To Our Legislators:  A Call to Action

by Rush L. Russell, Executive Director

We are writing you related to the unnecessary death of George Floyd and many before him and the recent set of events including nationwide protests and statements from thousands of individuals and organizations standing together to call for change.

The mission of Prevent Child Abuse-New Jersey is to reduce the incidence of all forms of child maltreatment and build a brighter future for children – happy, healthy and safe. We accomplish our mission by addressing major causes associated with child abuse, including overwhelming stress faced by parents, and reach more than 50,000 families in our state with research-based information (such as evidence-based home visitation programs) that improve child and family outcomes.

Research shows that institutional racism constitutes a form of “Adverse Childhood Experience” or ACEs that dramatically increases a child’s risk for future healthcare, academic, social and job problems. As an agency, we are leading efforts to educate professionals in every sector and community members about ACEs and what we can all do to prevent them, strengthen resilience and build a brighter and more productive future for all children.

We are writing you to urge you and your fellow elected leaders to develop reforms to prevent the continuing incidences we have witnessed – that our children have witnessed – of police using excessive force resulting in the death of a African American, Hispanic or other minority member of our society. We don’t have the expertise to suggest a specific plan of action but suggestions for meaningful reforms are now being discussed, including adoption of an eight-point slate of police reforms that include mandatory de-escalation of conflicts, timely reporting of violence incidents, and prohibition on some forms of restraint. There are progressive leaders in many American cities and local police departments already leading such reform; call them together and develop the best set of ideas to move this agenda forward.   It is time to move beyond words.

Why is an agency focused on children and families urging police and criminal justice reform? We can all take – and our agency is doing so – steps to better understand what diversity and inclusion really mean and how all of our institutions can be stronger. But in addition, African-American parents shouldn’t have to be afraid of their children walking or driving to school or work and being pulled over, possibly accused of a crime, leading to their death, because of the color of their skin. Parents shouldn’t have to teach their children to be aware that if they’re pulled over, even for no apparent reason, any question they may ask could lead to them being violently arrested, injured or killed.

Our children, solely because of living in a poor neighborhood and the color of their skin, should not face increased risks of school failure, unemployment, alcohol and mental health problems, marital problems, chronic health problems, and suicide – because of the color of their skin.

We are asking you for your help in developing solutions now to move us forward – focused on the underlying set of circumstances that led to the unnecessary death of George Floyd, Ahmad Arbery, Breonna Taylor and countless others over the past decades. We will be glad to assist and support your efforts.

It is time to move beyond words. Please listen to what is being said. You are in a position to lead actions.