Addressing Systemic Racism

Whether subtle or overt, caught on tape or not, every day our Black brothers and sisters face words, actions, and policies that rob them of the American dream. Chris Sununu says systemic racism doesn’t exist in New Hampshire. He’s wrong. It exists everywhere. And it’s not enough to not be racist, we must all be actively anti-racist.

Right out of law school, I didn’t take a job as a corporate attorney, I worked as a legal aid attorney for about a decade prior to serving in the State Senate. There, I helped low-income families, seniors and veterans get access to health care, housing, and jobs, and fought against discrimination in employment and in housing, including taking on Wall Street banks foreclosing on homeowners all across New Hampshire during the last economic crisis — the Great Recession. Leading the Housing Justice Project for four years, I helped tackle housing discrimination in the rental and homeowner markets, co-authored the “Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice in New Hampshire”, and organized communities to battle housing practices that have a disproportionate impact on persons of color. Working together with Manchester NAACP and others, we made progress, but there is so much more work to do, together.

In the State Senate, I’ve led the way on housing justice, economic justice, and criminal justice reform, including bail reform, which disproportionately impacts people of color and a policy Chris Sununu has heavily criticized. We recently passed HB 1645 which, among other things, bans chokeholds by police and mandates police reporting of misconduct by other police. My hope is Chris Sununu will sign it.

In terms of your questions below, Chris Sununu said at one of his many press conferences that: “…the vast majority of things on that list are things we’ve done or are in the process of doing…” That’s objectively false.

More than anything, all citizens and all voters need and require honesty from their public officials. That’s especially true when confronting and tackling topics like systemic racism. Below I provide you with truthful answers to serve as a basis for further conversation and dialogue that’s honest about the issues, where we are at, and where we could go, together.

Before moving to your questions I wanted to highlight a few additional, important issues.

Even before COVID-19, New Hampshire was facing a housing crisis. With vacancy rates well below 2%, some cities having 0% vacancy, and a national average of about 5% vacancy, people could not find places to live, and, if they did, prices were through the roof, putting New Hampshire at an economic and competitive disadvantage in the region. Racial disparities in income are the result of historic discrimination leading Black and Brown households to be more likely low-income renters with a shortage of affordable and available housing. Renters, especially right now during this public health and economic crisis, need protection. I was proud to sponsor HB 1247 to provide additional protections for renters and homeowners. I’m hopeful Governor Sununu will sign HB 1247 in the coming days. We need to do more to increase affordable housing options and raise wages in New Hampshire to eliminate the racial wealth gap.

The lack of a livable minimum wage also has a disproportionately negative impact on Black workers, who must routinely hold multiple jobs. States that have raised minimum wages to $15 an hour have seen their economies grow and thrive. The minimum wage went up in three New England states this year but New Hampshire is still far behind with a minimum wage of $7.25, the federal minimum. New Hampshire should gradually raise our minimum wage to $15 an hour, a livable wage competitive with other New England states.

The vast majority of working people in the United States do not have paid family leave through their employers, and the consequences are especially impactful for people of color, and women of color suffer most. A lack of access to economic support from your employer makes it more difficult for families of color to financially recover from a serious family or medical need. It is well known that people of color tend to receive lower-quality health care and services and experience worse health outcomes than white people, highlighting the need for paid family and medical leave.

Additionally, long-standing systemic health and social inequities have Black and other people of color at an increased risk of contracting COVID-19. Many people use Planned Parenthood and other reproductive health care clinics for a wide variety of quality, affordable health care services. We must increase access and increase funding for reproductive health care centers across New Hampshire to guarantee people’s reproductive health care needs are addressed and taken seriously. The fact is that many health centers are the only place thousands of Granite Staters can go for birth control, cancer screenings, STD testing and treatment, and prenatal care. Investing in reproductive health care centers will save lives, especially for women of color who are disproportionately more likely to die due to complications from pregnancy and childbirth.

We need to move forward on so many issues. In doing so, we need your ongoing activism and engagement, because real change happens from the bottom up, not the top down. And the best ideas come from the grassroots and from our communities.

1. We demand that you commit to mandating ongoing and retroactive implicit bias training for all state and local government employees and personally undergo the same training within your first 100 days as Governor.

Yes, I will. Last week, I announced that, as Governor, I would create an Office of Racial Equity within what is currently called the Office of Strategic Initiatives, and also fully staff it in my first state budget. While that state budget is in process, it is important to begin work immediately, which is why existing staffing will be reallocated to prioritize the Office of Racial Equity, with a director who is a person of color, and one of the responsibilities will be to ensure implicit bias training for myself and for all state employees, working in conjunction with the Department of Administrative Services. Such training would then be a part of mandatory, ongoing trainings. However, legally, as Governor, I don’t believe I can mandate by Executive Order that local governments take similar action, but my Office of Racial Equity will provide technical support and resources for local governments to do so and make public which local governments have followed through or not. There is more information on the Office of Racial Equity in item #3 below.

2. We demand that you commit to appointing a Civilian Oversight Board to oversee law enforcement and build public trust through accountability and transparency within your first 200 days as Governor.

Yes, we should create a Civilian Oversight Board. We need greater accountability and transparency throughout government and that starts with ensuring citizens have a strong voice.

3. We demand that you commit to appointing a new Racial Equity Task Force of paid staffers, focused on acknowledging racial disparities and seeking solutions to systemic racism in New Hampshire, within your first 250 days as Governor.

