Our View: Facets of systemic discrimination

Our View: Facets of systemic discrimination
(Photo/Cody Mello-Klein)

Five letters and columns in this week’s Alexandria Times editorial pages touch on various aspects of discrimination in the United States. The writers voice opinions on current and past mistreatment of Blacks, Italian-Americans, Hispanics and women.

Taken together, these writers – who range from Alexandria City Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Gregory Hutchings, Ed.D. to residents Nia Beane, Jim Larocco, Conley Lowrance and Frank Putzu – raise several similar points, though their conclusions and recommendations vary.

The ideals upon which our country was founded – representative government, elected executives, an independent judiciary and individual rights – were lofty and noble, but they didn’t apply to everyone. In fact, a sliver of those residing in the colonies in the late 1700s fully experienced those rights: white men who owned property.

Yes, significant progress has been made since our country’s founding, and those rights are now supposed to apply to all U.S. residents. But as Hutchings illustrates in his column, much remains to be done to make those ideals a reality for all.

Beane points out that minorities are underrepresented in the ranks of environmentalists, despite being disproportionately impacted by pollution and environmental degradation.

There are multiple potential explanations for that dearth of minority representation among environmentalists. While deliberate exclusion may be one reason, self-selection is also likely, as it’s largely the wealthy who have time and resources to pursue environmental activism.

Larocco points out that immigrants who voluntarily came to America were often discriminated against on the basis of both ethnicity and religion. His vantagepoint, that Columbus Day was less about honoring Christopher Columbus himself and more about honoring Catholic Italian immigrants and their contributions to our country, is one that perhaps has been forgotten.

It’s worth keeping in mind that there are many facets to historical issues, and that in our haste to remove something offensive to some, such as the name Christopher Columbus from a holiday, we simultaneously cause offense to others.

There are echoes of these sentiments in Lowrence’s letter. He argues against renaming T.C. Williams High School, which he views as part of the attempted “erasure of history.” His underlying point is that we should be less judgmental of those who came before us.

Putzu’s letter touches on the treatment of Hispanic immigrants and women. It’s a fact that all of the people involved in the April 9 bond hearing of Ibrahim Bouaichi – who murdered Karla Dominguez after being released on bond at that hearing – were men.

It’s also a fact that repeated references to Dominguez’s employment at an exotic nightclub in D.C. were part of the defense’s contention that Bouaichi was innocent of raping Dominguez last fall. It’s a very short step of logic from that contention to outrageous phrases from the past like, “She was asking for it.”

Dominguez’ plight was further harmed by her inability to speak English and her lack of family in the United States. She was alone, defenseless and powerless.

Putzu is right that an independent investigation is needed to determine what went wrong in the process that led to Bouaichi’s release – and Dominguez’ subsequent murder.

An Alexandria resident needlessly died this year. Justice, and equity, demand that we identify the failure within the system, and fix it.