June 1, 2020
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
For more information contact:
Elizabeth Jones Valderrama, OAR
WE CAN’T BREATHE
OAR Executive Director Elizabeth Jones Valderrama
Issues Statement on Deaths by Racism
George Floyd’s murder by a Minneapolis police officer on Memorial Day and the rage that has erupted across this country in response to that death come as no surprise.
We live in a nation built on racism where being born Black or Brown (or any color that is not white) is a crime. As a Person of Color, I live in fear and know that there are no safe spaces for people like me.
Most OAR program participants are also People of Color. As OAR’s executive director, I witness the devastating effects of racism on these individuals and their families and grieve at the way systemic inequities undermine every aspect of their lives – of our lives. I know that they are resilient people who have been failed by the legal system and all systems, that Michelle Alexander was right when she called mass incarceration the “new Jim Crow,” and that “liberty and justice for all” is a lie.
I am sad, but I am also angry — angry that Black lives clearly do not matter, angry that being a Person of Color makes you disposable, angry that racism lives in this country and in our community, angry that it kills and traumatizes my siblings of color.
This is why the work that we do at OAR is so critical. OAR is both a social service provider and an advocate for social justice. We work upstream to call out and challenge racism and downstream in solidarity with those whose lives have been – and continue to be – poisoned by it.
Last September, OAR began conducting a series of anti-racism workshops for members of the community as part of our racial justice work. The COVID-19 pandemic forced us to cancel workshops scheduled for this spring and summer. But it didn’t cancel our commitment to racial justice and to continuing this conversation in the community. We will be offering Anti-Racism and Racial Justice virtual training and cohorts starting this September.
Why talk about race? Because Oscar Grant III, Breonna Taylor, Philando Castile, Botham Jean, Freddie Gray, Walter Scott, Alton Sterling, Eric Harris, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, George Floyd, and too many others are dead, and the killing continues. Because there are too many others who were killed, brutalized, accosted, and traumatized, but no video existed for any to see. Because families and communities are forever impacted. Because it feels like this country has not moved an inch. Because voices calling for justice are met with violence. Because none of us can breathe as long as racism remains a force that defines who we are, how we live, and how we die.
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OAR of Arlington, Alexandria and Falls Church is a community-based nonprofit that journeys with individuals of all genders who seek a safe reentry as they return to the community from incarceration. We also offer alternative sentencing options through community service to youth and adults, reducing incarceration and helping individuals avoid the life-altering trauma of that experience. We promote justice in the legal system and across all systems by addressing the systemic racism responsible for mass incarceration and other structural inequities in our society. We envision a safe and thriving community where all people – including those impacted by the criminal legal system – enjoy equal civil and human rights.