‘Climate justice is racial justice’

By Ean Thomas Tafoya
Posted 10/1/20

In late August, I attended the Get Your Knee Off Our Necks March and Rally in Washington D.C., a revival and celebration of the anniversary of the 1963 march on Washington where Martin Luther King …

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‘Climate justice is racial justice’


In late August, I attended the Get Your Knee Off Our Necks March and Rally in Washington D.C., a revival and celebration of the anniversary of the 1963 march on Washington where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.

Boarding the plane to our nation’s capital, I had two thoughts in my mind: How safe is this going to be, knowing I am traveling during COVID-19? And how can I be sure that the carbon offsets I purchased are actually going to help offset this travel?

These offsets are crucial to justifying this trip, let alone during COVID. I found one service that helped calculate the impact. I had to do some extra math and ask the airline how full the plane was because the basic calculations to figure out the emissions tied to my travel. It wasn’t easy to figure this out and that’s something that needs improvement.

The morning of the march, I listened to Dr. King’s iconic words. I held on to the concept that children of all colors could join in unity as one people — something I see the youth who march for climate crisis are doing now, united towards one goal.

“It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment and to underestimate the determination of its colored citizens. This sweltering summer of the colored people’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end but a beginning. Those who hope that the colored Americans needed to blow off steam and will now be content, will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

Wading into the reflection pond at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the call and response of “say their names” began. I spent all summer shouting the names of those tragically lost to police violence and I amplified only some of our local losses — Paul Childs, Frank Lobato, Marvin Booker, Ryan Ronquillo, Jessica Hernandez, Naeschylus Carter-Vinzant, Paul Castaway, Michael Marshall, David Baker and Elijah McClain. I was suddenly overcome by what I was hearing — a long list of so many names, so many lives lost, so many families and communities impacted around this country.

Then, Breonna Taylor’s mother came to the stage and began to say her name. Together in unison, the thousands in attendance lifted her name to the sky. I cannot fathom the courage that these mothers have to fight for justice for their loved ones, and to alter a system that took their children from them. Her final words were, “we have to stand together. We have to vote.”

We learned that these officers will not be charged with her murder despite shooting 32 rounds into a building during a no-knock raid. This excessive response should drive home the terrors of the drug war that have spurred militarization and why it must end.

As “I Can’t Breathe” is cried out, I hear two meanings. One meaning is obvious — the literal choking of life by those who swear to protect it. The other meaning is less apparent but just as ubiquitous — the same Black, Indigenous, Latino and low-income people who are disproportionately impacted by a justice system are also those who are most exposed to toxic pollution because of the same legacy of white supremacy. When people protest this injustice, it is the same misuse of the justice system that is used to silence their cries.

At the Standing Rock and Black Lives Matter protests in Denver and Aurora, identical militarized police force is seen, all too happy to use aerosol chemical weapons during a respiratory pandemic and to show off their shiny toys and tanks, threatening the community they are here to serve. Climate justice is racial justice, too. When we demilitarize the police and reform their use of force escalation, tools of oppression are taken away from corporations and from a government that values property over universal human rights to clean air, water and respect for sacred life.

Ean Thomas Tafoya is a climate and government activist. He can be reached at @BelieveEan on Twitter.


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