TOGETHER WE HEAL: Springfield leaders discuss systematic racism

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — On June 6, Park Central Square in Springfield held 2,500 people trying to get across the message of “people of all races should be treated equally.”

That march and others nationwide stemmed from the death of George Floyd. Some U.S. cities are still seeing daily protests from groups who say systemic racism has to be addressed head-on.

What you’re about to see wasn’t our first “sit down” with them, but it was the one that revealed so much about what they call our “baked in” biases.

“Tired of talking, my generation isn’t as patient,” Toni Robinson NAACP president said.

Robinson wants to give the community a wake up call.

“I think the black community is really plagued right now with a lot of grief and anger and that’s very much valid and I feel like that’s kind of where I am personally and I’ve expressed that to the chief and other leaders,” Robinson said.

The NAACP is meeting with Springfield police and demanding change in how suspects are detained, how often people of color are pulled over and how police complaints are investigated.

“It was created in 1999 by the city council as a means to basically offer an appeals process for people who file complaints against police officers and didn’t agree with the finding of the chief of police,” Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams said. “It’s structured in that there are five members and they’re appointed by the city council or the city manager and approved by the city council”

These community members say you don’t have to look “only” at the streets to see inequity. Dr. Yvania Garcia-Pusateri works on diversity within the R-12 District.

“We see systemic racism in education when it comes to how are we teaching the history to our students what are our students learning who did they see at the forefront of history and who did they see being left out, ” Dr. Garcia-Pusateri said.

And if you’re not black or brown, recognizing systemic racism can be murky. Springfield’s city manager says we all have something to learn.

“If we can’t develop that perspective to understand why these things are of concern to those that are affected we’ll never be in a position to properly judge them and really be able to work with them,” Jason Gage Springfield City Manager said.

“Sometimes when confronted with the realities of our society and the disparities that exist just by numbers by data that some people get overcome with white guilt or what she noted as the notion of white guilt and will cry and the attention becomes on them,” Dr. Leslie Anderson professor at Missouri State University.

She says we have to be humble and receptive to what someone else’s experiences might be.

“White people can get defensive or sometimes not want to talk about it or change the subject,” Anderson said.

And all agree, the time for action is now.

“A very critical point in our history where people are saying we’ve waited long enough when we really want to see substantive action, and we really want to see some historic things begin to change dramatically for the better,” Dr. Lyle Foster with Missouri State University said.

Another interesting perspective from Dr. Foster, he says the manner in which people decide to protest can be very different.

While some hold signs and shout, others may lie down along a street corner in quiet protest and both are effective.

Essentially, he says “you do you” and it can send a message.

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