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SSW Responds to Grand Jury Decision Not to Indict in Eric Garner’s Death

December 5, 2014

Photo Courtesy of Kate Wells & Michigan Radio

Dear Social Work Colleagues,

Racial discrimination and inequality remain ongoing and pervasive aspects of our society brought again vividly to light by the recent grand jury decision not to indict in Eric Garner’s death.  In combination with the National Association of Social Workers and the schools of social work across the country, many of whom have issued statements following the recent refusal to indict Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner in New York, we need to draw together as a school and a profession on an agenda that can lead to the fundamental changes necessary to address racism in the U.S.

In the weeks after the shooting death in Ferguson, one of my colleagues teaching in St. Louis wrote, “People have asked if they can help.  My advice is to look at yourself and your community.  There are so many communities like Ferguson and so many places where something similar can happen.  Also, work with your legislators.  Our governor is forming a Ferguson Commission to make suggestions for change.  No real change will happen unless our Legislature is involved.”

 How can we make change? We need to start with ourselves.

  • Work in our classrooms and other school venues to continue both critical discussion of the role of racism in our society and the design of social and policy responses to racism and inequality.
  • Study and research the impact of racism in our communities and document publicly its effects.
  • Work in the organizations and agencies in which we participate to put the fruits of these discussions and analyses to work.
  • Work throughout the political system to engage in the work of changing the persisting painful inequities.

As one example, we can engage more specifically with our criminal justice system, towards the goals listed by NASW.

  • National standards on the use of lethal police force.
  • National standards on how police handle persons living with mental illnesses or disabilities.
  • Trainings to help end police bias and racial profiling when dealing with people of color.
  • Make body cameras standard police equipment.

 Along with others in the social work community, we must remain committed to addressing and remedying the pain and trauma caused by these events and by the myriad of other, less publicized events, now and in the future. We must also work towards the fundamental changes that will  attack the racial inequities that stunt our society.   I hope that we may come together as a community to address these tasks that we face in the weeks, months, and years to come.  We must also put this commitment into both words and actions, drawing strength and inspiration from what we can each contribute.

With Regards,

Laura Lein

Dean and Katherine Reebel Collegiate Professor of Social Work
University of Michigan

Thanks to Assistant Dean Tim Colenback, Assistant Professor Desmond Patton and Associate Dean Mike Spencer for collaborating with this statement.

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