Monday, June 1, 2020

Systemic Racism and Environmental Injustice in Trump's America

People in cities across the U.S. are taking to the streets to decry systemic injustice. Racial inequality is one of the most pernicious and enduring forms of injustice in the United States and the callous insensitivity of the GOP and the ruling administration leads many to believe that protest is the only way to make their voices heard. The evidence indicates that overt racism has worsened under this president as have other less obvious forms of racial injustice.


Data from a wide range of sources clearly indicate that racism has been exacerbated by U.S. President Donald Trump. In the same way that Trump denied climate change and the coronavirus, he also denies the existence of systemic racism. However, the facts contradict his denial. The evidence shows that he has both normalized racism and emboldened racists.

Race relations have deteriorated substantially during the Trump presidency. A 2009 CBS News/New York Times poll found that under the presidency of Barack Obama two thirds of Americans thought that race relations were generally good. Ten years later a 2019 CBS poll shows that in Trump's America, the majority of U.S. citizens think race relations are bad. A Pew Research Center poll indicates that the majority of Americans think this president is to blame for making race relations worse.

In 2019, a Vox article reviewed numerous examples of Trump's racism. One of the most controversial episodes involves his remarks in support of white supremacists at a rally in Charlottesville. Most recently Trump posted a racist tweet in response to those protesting the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minnesota police. Floyd is the latest in a seemingly unending stream of unarmed black men killed by law enforcement. This murder comes after another black man by the name of Ahmaud Arbery was killed by a father and son while jogging through a white neighborhood in Georgia.

We are seeing levels of racism not seen in America for decades. As explained in a Brookings Institute post, the data shows that Trump’s supporters are motivated by racism, sexism, xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment, The evidence unambiguously indicates that Trump has emboldened racist violence. Data collected by the Anti-Defamation League, shows that counties that hosted Trump campaign rallies saw hate crime rates more than double compared to similar counties that did not host rallies. Data collected by the FBI indicates that since Trump’s election in 2016 there has been an anomalous spike in hate crimes concentrated in counties where Trump won by larger margins. Second only to the spike in hate crimes after 9/11 this was the largest increase in the quarter century in which such crimes have been tracked. Research demonstrates how exposure to Trump's views increases racist sentiments. Another Pew poll found that almost half (45%) of Americans think that Trump has made racist language acceptable. As explained by the Brookings post, "When the data show that President Trump’s support stems from racist and sexist beliefs, and that his election emboldened Americans to engage in racist behavior, it is the responsibility of social scientists and other political observers to say so".

Although Trump and others point to the destruction and looting and try to characterize protestors as "thugs" and "domestic terrorists", the vast majority are lawful and non-violent. Many of the protestors castigate the criminal element that have infiltrated the protests. Here are the comments of one such protestor:
"This is what I have got to say to the people who are destroying things...something is wrong with you...cause what we are trying to do is stand up for the basic rights of humanity...and we are trying to in a peaceful way. We do not want to go through this anymore. I want to be able to go into a white neighborhood and feel safe, when a cop is driving behind me I don't have to clench and be tense ok, I just want to be free and not have to think about every step I take cause at the end of the day being black is a crime, at the end of the day being borne black is a crime to them and I don't understand why cause we are all human..."
In a tweet posted on May 20, 2020 Trump wrote, "When the looting starts, the shooting starts". These are the same words used by a segregationist Miami police chief in 1968. Trump's comments drew comparisons to former Alabama Gov. and well known racist George Wallace who more than a half century ago said about African American protestors, "Shoot 'em dead on the spot". Twitter flagged and blocked Trump's tweets for glorifying violence. This came just days after Twitter flagged as inaccurate Trump's tweets about fraud in mail-in ballots that amount to voter suppression.

Environmental injustice

Trump has systematically dismantled the crowning achievements of America's first and only African American president. This includes measures designed to protect both the environment and human health. Although denying African Americans the basic right to clean air and drinkable water may not seem overtly violent it can be just as deadly. Black Americans have far less access to clean air and clean water than white Americans and this has been made far worse by the Trump administration's rollbacks of environmental protections. Trump's mishandling of the cornavirus and elimination of environmental protections disproportionately effect African American communities.

Pollution makes people more susceptible to COVID-19 which may be one of the reasons why people of color are far more likely to contract the coronavirus. They are also far more likely to die from it than white people. As reported by NPR African Americas are two to three times more likely to die from the virus.

Independent of the coronavirus, a Quartz article reporting on environmental racism in the U.S. says that Black Americans are three times more likely to die from environmental pollution than white Americans. This administration's erosion of environmental protections has directly contributed to the deaths of black people and men like Scott Pruitt (Trump's pick to head the EPA) will live in infamy for his murderous legacy.

Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, the chief executive officer of Green For All has repeatedly called environmental issues civil rights issues. As reviewed in the Guardian, she explained that people of color are far more likely to suffer from affects of pollution. Ellis-Lamkins said that 68 percent of African-Americans live within 30 miles of a toxic coal plant and one out of six black kids suffers from asthma, compared to one in 10 nationwide. As explained in a CityLab article, black people are also far more likely to lack access to clean water than white people.

Climate inaction

African Americans are also more vulnerable to climate change, yet the Trump administration has systematically dismantled the climate action of his predecessor. "Climate change isn’t just an environmental issue; it’s about keeping our communities safe. It’s a matter of justice. Because when it comes to disasters — from extreme temperatures to storms like Katrina — people of color are consistently hit first and worst," Ellis-Lamkins said adding "African-Americans living in L.A. are more than twice as likely to die in a heat wave as other residents in the city."

She also said that efforts to combat climate change are part of Martin Luther King's famous 1963, I have a dream speech. "This is Dr. King’s dream reborn. And fighting climate change helps get us there" she said. "We need to respond to climate change today to ensure safe, healthy, prosperous lives for our kids tomorrow."

"The solutions to climate change won’t just make us safer and healthier — they are one of the best chances we’ve had in a long time to cultivate economic justice in our communities. Clean energy, green infrastructure, and sustainable industries are already creating jobs and opportunity," Ellis-Lamkins said. As we look towards recovery from the economic collapse many are coming to the realization that we need systemic change that includes climate action as both a human rights and a civil rights issue.

Time for change

Americans are being joined by people all around the world who are protesting because they are grieving and enraged by systemic racism and a commander-and-chief whose presidency is rooted in hate. Protestors want the law to be applied equitably yet they know that this will never happen under the current administration. This is a president who has designated anti-fascist groups as terrorist organizations while coddling white supremacist groups who advocate and perpetrate hate. This is a president that incites violence on social media then retreats to his bunker as the protestors approach the White House.

Racism is cruel and callous but it is particularly heinous when it is perpetuated by those in positions of power. Protests can be powerful and many have concluded that they are a necessary and appropriate response to Trump and his administration. One of the most effective ways that Americans can express their outrage is to vote Trump and Republican legislators out of office. When those who are meant to protect the innocent become instruments of abuse it demands action, when those who occupy the highest office in the land fan the flames of injustice it demands change.

Related Articles
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The UN Connects Human Rights and Climate Change
World Bank on Human Rights and Climate Change
Climate Change Exacerbates Social Tensions and Causes Conflict

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