This Particular Moment

September 29, 2020

Where We Go From Here

Ryan Haygood, CEO, New Jersey Institute for Social Justice

Where are we putting our attention and our money? New Jersey Institute for Social Justice CEO Ryan Haygood believes we must seize this moment in history to fix the cracks in society’s foundation – cracks created by structural racism and worsened by the coronavirus pandemic. Haygood offers recommendations for moving away from incarceration and over-policing to envision a world with safer communities that works to repair the harms injustice has wrought on people of color.

In this video:

  • The importance of this moment in history (0:22)
  • The cracks of structural racism in society’s foundation are being worsened by the coronavirus pandemic, police violence against Black people, and economic challenges. How can we build institutions and systems to protect against future crises? (1:19)
  • How a history of racism has created the racial inequities New Jersey sees today (3:25)
  • Moving away from making investments in criminal justice to making investments in communities (6:23)
  • Reimagining the role of police in keeping communities safe (8:39)
  • Building accountability into policing (11:55)
  • Harnessing compassion to repair harm and historic injustice (14:00)


RYAN: Wait, what exactly is this? OfficeSuite HD. Okay.

ANTONY: Yeah, I don't know. I just, I do what I'm told.

RYAN: [Laughing] Fair enough.

ANTONY: I would love to ask. What's the mood in Newark right now and what's your mood?

RYAN: So, my mood, it varies from day to day. I think I've really been inspired by the way in which people are advocating, like using their voices. They're motivated to go to the streets. They're motivated to speak up on issues. You know, I've been thinking a lot about this particular moment, you know. So, Dr. King, when he's assassinated, there are protests in hundreds of cities across the country. In this moment, we've seen protests in thousands of cities across the country, right? So that's inspiring. I think I'm also, sort of at once nervous about the moment – I'm nervous because moments are sort of, they're that. So if you don't pay attention, you can miss the moment. So, I've been thinking a lot about yes, the enthusiasm, yes, the awakening, but how do we maximize the opportunity for progress in this moment.

ANTONY: And what do you think it's going to take to maximize that opportunity? And what resources, or relationships, or power do organizations like yours need to be ready when the moment appears as the way it has now, before that window closes?

RYAN: So, I agree. I love the question. I think, you know, what it requires is one, to have the kinds of conversations that we haven't been willing to have, right?  I mean, very candid conversations about the role that structural racism has played and is playing in getting us to this moment. This moment, perhaps more than any other moment in recent history, exposes the way that our foundation is cracked by structural racism. And those cracks cause earthquakes in Black communities and other communities of color. We're seeing that happen at once at the intersection of the coronavirus pandemic and then recent police violence against Black people especially. And soon comes a recession, right? And so we're seeing the way in which, even as people are proclaiming the undeniable truth that Black Lives Matter, I think what's required here is to really go deeper than symbols and phrases and hashtags to get to the structural challenges that challenge that hashtag. The city of Newark, early in the crisis, had more deaths than at that time a number of states. So, the numbers were really staggering, they were disproportionately impacting Black people for a lot of reasons, primarily because of structural racism, frankly. But a lot of the conversation then was on direct services, you know, people need to eat, they need food, they need shelter, they need health care. So we respond in the crisis moment to the crisis, but we don't often get to, okay, so how do we protect against the future crises? How do we build systems that, when the next crisis comes, our folks are better prepared, better equipped to respond to it? That's really where the conversation is now, and I'm excited about the precious moment that is this one where we finally deal with those kinds of issues. 

ANTONY: In a Newark prepared for the next crisis, what would have to happen between now and then, and what are the specific ways in which those structural racism and its legacy could be addressed over the next few years?  What could people in your position, funders, Governor Murphy, and others be doing differently so that we are addressing some of these foundational elements, putting some of the cement in those cracks or reforming the foundation?

