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We are living in an historic time. Our nation is in tumult with a deadly viral pandemic, on the verge of an economic collapse, dealing with a presidential administration that is shockingly unhinged in the eyes of many, and suffering from deadly viral racism.

As Black, brown and Indigenous folks here at The Montana Racial Equity Project, we have been working on trying to get our necks free from knees, nooses and lashings for centuries. We’ve had very little actual help from white folks. The white passivity for actual, meaningful change has been a hindrance, not a help. No one residing in the U.S. and Montana can be passive. Now is the time to take action and advance as an ally.

We’re calling on white Montanans to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, for the challenge of actually being an anti-racist rather than being comfortable – and completely ineffective – with being “not a racist.” The position of “I’m not a racist” is very damaging and a passive way of supporting the racist systems, structures, policies and laws that have been in place in this country for centuries (and get more clever and diabolical every single day).

It is critical that non-melanated folks challenge their local law enforcement agencies on their policies and procedures as a result of these horrendous killings and attempted killings because they are some of the latest instances of deadly and attempted deadly violence by law enforcement officers or involving law enforcement investigations.

It is critical that police commissions become more racially diverse, and that conversations about how officers are appointed, and how the agency is overseen, are being had at this time.

What assurance do the non-white citizens of Montana, who make up 14% of our population, have that what happened to George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Rashard Brooks cannot happen here?

What assurance do we have that law enforcement won’t respond to calls from white citizens who seek a police response because they think that a crime is being committed simply because someone Black or Indigenous is in a place that a white person is uncomfortable with?

What assurance do we have that an investigation into the violent death of a Black or Indigenous person will be investigated thoroughly and fairly (Ahmaud Arbery?) What makes our officers, deputies and troopers different? We strongly encourage you to ask the heads of law enforcement agencies in your area to answer that question.

If diverse police commissions do not exist in your city or county, greater conversations need to be had about why they do not exist and are not prioritized. It is critical that mandates are created with the goal of ensuring that these efforts are handled with empathy and integrity so that when bias and injustice occurs, these agencies can be held accountable for not having one or asked why they chose not to comply with such mandates set forth through legal action.

What assurance do the non-white citizens of Montana have that “it can’t happen here?” What makes our officers, deputies, and troopers different? We strongly encourage you to ask the heads of the law enforcement agencies in our county to answer that question.

MTREP is happy to provide counsel, guidance and teaching but, as those of us BIPOC in the racial justice and equity field across the country have said millions of times, it’s white people that got us into this mess, it’s white people that have to do very hard work to get us out of it.

Judith Heilman is executive director of the The Montana Racial Equity Project.

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