End of the year message from Vice President, Michelle Osterhoudt
A Message from you NAACP Vice President:
2020 will long be remembered as a year of human suffering exacerbated by a global pandemic. Widespread participation in summer-long, Black Lives Matter (BLM) movements had profound political ramifications throughout our country. The BLM movement asserted that from the beginning, in many places in America, the lives of people of color have been disregarded and deemed less worthy of respect and protection than white people’s lives. The local branch of the NAACP responded to some of this year’s developments with support for BLM demonstrations in Oneonta and throughout the region. The organization was also very active in promoting the US Census and voting campaign efforts--both significantly impacted by the pandemic. As 2020 comes to an end it is worth reflecting upon the participation and positions of our local chapter.
The BLM movement was obviously a response to a systemic pattern of deadly violence against black citizens that was often perpetuated by law enforcement personnel in cities throughout our country. These events, often recorded and shared, have continued to bring to light these injustices on a wide scale. The single event that seemed to trigger outrage even far beyond this country was the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis this past June.
The one positive outcome of these events and the protests led by BLM and other groups insisting on justice, included the formation of committees to review and revise some of the practices and policies of the local police departments. Oneonta Area NAACP leaders here believe that it is misleading to generalize about defunding police forces, given the huge differences among police departments in jurisdictions throughout the country. The police department in the city of Oneonta is an example of an agency that is willing to work with the local NAACP, Job Corps and the overall community. OPD is understaffed and would benefit from increased funding. Additionally, increased budgetary support for mental health professionals and social service agencies could allow those agencies to assist local police in dealing with situations that could be better handled by those agencies. And certainly, in many municipalities, local police departments should be revamped and reformed in a variety of ways that can address the worst abuses that minorities have historically suffered. Police unions should not be allowed to cover up abuses that occur and police who transgress should be identified and prosecuted with legal protections that are guaranteed to all citizens. The best generalizations about police throughout the country should emphasize the importance of these public servants who devote their lives to law enforcement in their own communities. We are proud to work alongside Chief Brenner and OPD to help foster better relationships among police and our community members.
Initially the 2020 Black Lives Matter demonstrations generated much optimism about improvements in race relations throughout the country. The widespread involvement of young people, many whites alongside people of color, could be seen in our own region from Delhi to Cooperstown, Bainbridge and beyond. We saw that increasing numbers of people now recognize the persistent, systemic nature of racism in our society even as improvements must be acknowledged and praised. Ordinary people are increasingly encouraged to be involved--no longer comfortable with being bystanders. Additionally, people came forward this summer to share their stories of discrimination and racism. Many of us felt liberated telling our stories. Stories need to be shared so that we remember to stay the course and continue to fight for social justice.
Our optimism about rapid improvements has since been dampened because, for several complicated reasons, some of the demonstrations in urban areas led to violence, looting, and chaos. No central leadership was ever in control of a massive movement which many could exploit and manipulate for different reasons. It became too easy to politically, simplify, and distort why the BLM movement seemed out of control. It has come to the point where many believe that one can only support police or BLM. We believe that improving race relations and supporting law enforcement are very compatible causes. We support both police and anti-racist activists simultaneously. Let it be known and spread far and wide--that the NAACP locally and nationally does not support any acts of violence in the name of racial equity or protest of such.
Lastly, your local NAACP enthusiastically encouraged members and citizens throughout the area to vote in the recent elections. There were similar efforts throughout the country to increase participation at the ballot box. The result was a record 66% turnout of eligible voters. Given the results of this year’s election and the uncertain future of the BLM movement at the end of 2020, the Oneonta Area NAACP looks forward to a year of uncertainty and struggle with the hope of progress. The NAACP has been fighting for racial justice and equal opportunity since its inception in 1909. The motto of the New York State Conference of the NAACP is, “When we fight, we win!” And continue to fight we will.