By AFSC-AZ Staff |
Over the last two years, American Friends Service Committee-Arizona (AFSC-AZ) has worked with state Rep. Walt Blackman on sentencing reform legislation, focusing on the areas of earned release credits for people in prison to reduce Arizona’s prison population and increasing options for mental health services in rural counties. During this time, Rep. Blackman pledged to reform advocates, incarcerated people and their families that he was a champion for their cause.
Yesterday, speaking on KFYI and in a Facebook video, Rep. Blackman expressed his views on the horrific murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the protest movement denouncing police violence against people of color. His comments were offensive, irresponsible, and contrary to the beliefs, goals and values of AFSC-AZ.
Rep. Blackman refused to acknowledge the overwhelming evidence that people of color are disproportionately dying at the hands of the police across the U.S. and, in fact, that every five days, an Arizona officer shoots someone.
Institutional racism pervades the entire criminal punishment system, resulting in disproportionate surveillance, arrests, detention, and incarceration of people of color. Rep. Blackman failed to take this opportunity to use his platform as an elected leader to commit to address the sickness of racism and protect his constituents from discrimination and violence.
Instead, Mr. Blackman’s choice to focus on Mr. Floyd’s substance use and conviction history served to dehumanize Mr. Floyd and validate police violence. His statements delegitimized the life and legacy of Mr. Floyd and, by extension, communicated a lack of respect for the inherent worth and dignity of all those constituents in Arizona who themselves may struggle with substance use or who may have conviction histories. These are the very people he had previously pledged to represent.
We condemn the remarks made by Rep. Blackman. AFSC-AZ will not work alongside partners who are not aligned with our values and commitment to uphold the worth and dignity of all people, regardless of who they are or what they have done.
It is vital to hold people accountable for their words and deeds, particularly those in whom we have placed our trust and support. But we believe in accountability rather than punishment. To simply denounce Rep. Blackman’s harmful statements will not heal our communities or help create change.
State leaders–like all of us–have the opportunity to unlearn harmful attitudes and beliefs and commit to do better. We encourage Rep. Blackman and his colleagues who have made similar statements, or hold the same beliefs, to reflect on the harm committed by such limiting attitudes and to assume a posture of learning.
Listen to those who have been directly impacted by police violence and the punishment system. There is opportunity for healing all around if we have the courage to listen.
AFSC-AZ is willing to reconnect and work with state officials when they demonstrate responsibility and commitment to change. As an organization, we will continue to work to transform our institutions to promote true safety and healing for all.