Yes, I commit to appointing full-time, paid staff to work on racial equity in New Hampshire. As Governor, and as I mentioned in item #1 above, I will create an Office of Racial Equity. It is not enough to only react when issues arise, we must seek out where injustices exist and proactively address them. The Office of Racial Equity would identify and address racial disparities, lead implicit bias training, and make recommendations regarding diversity policies and nominations for the state. The Office of Racial Equity would include multiple paid, full-time staff to ensure this office has the necessary resources to meaningfully accomplish the enormous task in front of them. The Office would include, at a minimum, an Executive Director to run the office, a Human Resources and Training professional to lead and coordinate ongoing implicit bias training, a statistician to truly understand the scope of the issues, and the necessary support staff to achieve these goals. Additionally, we must give the statistician in the Office of Racial Equity the data necessary to do his/her/their work, including, but not limited to, traffic stop data, health care and economic data. It is important to note, contrary to what Chris Sununu says, that this work is much different than the work of one attorney at the Attorney General’s office that has been called a civil rights “division”.

4. We demand that you release a plan of action and take specific steps to reverse the disproportionate incarceration of Black and brown people in New Hampshire within your first 300 days as Governor.

As Governor, I would work to end the era of mass incarceration. Over the past two legislative sessions, I’ve led the way on criminal justice reform, including bail reform to ensure that people are not locked in jails awaiting trial simply because they cannot afford bail. There’s more work to be done on this issue, but we are not going back to a system that allows Granite Staters to be locked up simply because they cannot afford to pay bail — a system disproportionately impacting communities of color. We banned private prisons in HB 1645 last week, eliminating profit motives behind mass incarceration, and I hope Governor Sununu signs this legislation. We passed annulment reform in SB 311, to provide a clear path to expunging non-violent drug offenses off of an individual’s record. I hope Governor Sununu signs this legislation. And we need both meaningful sentencing reform as well as a comprehensive review of the current prison population to determine statistical disparities in sentences and take fair action in response.

5. We demand that you publicly support the prohibition of the use of tear gas and rubber bullets on unarmed demonstrators by New Hampshire law enforcement.

As Governor, I will sign legislation to prohibit the use of tear gas and rubber bullets on unarmed demonstrators. The actions by President Trump just a few weeks ago, and many of the images we’ve seen across the country, have been outrageous and heartbreaking. Some of these substances are even banned in war. There is no reason to use tear gas and rubber bullets on unarmed, non-violent protests here in the United States.

6. We demand that you publicly support legislation to legalize the use of recreational cannabis, pardon those who are currently serving time due to non-violent cannabis-related sentences, and expunge the records of all those charged with non-violent cannabis-related offenses.

In the Senate, I voted in favor of the legalization of marijuana (SB 233, 2017) and I continue to support the legalization of marijuana as long as it meets three criteria: First, the state must receive significant revenue. Second, a portion of the revenue received must go to addiction and recovery treatment services. And, third, there must be adequate child protections and regulations, including no marketing towards children. If these three criteria are met, then I fully support the legalization of marijuana.

The enforcement and penalties of marijuana-related criminal offenses have long been tied to race. A recent analysis by the ACLU found that nationwide Black people are 3.6 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana use despite comparable consumption rates across all races.

Additionally, for individuals who have a prior criminal record for non-violent marijuana offenses, I would sign legislation to expunge previous convictions from their record, and I have supported Rep. Cushing’s past efforts to do just that.

Beyond incarceration, great damage is done to the job prospects of individuals who have completed their sentence, which is why I have sponsored — on numerous occasions — legislation to “Ban-the-Box” on employment applications. Last year, Chris Sununu vetoed “Ban-the-Box”, SB 100, the bill I prime sponsored. We overrode the veto in the Senate but was unable to do so in the House.

7. We demand that you publicly support the NH Education Reform Initiative; an initiative that seeks to provide resources to teachers, reform whitewashed curriculum, and promote policies that actively uproot systemic racism in New Hampshire’s education system.

I support the New Hampshire Education Reform Initiative because it’s critical that the next generation of Granite Staters receive a comprehensive education that truly reflects American history; the good, the bad, and the ugly. We need to have honest conversations in our schools. Knowledge is power, and it has the power to fundamentally change how we view American history so our students can learn about systemic issues in our nation’s past and present.

Additionally, we have an education funding problem in New Hampshire, especially in our property-poor communities and cities. In the last State Budget, we secured the greatest increase in education funding in over two decades, and finally finished what then-Governor Jeanne Shahen started decades ago and funded full-day kindergarten, but there’s more to do. We must build on this state budget and ensure that every student regardless of where they grow up, receives a great public education.

We also must lower tuition at our two and four-year colleges and universities. Granite Staters continuing their education should not be saddled with thousands of dollars in debt. We have the third-highest in-state tuition cost in the country, which denies low and middle income Granite Staters the opportunity to continue their education and stay in New Hampshire.

In October 2020, Senator Feltes added additional policy positions to his response.

I support legislation that increases data collection for law enforcement agencies, specifically requiring agencies to gather, analyze and make available to the public, at least annually, data on demographics (including gender and race) for arrests, citations, motor vehicle stops, and subject stops as well as any kind of search and the legal justification for the search. I have committed to having a statistician in the Office of Racial Equity, and we must give that person the data necessary to do their job effectively.

I support legislation that matches the training requirements of part-time officers to that of full-time officers. Part-time and full-time officers are both interacting with the public and should receive sufficient training.

Finally, I support legislation that enacts all recommendations made by the LEACT commission. Supporting the recommendations of the commission is critical to moving this conversation forward and achieving real results.

Written by

Dan served as a legal aid lawyer helping low-income NH families, seniors and veterans for almost a decade. Now serves as the majority leader in the NH Senate.

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