My Turn: More than lip service is needed to tackle racism

For the Monitor
Published: 6/8/2020 6:20:15 AM

This is a hard piece to write in the wake of the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade and Breonna Taylor. New Hampshire is not immune from institutional racism and addressing it requires far more than a photo op, the establishment of yet another diversity committee or the writing of an op-ed like this.

The past two Saturdays, I joined many others marching in Manchester and Concord. I went to show my support, to listen and learn from the leaders of Black Lives Matter, who voiced grave concerns peacefully.

The pandemic accentuates many unacceptable, long-unaddressed systemic racial problems within our health care system. Racial minorities are disproportionately impacted by the virus. Latinos are only 3.9% of our population here in New Hampshire yet suffer 7% of our COVID-19 cases. Black people, only 1.4% of our population, account for 5.6% of COVID cases.

Here are five concrete steps I will take to combat institutional racism if I am elected governor.

First, reduce the emphasis on paramilitary training at our Police Standards and Training Academy and shift training to implicit bias, mediation and conflict de-escalation skills. Such training will reduce the likelihood of incidents like the one that happened recently in Albany, N.H., where Jean Ronald Saint Preux was stopped by state police who broke his window and pulled him out of the car. Shifting training priorities and passing legislation, like House Bill 1217, that mandates police reporting of criminal misconduct by other officers, is absolutely necessary. The New Hampshire Senate must quickly pass HB 1217 as written.

Second, I would better fund our state’s federally qualified health centers (FQHCs), like Manchester’s Amoskeag Health. I served on the Amoskeag board for six years. FQHC patients participate on their boards to better reflect the needs of communities they serve, which includes New Americans and other people of color. This community-driven approach makes FQHCs a critical source of primary care for black and Latino residents with limited access to care.

Third, as the lead lawyer in the Claremont school funding case, I fought for nearly 30 years to fund schools fairly because education is a critical pathway to success. Fair funding must become a priority. Manchester schools have a 43% minority population, yet the city has the lowest level of education funding of any community in New Hampshire. I would also provide universal pre-kindergarten to all children in communities with 33% or more children in poverty and, given the pandemic will likely continue, I would ensure that every family has a working computer and access to the internet.

Fourth, I would legalize marijuana possession for adults and join our New England neighbors and Canada in leaving prohibition behind. Gov. Chris Sununu has shown a unique hostility to marijuana reform despite our Live Free or Die ethos. According to the ACLU-NH, a black Granite Stater is four times more likely than a white Granite Stater to be arrested and jailed for marijuana possession. I’ll also ensure we expunge prior criminal convictions that undermine job prospects.

Finally, New Hampshire is the only New England state that has failed to raise its minimum wage from a pathetic $7.25. Sununu vetoed attempts to raise the wages of our lowest-income citizens. Ironically many of these minimum-wage service workers have been deemed “essential” during the COVID crisis. A $15 minimum wage is necessary for Granite Staters to begin the climb out of poverty.

There will be many more things we should do to combat racial inequality, but we need to start with concrete actions that can be undertaken quickly. I am open to other suggestions and look forward to meeting and hearing from Granite Staters. And, although actions matter more, words still do as well. We must collectively condemn President Trump’s racially divisive rhetoric and threats to protesters.

(Andru Volinsky of Concord is an executive councilor for District 2 and a Democratic candidate for governor.)


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