Guest view: Protests are opportunity to make a more just society

By Vaseem Iftekhar

The last few months have been the most challenging period in recent American history. The COVID -19 pandemic shook society with more than 100,000 deaths in less than three months.

Almost every facet of life was impacted. We could not even find solace at our places of worship due to distancing regulations to prevent the spread of the disease.

During the same period, we witnessed brutality against black men and women through the lens of the camera. The resulting protests brought people to the streets, many of whom had never protested before. Most people expressed their right to free speech peacefully. However, the burning and looting by a few criminal elements compounded the economic losses on already devastated small businesses. The partisan political division further caused distress and polarization of our society.

Almost all the suburbs in addition to Chicago saw peaceful rallies in which families joined together to protest. This may have been the silent majority who chose to express indignation due to lack of overall progress in racial equality.

While the cruel death of Mr. George Floyd may have been a precipitating factor, the underlying discrimination so rampant in our society was widely recognized as requiring change.

The people have spoken against the systemic discrimination. The challenge is addressing this issue with foresight and long-term planning.

While the U.S. Congress is contemplating reforms, it must be recognized that changes must be made at the local level.

We need to begin by recognizing the need to enhance racial sensitivity training in law enforcement. Dialogue between citizens and law enforcement should be enhanced through organizations, including faith-based organizations.

Every town should review training guidelines and standard operating procedures to avoid excessive use of force. Punishments for breaking laws should be equally applied without consideration of race, religion or creed. Hasty overreaction - for example, defunding of the police - should be avoided.

In the civil area, nonpartisan town hall meetings should be organized to encourage an ongoing dialogue on race equality. Schools and colleges should be encouraged to participate in community discussions through organized meetings in teaching institutions. The allocation of funds to schools located in lower income areas should be reviewed so they are not dependent on property taxes and should be eligible for additional funding to bring them on par with schools located high income areas. Affordable college education should be encouraged by enhancing community colleges. Businesses should aggressively implement equal opportunity laws to encourage minority employment and career advancement opportunities.

The combination of the pandemic and racial violence had a devastating effect. However, this could also be an opportunity for reform leading to a more fair and just society. The whole country is watching, as well as the rest of the world.

• Vaseem Iftekhar, of Hawthorn Woods, is a member of the College of Lake County Board, founder and chairman of Northern Illinois American Muslim All and former president of Islamic Foundation North located in Libertyville.

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