In aftermath of shootings, NASW Louisiana Chapter statement calls on social workers to help bridge divisions in our society

Jul 25, 2016

Baton Rouge law enforcement officers (from left) Montrell Jackson, Brade Garafola and Matthew Gerald. Photo courtesy of CNN.

Baton Rouge law enforcement officers (from left) Montrell Jackson, Brade Garafola and Matthew Gerald. Photo courtesy of CNN.

For the second time in less than two weeks, the Louisiana Chapter of NASW (NASW-LA) offers its deepest condolences to families in our community who have lost loved ones.

This time, we extend our sincere sympathy to the families of law enforcement officers Montrell Jackson, Brad Garafola, and Matthew Gerald who were killed by the senseless ambush of law enforcement personnel on July 17, 2016 in Baton Rouge, LA.

The Chapter also extends its wishes for a speedy recovery to those who were injured in this assassination of law enforcement officers. This was an unspeakable and unjustified attack on all of us at a time when we need unity and support in our collective efforts towards change and healing.

We again join our nation in mourning the recent deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, two African American men who lost their lives during encounters with police; and, the five Dallas police officers Lorne Ahrens, Micael Smith, Michael Krol, Patrick Zamarripa, and Brent Thompson who died while protecting and engaging with peaceful protesters.

These senseless deaths are part of a larger societal context that is both historical and current, steeped in the insidious nature of institutionalized racism and oppression.  Our nation and our world are at a precipice where we have an opportunity to move toward unity or dive deeper into divisiveness, tension and more violence. If we dare, we can begin to honestly and openly engage in difficult conversations that can lead to positive change and outcomes for all.
The core values of NASW are vital to recall in this trying time:

•    Service
•    Social Justice
•    Dignity and Worth of the Person
•    Importance of Human Relationships
•    Integrity
•    Competence
While some may find it difficult to support both the police and the #BlackLivesMatter movement, we need to see past the divide and into our humanity that experiences the very real loss of lives through violence. We must remember that it is possible to call for an end to police brutality towards minority groups and to also call for the end of targeted attacks on police.   Any loss of life through violence is an unfortunate blow to our society as a whole so we must see past this divide and realizes that ultimately, we are all human and no group should be seen as superior to another.

As social workers, we need to awake to a very harsh reality in our nation across structures, systems, policies, and institutions that minority groups have not received the same treatment as the rest in our society.  Denying this reality only leads to continued discrimination and harm to all ethnic and racial minority groups.  We need to do the necessary work to ensure that #AllLivesMatter is something that society truly believes in and is not just a statement used to negate the experiences and emotions felt by people of color.

Our values call us to never forget or to allow for invisibility to continue. Consistent with our priority on race equity and social justice, NASW-LA calls on the profession to pause, listen and reflect on the national dialogue.  We all know that indeed all lives matter. That is why many of us are members of this profession.

It is often easier to dichotomize situations into being all good or all bad, villains or good guys, for or against. When we do this, we acquiesce to the perspective that positions must be in total opposition and mutually exclusive. This leaves us no room to grow together.   We also acknowledge the complexity of navigating intersections of identities for officers who are also persons of color. We hold space for the truth that oppression targets lives differently and as long as systemic racism exists, we all lose.

Dae'Anna Reynolds. Photo courtesy of the New York Times.

Dae’Anna Reynolds, who witnessed the police shooting of her mother’s boyfriend Philando Castile. Photo courtesy of the New York Times.

Escalating events and rhetoric that criminalize and demonize segments of our population require us to call upon social workers to clearly take a stance to create bridges to collectively heal and take actions to eradicate structural racism.  NASW-LA recommends that as members of a profession that has always advocated for social justice that we be part of the movement to advocate for reforms in the nation’s law enforcement system that enable officers to better understand the communities in which they work.

We need to volunteer to assist all communities and law enforcement to understand and celebrate our cultural differences.  Law enforcement needs to be provided, as part of their ongoing training, the opportunity to understand the cultures and communities they work in and how to peacefully and safely protect the rights of all groups.  We need to advocate for ongoing communication between communities and law enforcement.

The impact of systemic racism and oppression is a national problem and the root causes of disparities within our systems. In addition to the associated higher mortality rates for people of color, racism is a public health issue linked to collective, historical and vicarious trauma.

We understand the trauma of racism as persistent, multi-systemic assaults on the minds and bodies of groups of people in our society. We must engage individuals who are troubled by what they have witnessed on the news and through social media and facilitate access to resources that can be of assistance and identify the risks of repeated exposure to these mediums.

Most recently, with the repeated loss of lives, in the most horrific manner, significant segments of our society are experiencing trauma reactions. The manifestations are both psychological and physical. We encourage you to seek help.

NASW-LA calls upon social workers to think, communicate, and build together beyond the divisions that keep us separate. We are encouraging social workers to help bridge the divide by joining alongside all communities, in particular those we may not have in the past. This requires us to be open, honest and reflective as we take the risk to have the difficult conversations that lead to collective action.

It requires us to resist the defensive impulses to deny, change the narrative or explain away what has become undeniable. Racism and oppression are real. Racism and oppression separate us. Racism and oppression strip away our humanity. Racism and oppression dehumanizes and demonizes. Racism causes us to become ill. Racism kills.

Once again, we actively seek to engage the leadership in the community and the state to work together with NASW-LA and to join with us in this forward movement. We seek to strengthen relationships among people in a purposeful effort to promote, restore, maintain, and enhance the well-being of children, individuals, families, organizations, and communities across our state and country.

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