Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Thursday announced her intent to appoint a racial justice czar within the Governor’s Office and an advisory Council for Racial Justice to monitor state institutions and hold them accountable for ending systemic racism and assuring that all persons receive fair and equal treatment and opportunities.
The governor made the announcement in a remote news briefing and conversation with state Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton, the Rev. Donna Maria Davis of Grant Chapel A.M.E. Church and Alexandria Taylor of the New Mexico Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs, all of whom have committed to playing a role on the advisory council, the membership of which is still to be finalized.
“My administration will ensure racial justice is central in our work moving forward – we must not let the passion of this moment fade,” Gov. Lujan Grisham said. “Our multicultural heritage is both an opportunity to move forward and a mandate to reflect on where we’ve come from. Because of that shared multicultural history, not in spite of it, we have the opportunity to lead, as a state, and demonstrate how others can lead – and listen – in making progress on racial justice,” the governor said.
The announcement comes in the wake of peaceful protests around the globe following the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Floyd, a black man, died while a white police officer pinned him to the ground with a knee to his neck while investigating a non-violent crime.
“I want to do everything I can to make sure that, if George Floyd had lived here, if that had happened here, the outcome would have been different and to assure that we make those changes lasting,” the governor said.
“In our state, as well as across the country, we have Americans who are hurting – and shamefully so,” said Rep. Stapleton. “The fact that an African American male was killed, murdered, in sight of the whole world, created the atmosphere for the world to say: Enough is enough.”
“No one is listening to the young people when they say, ‘I hurt,’” said Rev. Davis. “No one is listening to the young people when they say, ‘I’m angry.’ No one is listening to the young people when they say, ‘I’m scared.’ Governor, you have started the listening process. I charge you now: Continue the conversation. They deserve a life worth living and not a life filled with fear."
“It has always been through persistent will and demands of the people and committed and bold leadership that has brought about justice in our society,” said Taylor. “Through this work, through this council, through engaging deeper in our community, it is my hope we start to have painful and difficult and honest conversations about how those in positions of power can listen to and and be responsive to the demands and needs of the people in our community.”
The governor said she has invited leaders in minority communities to help her identify the right individual to lead this work from within the governor’s office and to coordinate with the community groups that are already involved and the new Council on Racial Justice.
The council will include state agency secretaries, law enforcement officers from across the state, and leaders and youth from the state’s African-American, Asian-American, Hispanic and Native American communities.
The Governor’s Office and state agencies will listen rather than lead the discussion
“We will provide a platform and give those whose voices need to be heard right now the opportunity to lead this dialogue about justice and structural reform in our state,” the governor said.
Earlier Thursday, Gov. Lujan Grisham ordered state flags to half-staff to commemorate Mr. Floyd and all other victims of systemic racism and police violence.
“Our country is in a dark place right now, but it has long been a dark place for so many voiceless and powerless and poor and systemically disadvantaged people and families,” the governor said. “The peaceful protesters across this country are shining a light into the dark heart of our nation’s history; they are speaking out the hard truths known implicitly by communities of color for generations; they are giving voice to those who can no longer speak, whose lives were taken from them either directly or indirectly by the systemic racism and injustice baked into our nation -- George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and so, so many more. Their names are seared now in our hearts.”
While New Mexico is no stranger to police violence, hunger, poverty and inequality of opportunity are other embedded injustices within the state.
“We have seen our Native American brothers and sisters face untold disproportionate struggle. We have generational work to do in restoring educational outcomes for minority and disadvantaged populations in our state. The system will not reform itself,” Gov. Lujan Grisham said.