Like many black families in New Mexico, Alexandria Taylor says, hers has "deep roots" and "our narrative and experience as black people must not be erased."
In this moment, after George Floyd's murder by Minnesota police last week, after the "compound violence" of other police murders of people of color in the nation—Breanna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, Eric Garner—"We are hurting right now," she said. "We are grieving. We are ready. We are moved to action. What we are seeing today is not new. Neither are the demands."
Taylor, deputy director for the New Mexico Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs, will be serving on a newly Advisory Council for Racial Justice, announced today by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in a news conference. The governor also intends to create a Racial Justice Czar within her office "to monitor state institutions and hold them accountable for ending systemic racism and assuring that all persons receive fair and equal treatment and opportunities," according to a news release.
Several members of that new council, including Taylor, shared their views of the current climate as well as their own personal experiences.
State Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton, D-Albuquerque, said growing up in the US Virgin Islands, she did not encounter the type of racism she might have had she grown up here. But once she moved to first New York and then New Mexico, she began to encounter it. The pandemic, she noted, created somewhat of a powder keg, in which people, cooped up and economically uncertain, then witnessed Floyd's murder and said "enough is enough."
But, as Taylor noted, Floyd's murder was a flashpoint, but not a new situation.
"Black people have been fearful all their lives about the protection of their men," she said, "whether it's their father and their sons or their husbands, because it seems to me intrinsically the target is: Destroy the black man and you destroy the black people. Destroy the black man and you destroy African Americans. And that's what's been going on, not only here in America, but across this world to some extent."
Rev. Donna Maria Davis, a pastor at New Mexico's oldest black church, Grant Chapel A.M.E. Church in Albuquerque, said a "plethora of emotions" had already been stirring within her, including fear about COVID-19, when Floyd's murder happened and the uprisings followed.
"It bubbled into anger, bubbled into hurt, and it bubbled into, 'here we go again,'" she said.
Davis referenced civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer, who famously went to the 1964 Democratic National Convention and said, "I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired."
"Our young people are out protesting—it's mostly young people," she said, because they are saying "I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired. I'm tired of having to look over my shoulders to see if you're going to do something to me when I'm trying to do something you're telling me to do. I don't know any other community where a mother and father have to sit down to tell them what to do when a police officer comes to you," she said. "It has to change. It has to change so that young men and young women, particularly African Americans, can have the society they are intended to have."
While details of the advisory committee were light on specifics, the governor and others discussed various areas of police reform—such as probation and parole reforms, along with de-escalation training for police officers—that could be fast-tracked. Taylor also referenced Campaign Zero's #8can'twait initiative, which details eight data-driven policies to reduce police violence.
A news release from the governor's office says the council will include state agency secretaries, law enforcement officers and leaders and youth from the state's African-American, Asian-American, Hispanic and Native American communities.
“We are going to seize this moment to have an important and absolutely effective discussion about racial justice, discrimination, racism and inequality,” Lujan Grisham said.
The governor also named Native American Voters Alliance organizer Austin Weahkee and former State Treasurer James Lewis as members of the commission, though neither were able to attend today's announcement.
Those speaking today, however, agreed the confluence of the COVID-19 pandemic and Floyd's murder have created a situation that needs to be addressed head on.
"While in the midst of a global pandemic, we have one again been forced to face straight on the reality there is another public health crisis that has existed for far too long," Taylor said, "which is the racism in our society."