Alexandria, VA

As the country grapples with the death of George Floyd at the hands of four since-fired Minneapolis police officers, and the fiery protests that have followed, Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson has released a letter to the community.

Wilson said that a “culture of white supremacy” is present in Alexandria, and that the current coronavirus pandemic has exposed how residents of color have high infection rates.

“The on-going COVID-19 outbreak has exposed one aspect of the disparities that exist in our City, as residents of color have been more infected, struggle more to recover and die more than our white residents have,” Wilson wrote on Facebook. “This is not because the virus is racist. It is because generations of disparities of every kind have created deep racial divides in health conditions and healthcare access.”

Wilson said that Floyd’s memory will be honored in Alexandria when it improves the inequities associated to wealth, education, housing, in health and in justice experienced by residents of color.

The full message is below.

Collectively, we have again been witnesses to a black man’s murder by a public servant sworn to protect and serve. I have struggled over the past few days to figure out the right words to say in response. We look to leaders with a performative expectation to fill the void with wisdom and a suggested path forward. As leaders we scour the internet for wise quotes, search for articles, looking for anything that might give those that we serve a reason to be hopeful.

But I got nothing.

Those who know me, know that I am prone to bulleted lists of policy answers for the problems that face our community. Perhaps, to a fault. I could certainly cite our racial equity initiative, our work to bring more transparency to policing, the plans for body-worn cameras in our future, work to ensure diversity in our police force, our efforts to train public safety employees in de-escalation techniques and our community policing initiatives. But we have heard all of this before.

Checklists do not solve this problem. We are called upon to uproot a culture of white supremacy woven into our founding as a nation, perpetuated through law and custom for generations, and present today in even the most “progressive” communities in our country, including Alexandria. That is a culture of white supremacy that devalues black lives and ignores the impact of hundreds of years of history on the present.

The on-going COVID-19 outbreak has exposed one aspect of the disparities that exist in our City, as residents of color have been more infected, struggle more to recover and die more than our white residents have. This is not because the virus is racist. It is because generations of disparities of every kind have created deep racial divides in health conditions and healthcare access.

In our City there are deep racial divides in wealth. This is not because the actors in our economy are all racists. It is because generations of disparities of every kind have built an economy that perpetuates wealth for those who have it and hinders social mobility for those that lack it.

A few months ago a homeowner in one of the most affluent neighborhoods in our City pulled me aside and showed me the early 20th century restrictive covenant that he had unearthed for his home. That document stated that “no lot or any part thereof shall ever be sold, leased to or occupied by any person of the negro race.” This was the line after the document stated that “pigs, poultry, cows and goats” could also not be kept on the premises. While those agreements, and the subsequent “redlining,” “steering’ and other insidious tactics have been illegal for decades, their legacy can safely predict how and where Alexandrians in the year 2020 live, work, learn and play.

In wealth, in education, in housing, in health and in justice, our City is full of inequities, some glaring, some subtle.

When we fix that, we will truly be doing something to honor George Floyd and the many that have preceded him and those that will likely follow him.

Collectively, we have again been witnesses to a black man’s murder by a public servant sworn to protect and serve. I…

Posted by Justin Wilson on Friday, May 29, 2020

Staff photo by James Cullum

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