We cannot become immune to horrific tragedies that continue to occur, unabated, in this country. Over the weekend, yet another unarmed Black man, Daunte Wright, was shot to death by the police, in the same state and in close proximity to the location of George Floyd’s murder, not even one year ago. Given how horrific and inexcusable these incidents are, you would think that we would have come further by now. With respect to whether there is a problem with police violence and unnecessary use of force, intimidation, and aggression—the evidence has mounted far beyond what could conceivably be viewed as debatable. As we have stated before, when entire communities—indeed, large swaths of our nation’s populace—no longer trust or view an institution as a source of protection, the problem is the institution.
There are many of us, students, staff and faculty alike, who are involved in some way in the movement to end the system of policing that is currently in place in this country. This system is not working to fairly and equitably protect its citizenry, and it is repeatedly creating devastating consequences, inordinately so for people of color. There is no room in the profession of social work for complacency with the status quo when the stakes are so painfully high. And social work does have an important role to play in creating a new system, indeed a whole new infrastructure, for not only ensuring public safety, but also, critically, for rooting out bias and discrimination in the realization of public safety. We are way past the time for defining the problem; it is now time to create and implement solutions. Solutions are inextricably tied to the promotion of health, economic security, and wellbeing, to a fair and reasonable justice system, and to a democratic process that reflects and includes even the most marginalized members of society. These goals should be uncontroversial and universal.
As leaders of two schools of social work, our hearts once again go out not only to the families and friends of the victims of police violence, and to the communities suffering in the wake of such incidents, but to every person who carries the emotional toll, anxiety, and fear that accompanies a near complete lack of trust in an institution that is supposed to preserve and protect. And for those who do not carry this daily burden in the simple living of life, your voices and your actions do matter, enormously. Speak up and find a meaningful way to help achieve the stated goals above. Be part of the solutions unfolding and yet to unfold, and part of the conversations that are needed to make this happen. As social workers, this is part of our professional mission and responsibility.
Kristen S. Slack, PhD
Professor, Interim Director, and PhD Program Chair
Sandra Rosenbaum School of Social Work
University of Wisconsin-Madison
David J. Pate, Jr., PhD
Associate Professor and Chair of the Social Work Department
Helen Bader School of Social Welfare
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee