CEJC Statement on George Floyd, Black Lives Matter, and Environmental Racism
The California Environmental Justice Coalition stands firmly with the Black Lives Matter movement and the numerous communities in our state and throughout the country protesting and fighting against police brutality and for racial equality. CEJC understands the importance of solidarity across the spectrum of movements for social justice in all its forms and as we collectively navigate the pain and exhaustion created by the repeated, generational trauma of witnessing yet another Black man die at the hands of police. The infrastructure maintaining systematic racism must be confronted at all levels of power and decision-making and its deadly consequences exposed and ceased. CEJC is taking this uncertain but vital moment to recognize the importance of our work and the accumulation of racial and social justice work being done across our state; it is literally life and death. We are fighting for our lives and we can’t even breathe.
If you are Black in the United States you are more likely to be stopped by police, be arrested, convicted, given a longer prison sentence, and, as we know, be killed by police. These disparities are unacceptable as it is, but just as abhorrent is the fact that race is the single biggest factor in whether you live near a hazardous waste facility. Black Americans are three times more likely to die from air pollution than white Americans. Even during the current Covid-19 pandemic racism makes its presence known as Blacks make up more than 50% of all cases and nearly 60% of deaths while only making up about 13% of the population. This in large part is due to the widespread respiratory and other health problems caused by air pollution and other toxic exposure. These statistics only show the tip of the country’s racial iceberg, merely reflecting the predictable results of unequal access to well-paying jobs, decent housing, uncontaminated surroundings, and healthcare.
Our own state, thought of by some as an environmentalist’s utopia, is in no way immune. A 1984 study by Cerrell Associates for the California Waste Management Board outlined the types of communities in which they would face the least resistance to siting polluting industry and other undesirable land uses. Their report named rural, low income, less educated, and even “Catholic” communities as prime areas to site incinerators, landfills, power plants, and other toxic facilities. Today, CEJC and its 73 member-organizations fight against environmental racism in poor communities and communities of color from the Imperial Valley to the San Joaquin Valley, from the Bay Area to the border area, from farmworker communities to indigenous communities, from oil drilling in Bakersfield to oil refineries in Richmond, from toxic substance creation to toxic waste dumps and incinerators, from cement plants to Superfund sites, from diesel trucks to shipping ports.
We all need to start listening to these communities more closely and take their grievances more seriously. Marches, protests, demonstrations, and even riots don’t just come out of nowhere. They bubble below the surface while seats of power ignoring warning after warning, constantly reevaluating just how much more they can pile on top of us and get away with, until either we can’t breathe anymore or we explode with rage. Expressing rage can be reaffirming and even cathartic, but history has shown us that flashes of rage eventually fade. And what should come next is the long-term hard work of organizing and activating our fellow community members to engage in and maintain constant and consistent action. A commitment to justice in all of the forms it can take. We at CEJC are and have been committed to the long-term, aggressive advocacy and action required to achieve the collectively desired justice we are all calling for in this moment. We are here for you and with you. Environmental Justice is Social Justice! Environmental Justice is Racial Justice! We just want to live! We just want to breathe! GET YOUR KNEE OFF OUR NECKS! YOU’VE BEEN WARNED!