Mike Clark, president of the NAACP Joliet branch, knows all too well that inaction means action. So when it came time to acknowledge the nation’s racial divide and show solidarity in the wake of recent high-profile shootings, he said enough is enough.
The NAACP Joliet branch discussed the current state of U.S. racial relations and growing tensions in the country at its July 11 meeting.
Clark said it’s unfortunate how recent tragedies have unfolded, and told the Bugle that the meeting was held to discuss the importance of being engaged and involved in the community.
“Issues can be worked out before they get out of hand. We talked about different ways to be involved,” he said. “We want to be proactive in the community; we want to be engaged to make sure we handle [adversity] properly.”
Clark noted recent fatal shootings of black men by police officers in Minnesota and Louisiana, as well as the tragedy in Texas that resulted in the deaths of five police officers. When the Bugle interviewed Clark, the shooting in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, that left three police officers dead had not yet occurred.
Clark said that during these times, it’s important to be active, not reactive, in efforts to bridge what he sees as a racial divide.
“We’re troubled by what we saw in Baton Rouge and Minnesota,” Clark said. “It’s a topic we know occurs. We’re very concerned. This type of reaction between citizen and police officers, this cannot happen again.”
“(We’re) equally as troubled with what happened in Dallas,” he added. “To watch that happen on TV was very disheartening, we’re upset.”
Clark said the NAACP doesn’t condone such actions, nor would they wish for tragedy to occur closer to home.
The Joliet branch engages in a number of various activities to promote greater inclusivity, such as efforts to speak to local lawmakers and local police groups.
“It’s kind of two-fold,” Clark said. “We definitely have to look at the things police have done, and we have to take a look what policies must be put in place. It kind of goes both ways.”
Clark said there must be a way to make sure conflicts are de-escalated in ways that help resolve issues without violence.
Ultimately, the NAACP Joliet branch intends to find ways to engage the community in ways that advance the national conversation on race relations.
“I’m hopeful that a resolution will come and people will understand that the Black Lives Matter movement doesn’t discredit other groups of people,” Clark said. “I’m hopeful that more people see it less as a minimization of any other demographic group.”
Despite misconceptions people may hold, Clark said the movement intends to speak to the current state of black America and some of the life experiences held.
The institution of racism is a very real concern, he said, noting the way in which the African American experience differs in comparison to other groups.
Clark said the history of the country helped to build these notions into the system on a number of levels, including criminal justice and housing.
Although progress has been made, Clark said we still have a ways to go.
Countering racism, according to Clark, is a task that must be taken across the country.
“I’m hopeful that locally and nationally we’re up for the challenge,” he said.