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Al Heggins: Salisbury can’t afford to bury its head in the sand

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Al Heggins is the owner and founder of the Human Praxis Institute, a Salisbury-based human relations firm.

Al Heggins is the owner and founder of the Human Praxis Institute, a Salisbury-based human relations firm.

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Question: How Can Salisbury Ease Tension?

By Al Heggins

Is Salisbury the land of sand and buried ostrich heads?

The question is critical. The answer even more critical. The national state of police and black community relations is dismal. This has resulted in too many deaths. The latest deaths are those of Terence Crutcher of Tulsa, Ok., and Keith Lamont Scott of Charlotte. We all know Charlotte’s proximity to Salisbury. And the difference between Charlotte and Salisbury? “IT” just hasn’t happened here yet.

The “IT” I refer to is the violent outburst of angry people filling Fulton, Innes and Jake Alexander spilling over onto I-85, blocking the north- and south- bound lanes. Police officers donned in riot gear, forming lines and fighting with disenfranchised community members pushing against the foot of oppression. Tear gas billowing, sirens screaming, police batons and bare arms intertwined in a nasty, bloody dance.

By the Grace of God and the goodness of the universe, the tragic killing of an unarmed person of color at the end of a police gun or police officers senselessly killed in an ambush for wearing the blue has not happened in Salisbury.

Yet, we do have racial tensions boiling underneath the surface like magma, waiting for an opportunity to spew fire, lava, and brimstone. What we don’t want is to be caught on the beach, with our ostrich heads buried in the sand and withdraw in a panic when the hot lava flow sets us on fire. The time for Salisbury and our country to be proactive about dismantling racism is overdue.

Like many of you, my heart is bursting from the painful witnessing of the events this past week. Added to what we’ve seen over the past 2 ½ years … and longer. The flash-point is between police and communities of color; especially black communities. The root problem is the system that sustains institutionalized racism. That sustains unchecked practices. That gives permission for the disregard of non-white lives. That justifies the snuffing of black lives.

At this point I know some of you are saying “… here we go again … race-baiting …” Let’s pause for a moment and dissect race baiting. Race-baiting is the act of using racially divisive language or asserting racism out of context to intentionally create racial strife. Unfortunately, when racism is named within a legitimate context, those who want to ignore racism or claim that racism doesn’t exist will accuse those who speak up about racism as race-baiting.

The field of Critical Race Theory (CRT) — an academic area of study in the social sciences — examines the intersection of power, law and race within the context of society and culture. CRT allows researchers and practitioners to debunk the race-baiting notion by providing a framework to “… combine progressive political struggles for racial justice with critiques of the conventional legal and scholarly norms …”  (https://cyber.harvard.edu/bridge/CriticalTheory/critical4.htm)

When people of color and their white allies bring up racism and provide evidence (qualitative and quantitative) the power structure’s immediate allergic reaction is to shut down the conversation. This shutting down is analogous to the power structure inserting ear plugs and those speaking up about racial inequities having to swallow their frustration, stifle their pain, and stuff their anger. I submit it is well past time for Salisbury to do the deep work.

The deep work consists of our elected officials, municipal and county staff, and law enforcement engaging transparently with residents, businesses, health-care professionals, educators, our youth and interfaith community on issues of racial and social inequities. Transparency means being vulnerable with each other and taking the following steps together: participating in anti-racism training, building our emotional intelligence, increasing our states of consciousness, being honest and actively listening to each other’s truths.

Before the volcano blows.

Al Heggins is owner and founder of the Human Praxis Institute, LLC, a Salisbury-based human relations firm specializing in building welcoming communities through racial/social equity training, mediation and strategic planning.

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