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Keeping the momentum going

What happens next? How do we keep the momentum going? Where do we start?

We are at a potential turning point in our nation. We are in the throes of the most important national conversation there is, a centuries-old debate that is addressed most often in the wake of violent clashes among our own citizenry: Are we really equal? Not in how we’re treated.

So here we are again, amid high-profile cases of people of color being killed in racist incidents. Here we are again as protesters — peaceful protesters — are being met with violence by those who are supposed to protect and serve. Here we are again as people are demanding the equal rights and equal protections afforded them under the U.S. Constitution.

“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside,” reads the 14th Amendment, adopted in 1868.

“No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Many Americans are still fighting for that equal protection guaranteed more than 150 years ago. And more than 50 years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, many Americans are still fighting for rights likewise enshrined in that landmark piece of legislation.

In Charles County we have had peaceful protests with law enforcement agencies actively participating. Riots rage in other parts of the country, particularly following the shooting of an African American man by a white policeman over the weekend in Atlanta. But for us here, for now, the marching is over. However, a Juneteenth celebration is planned this Saturday at Middleton Hall in Waldorf. The free event starts at 3 p.m. with music, food and drinks.

What happens next? How do we keep the momentum going? Where do we start?

The last question is the easiest to answer — but by no means easy to tackle. We have to start here. We have to crack open the zoning books, the land use plans, the codes of local laws, the budgets and look at these documents with new eyes. These are the instruments that affect our day-to-day lives and plot the future for our community and community members.

And we have to hold our leaders — elected and appointed — accountable.

Some letter writers have bristled at our suggestion in this space a few weeks back, after the death of George Floyd while in custody by Minneapolis policemen, that it’s a different experience for black people when dealing with law enforcement.

And while all families certainly should foster respect for police officers and others in authority, we reiterate that it’s especially important for black families to have “the talk” with their children about how to behave in the presence of law enforcement. A huge part of the clashes between minorities and the criminal justice system is that so many African Americans — men in particular — feel automatically and unjustly branded as suspects. This absolutely should not be. The old saying is that justice is blind, but it also needs to be colorblind.

So we start by talking, in our homes and schools, in our neighborhoods. Communication and understanding will open doors for our collective future.