Without job opportunities, there’s no hope. Without quality education and mental health support, you can bet on the violence. Add lack of police reform legislation to that, and you have no accountability.
That’s just a small part of the message NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson has for leaders in cities across America, including Knoxville.
The pandemic and a racial reckoning that shook the world after the death of George Floyd has been no match for the head honcho of the nation’s largest and most widely recognized civil rights organization.
Johnson has been dealt quite the challenge but it’s one he has prepared for his entire life.
He’s proved it by using the powers the NAACP was built for, by suing former President Donald Trump, twice, most recently over the Capitol riot in January; the federal Board of Education under former Secretary Betsy DeVos accusing her of illegally changing the rules for allocating $13.2 billion in Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act money to benefit wealthy private K-12 schools; and didn’t hold back his outrage toward the Biden Administration over the treatment of Haitians at the border. He’s been calling for swift police reform after numbers of Black men have been brutalized by law enforcement, and if that’s not enough he just launched a lawsuit against South Carolina and its redistricting practices, hoping to stop efforts of voter suppression toward Black Americans.
More with the president: Derrick Johnson: Tennessee juvenile detention practice is ‘unconscionable’
His latest work, the NAACP’s COVID KNOWMORE initiative, is an effort to educate African Americans on health disparities and the safety of vaccinations.
Johnson, born in Detroit, attended college at the historically Black Tougaloo College in Jackson, Mississippi, before heading off to law school in Houston at South Texas College of Law. He served as the state president of the NAACP of Mississippi where he made a number of advancements. That work led him to be selected as the organization’s national leader.
Johnson discussed the work he is doing and the role the NAACP is playing in areas of health care, voting rights and public safety in an interview with Knox News.
Question: Right now we are at the back end, hopefully, of the COVID-19 pandemic, and I know the NAACP has been a key player in making sure African Americans are educated on vaccinations. Tell me more about the KNOW MORE initiative and what you hope to achieve with it.
Answer: Yes, the NAACP launched the COVID KNOW MORE campaign to inform African Americans of their options to ensure that they keep themselves safe, and their households safe, in their communities today. And it’s really important as an organization that we lend our voice to options in this era of misinformation that’s placed on social media, where more people in the Black community are looking for validators to understand how to navigate the current climate around health. This is a tool we hope will educate our people about this virus and lead them to protect themselves and their communities.
Q: COVID-19 exposed and exacerbated disparities in the Black community in regard to the health care system. What do you feel must be done to address these disparities?
A: We always want to encourage individuals to fight with facts, keep themselves safe and understand the importance of this moment of health equity and health outcomes. We have to continue to advance options for health equities, so we can have a more positive outcome in terms of our experiences when it comes to the health care system.
Also, what we’re looking at is a global pandemic. And as a nation that’s leading in terms of science, technology and research, we have an obligation to make sure we do our part to support the global community. We need to do that so this pandemic is something that can be controlled.
Also, when you talk about individuals who may or may not be citizens of this country, but in this country, we must treat all humans with respect, and dignity. We must ensure that we are able to contain this pandemic and support measures in which any individual seeking or needing a vaccine and healthcare support, that we provide that support. If we allow individuals to go without a vaccine or without health care just because of their status, we can be assured that the pandemic as we have witnessed over the last year and a half will continue. When we step up we can actually slow down the spread of the virus.
Q: Another issue we are seeing as an epidemic in Black communities is public safety. We’ve seen increased gun violence here locally and around the country. Why do you feel that is the case?
A: I think we’ve had a problem with gun violence in this country for far too long and the gun lobby has done very little to have changed the budget directory for where we are as a society. I think a possible reason for the uptick is the anxiety people are feeling in this current reality of being partially quarantined. The mental health impact of last year’s shutdown will have a profound effect on communities across the country and households. And we have far too many unresolved mental health issues as it is. We have underdeveloped our mental health capacity to support communities, particularly communities who are living in trauma.
Q: What are some of the strategies needed to address the immediate crisis when it comes to gun violence? How do we get to the root of the underlying causes?
A: We need true federal legislation to address the gun laws so that we can right-size our laws to protect our citizens. Secondly, we need to identify pockets where there have been upticks in gun violence, and provide the type of support and community support for both social work and mental health, and identify the root causes of the violence. And it may differ from community to community.
But there are three factors that seem to be a common denominator. The lack of job opportunities, therefore the lack of hope. The lack of quality of education as being provided, and the quality of the mental health support in any particular community. And you can narrow that down from zip code to zip code. Just isolate where you see violence, and immediately divert resources to support those communities long-term so that we don’t continuously have these recurrent, negative impacts.
Q: There’s been this reckoning over police killings that became a movement in the spring of 2020. But many political leaders failed to enact significant police reform. What is the best strategy for Americans determined to see police reform?
A: You know, until and unless Congress acts and adopts substantive police reforms to hold individual officers accountable for illegal activity, we’re going to continue to have problems that we currently see. There are thousands of police agencies across the country. And you have thousands of set policies by which they are governed. That is a problem that’s built there.
We must move to a system of having an accountability standard that’s national in scope, an accreditation requirement to ensure that officers are properly trained. And we need to reposition the profession of law enforcement so it is of a higher quality, therefore, we can recruit more talented individuals to go into the profession.
Q: Is there any certain legislation that you believe would assist in this and remedy this crisis? Is there any specific legislation you would like to see?
A: Yes, the House of Representative passed the George Floyd Police Reform Bill. It is sitting in the Senate. We would like for the Senate to do their job and adapt police reform policy so that more communities can feel safe, not only from issues that may exist in our communities but feel safe from those who have been sworn to protect and serve by actually protecting and serving.
Q: Republicans across the country are trying to restrict voting access for people of color. What are you doing to protect voter rights? And what message do you have for Americans about this effort to subvert voting access?
A: The NAACP, we have engaged in multiple lawsuits in various jurisdictions across the country. In fact, this morning, we’re filing a lawsuit in South Carolina as it relates to their redistricting practices. The same would be the case in Texas. So we’ve taken legal action.
Secondly, we’re working hard for Congress to pass voting rights protections, it is absolutely crucial that we put in place a system of voting protections to protect our democracy. And what we’re seeing across the country is calculated and deliberate attempts by many individuals across jurisdictions seeking to select which voters should participate in elections. As opposed to voters selecting which elected officials should go into office. That is not a democracy.
And it’s important for all citizens, not just African Americans, to recognize the harm it would have to this country and to prevent what’s taking place. We cannot send troops to fight abroad to protect democracy if we’re unwilling to protect democracy here at home and domestically.
Q: How can local NAACP chapters leverage their power during this pandemic in regard to voting rights access, police reform and vaccinations? How can they utilize their power during this time?
A: The NAACP is the nation’s largest civil rights organization, with over 2,200 units across the country in local communities, such as Knoxville, Tennessee, all the way across. Our members are engaging in political education. They are the eyes and ears to ensure access to voting is afforded to all citizens. And they have consistently supported voter participation by providing a rise to the polls and providing education to citizens. So everyone can understand the power and importance of their vote.
As for the NAACP as an advocacy organization, it is our job to monitor the implementation of public policy and how agencies are operating in a more equitable and inclusive manner. And that also includes law enforcement agencies that our tax dollars pay for the government that governs.
Our role is to ensure that government is both equitable, that we are treated with equal protection under the law as guaranteed by the Constitution, and reflect the needs and interests of the taxpaying citizens which in many cases, are overwhelmingly working individuals who work every day and only seek an opportunity to have a fair quality of life.
Credit: Source link