statewide strongly condemn the May 25 murder of African American George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers and urge Virginia residents to unite for healing that enables collaboration and a recommitment to genuine progress toward racial equality, says the Virginia Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers.
Virginia is home to 1.6 million African Americans—19% of its total population and the ninth highest percentage in the country, according to the 2010 Census. Many Black residents feel disenfranchised, their cries for attention to inequities around education, housing, employment, health, and criminal justice carrying over from generation to generation without redress.
Social workers witness the short- and long-term harm and agony caused by these injustices every day in their jobs—from schools to hospitals, government agencies to private practices. As the largest behavioral health providers in the country, social workers already receive extensive diversity and inclusiveness training, follow a code of ethics and cultural values grounded in respect and tolerance, and advocate fiercely for the advancement of equality whether based in race, gender, sexual orientation, or other characteristic.
Now, others are waking up to the tremendous need to add their voices to ours. The shock of watching Mr. Floyd murdered in front of pleading bystanders and complicit peers has traumatized Americans to the point that indignation has moved into outrage and action.
We see and affirm the pain of the African American community and acknowledge four centuries of harassment, degradation, and injustices done to fellow community members due simply to skin color. The massive, largely peaceful protests show that larger society is finally demanding the end to atrocities such as police brutality against people of color. Like our NASW national leaders, we in Virginia echo the call for policing reform as a vital step toward racial unity.
A separate but related reform to diminish police violence would be adoption of a “Marcus Alert,” a de-escalation approach named for teacher Marcus David-Peters, who was fatally shot by officers in 2018 after having a mental health crisis. A Marcus Alert would require law enforcement to activate a mental health professional as a first responder with possible police backup in a situation identified as a suspected or confirmed mental health crisis. Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, who has advocated for a Marcus Alert system, reports that the city’s police department is already exploring how that intervention would work.
Social workers are well-educated in violence and systematic racism of all types. We as social workers stand poised to give informed input needed for deeper law enforcement training and procedural reforms. But we also support NASW’s demand that “before America can end racial disparities in use of force, there must be a change in police culture. Police departments must root out the many officers who continue to view Black lives as being less valuable than that of other Americans.”
As society comes to terms with the robust agenda needed to dislodge deeply embedded systemic racial bias, NASW Virginia pledges to step up more to do what it does best: advocate for the protection and equal human rights of our clients and the social workers who serve them. We pledge to scrutinize public policy even closer for signs of inequity in outcomes, fight effort to legitimize wrongdoing as acceptable norms, and further leverage the strengths of our members to offer solutions and insights that help Virginia and America truly become a place where “liberty and justice” is for all.