RYAN: So, I think the focus has to be on the systems and the structures and the policies that lead to the crisis moments, right? I mean, we know if there's anything certain it is that we will move from a difficult moment to another one. But I think to your question, we've got to begin to think differently about how we empower communities. And so, for example, a couple of numbers: we spend a lot of time at the Institute thinking about racial disparities and then we sort of tell the story around what the racial disparities reflect. So one of them that keeps me up at night is New Jersey has a staggering racial wealth gap. White families in New Jersey have a median net wealth of $352,000, right, highest net wealth of anyone in the country. But it's just $7,200 for Latino families and $6,100 for Black families. So it's a staggering racial wealth gap and folks have all kinds of ideas or hypotheses around why it exists. But as we share in this recent report, New Jersey's racial wealth gap was created, was conceived of, was birthed in slavery in this state. It happened here. It took root very deeply. And the racial wealth gap started there. So you can actually trace a direct line from the $352,000 to the $6,100 back to slavery where it was created. And then as we share this report it was reinforced by a series of policies and  practices. Sharecropping emerged after slavery. Restrictive covenants followed sharecropping, All the way up to redlining. And then more recently around predatory lending practices. The red lines that exist in Newark ultimately created, so that today you see that in the city of Newark fewer than 20 percent of residents own their homes. So 80 percent of people who live in my beloved city are renters. And if home ownership is a primary driver of wealth and Newark has 80 percent of its residents as renters, how do you build wealth in our city? And so, I think to your question, part of what we have to do is make deep investments in communities that have been separated from wealth to build wealth. And homeownership is a meaningful strategy. The investments that New Jersey makes deeply in Black and other communities of color are largely in the criminal justice context. They just are. Today New Jersey is borrowing $10 billion, right, to get the budget back on track. Every line item in the budget has been impacted with the exception of the criminal justice budget. There has been no impact. New Jersey is investing $300,000 to incarcerate kids, alone. And, by the way, let’s be clear that's a specific investment in Black and brown –

ANTONY: Sorry, $300 million, right?

RYAN: Well so, it’s $300,000 to incarcerate each kid.

ANTONY:  Per kid, okay. That's really important, yeah.

RYAN: And to be clear, that's a specific investment in incarcerating Black and brown kids because New Jersey only has eight white kids in prison in the whole state. Eight, like eight, that's a real number, eight. So, the rest are Black and brown, so New Jersey as a practice doesn't incarcerate white kids. So the $300,000 incarceration number for each kid is a specific investment in Black and brown kids. So we have been making the push to make deep investments in kids and communities of color on the front end. And if you redirect those resources, I think this is part of what people are pushing for what's been called the defund police movement. I've been thinking about that really more as a – if you make deep investments in law enforcement strategies, you're going to make deep investments in incarcerating people where most of those resources are deployed, and those happen to be our community. So the reason why, for example, New Jersey has the highest Black to white adult and youth incarceration disparity rates in the country – it’s 12 to 1 for adults; it's 21 to 1 for young people – is because we make such deep financial investments in incarcerating people. If this moment teaches us nothing else, it's that the way we’ve been making investments is a failed approach, it's been a failed approach from the beginning and now folks are really tired of making those kinds of investments. They make very – although they're investments – they make very deep withdrawals from community. Withdrawals in life. Withdrawals in the way that we get to live when we're not killed. We want to live a life where we get to flourish, not simply fight to be alive. 

ANTONY: You've been talking about defund the police, before it had a hashtag, it's been a big part of your work and it's about resources, but it seems to me that, you know, I'd say three months ago, the idea of defunding police seemed radical. It's among many people now shifted to be understood as actually not a particularly radical idea, but about shifting an investment as you said from addressing a problem to actually preventing it. But is it enough to think of the defund movement as simply take a billion dollars from the criminal justice line item and then turn it into the state social service budget? Or is there something deeper that has to happen for that investment in community? What would investment in community look like in a place like Newark, so that it actually could be set up to fundamentally transform the dynamic that the young people in your community live in? 

