Below is the testimony I delivered today before Toledo City Council, or rather the three council members who showed up. The mayor also showed up for part of the testimony.
Democracy Day Testimony
March 5, 2018
Hi, my name is Dan Rutt. Today, I want to focus on one thing: that is, racism, or more precisely, white supremacy.
I am trained professionally in public health and I can attest to the effects of racial disparities across a sweeping array of health issues. It is key to note that these racial disparities cannot be explained away by differences in income, education or the like. Racism and white supremacy are baked into our system. Less than two weeks ago, the Center for Investigative Journalism released a massive, nationwide study of access to housing finance, for home mortgages and home improvement loans. Blacks were 2.7 times more likely to be denied loans than whites. Again, this is comparing loans for people with the same credit scores, financial ability to pay, and even for loans in the same neighborhoods. Of particular concern, this racial disparity is larger than during the Jim Crow era. Racism is not receding into the distance.
Today, I would like to further focus on the criminal justice system, which is perhaps the most palpable manifestation of racism in our society. At every stage of the criminal justice system, people of color are more likely than whites to be harassed by police, arrested by police, subject to bail or larger bail by judges, given harsher prison sentences by judges, and less likely to get parole. And please note again, that this is comparing for the same crimes. The treatment of people of color by the criminal justice system raises inescapable questions of what is criminal, what is justice, and what is the true nature of the system.
Within the last couple of weeks, Danny Brown, who was wrongly convicted of a murder in 1982, exhausted perhaps his last legal recourse to exoneration and access to just compensation for his nearly two decades in prison. As he enters his fourth decade of this criminally just nightmare, Julia Bates, the county prosecutor, continues her intransigence, in keeping Danny on a suspect list, so he cannot be cleared. The illusory case that she has held open for so many years denies Danny his chance at justice. The last time I saw Julia Bates on TV about Danny’s case she spoke about her concern for the money he might get if he is fully exonerated — speaking of valuing money over human life. Is anyone surprised that Danny Brown is a black man? Is anyone surprised that a hugely disproportionate amount of people across the country in similar situations are black men? Today, I call, again, for Julia Bates to close the case on Danny Brown or retry him.
Last year, U.S. Attorney General, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, visited our fine city and had a meeting closed to the media and the public, securing an entire block to keep him safe from looming democratic forces. He came promoting his initiative, unfunded initiative, to ramp up the failed drug war and get prosecutors to charge defendants with the maximum charges they can. This initiative is in direct opposition to an ongoing effort by our criminal justice system to seek ways to minimize sentences, particularly for nonviolent offenses. This Sessions initiative has been plagued by secrecy, including foremost, by our own Chief-of-Police, George Kral, who has been less than forthcoming about how Toledo got roped into this initiative, and what exactly does this initiative mean for Toledo. Does Chief Kral really expect that this hard-edged, law-and-order Sessions initiative won’t magnify existing racial disparities in our criminal justice system?
I am here today because I witness again and again evidence from top to bottom in our community that white supremacy is, at a minimum, poorly understood, and more importantly, in practice, widespread.
A view from the top may be most illustrative. During the recent mayoral race, CSRN, The Community Solidarity Response Network, our local Black Lives Matter group, held a mayoral candidates forum. The first question was, “How do you define white supremacy?” None of the four candidates defined white supremacy as institutional racism or society-wide systems of injustice against persons of color. This included our former mayor and our new mayor. The answers touched on white supremacy as neo-Nazis or the like — the worst of the worst. There were several versions of “a few bad apples” within society and some of our public institutions. And there was the issue of implicit bias, a polite term for subconscious racism.
All in all, I was left with the distinct impression that racism was a peripheral issue, largely something in the past, that the still-existing remnants needed some sweeping up; though, alas, there was plenty of regret for the occasional but rare racist that still managed to survive into our largely post-racial society. I was struck by the seeming apologetics around implicit bias, as if not intending to be racist largely mitigated the real-life effects of racism. I was left with the impression that racism was more about impropriety than injustice. Please remember that their answers were at a mayoral candidates forum within the specific context of the sponsoring group being an anti-racism group. I am hard-pressed to believe that they were caught unprepared to answer such questions, and I strongly suspect that their weak answers came close to their best effort.
I must confess that I was particularly struck by such a weak response of our then-Mayor, the African-American holding the highest elected office in our city. Yet, on further reflection this seemed less as some personal failure of hers than, in fact, as a rather apt example of how the powers that be, the status quo, is better characterized by the strictures and limits set by white supremacy in our body politic than by the life experiences of any given politician with a black body.
Our community is currently in the process of planning how to rehab our county jail. I have heard much about location, dominated by “not-in-my-backyard” attitudes, and about cost — not the disproportionate human cost borne by communities of color, but money, money, money. This is the present nexus and test regarding our true valuing of human persons over money. We may not have confederate statues to remind us of our racist heritage, yet, if a new jail is built without a bold plan to combat the racism inherent in our criminal justice system, then the new jail will be a very expensive monument to our racism. This is the $100 million question of the day. Many of us may take some comfort, even pride, in areas where Toledo may do better than other communities, but let us assure that this in no way dampens a bold resolve to end white supremacy in Toledo.
To that end, I call upon our mayor, Toledo City Council, and the Lucas County Commissioners to come up with a comprehensive plan to eliminate racism from our criminal justice system. THANK YOU.