RYAN:  What it requires to even appreciate your question and what's built into it is you have to imagine where you want to be. When folks hear the idea of no police, they think about the present reality. Like, “Oh my gosh, how could there be – like someone just got killed on my street,” you know, and they're reacting to that. Now there is an obvious recognition that violent crime happens in our communities. That violent crime is a reflection of the deep disinvestment in our communities, right? Kids just don't commit violent crime out of the womb. Things happen, right, and deep disinvestment is made. Trauma happens and then people do things in response to that trauma. So, on the defund police, let's imagine a world where you don't need police. Like what kinds of investments would you need to make in your community? Because the goal should be that. The goal should be: You shouldn't need police officers. You shouldn't need prisons. How do you get there? If you go to three miles away is Maplewood, New Jersey. People in Maplewood when they see the police, they're like, “Uh-oh. Why are they there?” Too often in our communities when we don't see police we're concerned. And I got, a part of that, built into that is this false idea that police make us safe. That we need police for safety. We do need police in some situations, but we don't need police in all the ways that we think we do. So that requires a shift on our part. Because what happens is if you believe that police keep us safe, there's no limit to the number of police you need to have. A couple of years ago, Newark had around 850 police, today we have 1,050. So what, does Newark now need 1,500? Do we need 2,000? Like where's the end? Because if you believe police keep you safe, you're gonna make deep investments in policing. If you make deep investments in policing, you're going to incarcerate more young people and more adults. If you incarcerate more young people and more adults, you're going to make your deep financial investments on the back end. So, in my mind what the defund movement requires is some really aspirational – some visioning around what our communities can be, what they ought to be, and then what kinds of investments would you make in that?

ANTONY: You've been saying this for years; what do you believe is now possible when you think about – you say we not only do we have an opportunity, I'd say we have a moral obligation to raise our vision. If we're called to raise our moral vision, what is possible now that maybe you didn't believe was possible on March 1 of this year?

RYAN: Well I love that, I love that question. Well you see it. You know I'm from Denver, Colorado originally, so in one week culminating in at the end of the week, the governor signed a bill that the legislature passed that built in things like banning chokeholds, doing away with qualified immunity – like a package of police bills, law enforcement bills that create in one day the kind of accountability that hasn't existed in policing. You know, that, to me, is the greatest challenge with policing. It's kind of an accountability free profession. I'm a lawyer, right? And to be a lawyer I have to keep my license current, and there's a standard of conduct that attaches to being a lawyer. And if I fall beneath that standard, I lose my license to practice. I can no longer be a lawyer. That's not true in policing. You know, police officers are empowered with the awesome authority to kill people in certain circumstances, and very often when they even exercise that ultimate authority to kill someone, there's no accountability about how it happens. They're protected from accountability by things like qualified immunity. Well in this moment states are passing laws doing away with that. States are passing laws requiring that bystanders – those who watch police misconduct – are culpable for that too. I mean, these are pieces of accountability that have never existed in American policing, in a moment, like right now, that's happening. We're pushing for that here in New Jersey. And so the line of where the conversation is happening is way beyond where we thought we – where I thought we could be, ever. And so that really brings us back to the moment conversation that we had at the top, which is like: this is such a precious moment, where people are pushing so hard, I just don't, I just don't want to miss it. Because I do think our country is one where we're able to marshal deep compassion, but the compassion doesn't often endure, and so in the moment I want to be able to harness the compassion, the awareness, the awakening, the reckoning to effectuate as much change as we can. And so I'll lift this up for you. We've been thinking a lot about the cracks of structural racism and how you fill those in. And one of the primary ways I think – probably the most fundamental way – is to begin to have conversations around how you repair harm and what does reparation or what do reparations look like? That's like the ultimate curse word, you know.  You say “reparations” and automatically people shut down. Like, “Nope, I don’t need to hear anymore.” Right? But I think we need to have a conversation around what does it mean to repair harm and what would reparations through policies, through investments in institutions and people, what would reparations look like in each state?

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