Over the last few weeks the country has had its eye on Ferguson, Missouri as a result of the shooting death of Michael Brown. The Alexandria NAACP offers our sincerest condolences to the family and friends of Michael Brown.  The family has lost a young man due to gun violence, and we are praying for justice to prevail.  As protests continue all across the country we must be reminded that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.

The shooting of Michael Brown adds to a pattern of events in which law enforcement officers have used deadly force as a solution when interacting with African-American males.

African-American communities have learned throughout history that the value (or lack thereof) on Black life in America is miniscule. Take a few moments to remember how the lives of Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin and John Crawford III were taken.

America’s failure to address racial disparities in the criminal justice system, deficits in the educational system, high unemployment rates in minority communities, gentrification in cities across the country, and disenfranchisement in the political arena have created a climate of poverty, despair, pain, fear, and anger amongst the quickly eroding middle class. This is especially true for African-American men.

We can look no further than the Alexandria storyline to see these national issues play out in our community. In recent years two African-American males were shot by law enforcement officers within Alexandria. While the vigils and rally’s remained peaceful there was fear that the officers would not be arrested because of the historical mishandling of how justice is served to

African-American men in the Commonwealth of Virginia and across America.

The number of incarcerated African-American men in the state of Virginia is higher than the actual percentage of African-Americans in the state overall.  The vast majority of new criminal and/or minor traffic offenses filed in the General District Court of the City of Alexandria are attributed to African Americans.  Yet it is not statistically possible that in a City with the racial make-up of Alexandria (22 percent African-American) that the vast majority of those offenses are actually committed by African Americans. Yet, we see day after day in that Court that people of color are being prosecuted far above their population percentages in Alexandria.

While Alexandria has done a better job than Ferguson in hiring minorities in the police department, political, and city government offices, that has not eroded the level of mistrust that remains towards government officials and politicians who have in some cases overtly pushed their own personal and professional agendas over the dire needs of certain segments of the community. Many of those African Americans still remaining in Alexandria who are unaffected by the gross mishandling of retail development in the City of Alexandria remain vulnerable, disenfranchised, and disconnected from the greater community Alexandria is systematically attracting and serving in the name of higher tax revenue.

Within the Alexandria Public School System (ACPS), although the facilities themselves are not separate, the practices of the schools in educating students are definitely unequal. All students should be afforded the same level of service regardless of their ethnicity, home dynamics or creed. Yet we find the Alexandria City School system, hiring teachers who are not involved in the community or from Alexandria, and therefore don’t understand the historical intricacies of the school system and the community they serve.

We need to look no further than the achievement gap between minority students and Caucasians in ACPS.  There is a vast disparity between how well minority students achieve and their Caucasian counterparts. Additionally, African-American male students within ACPS are suspended from school at a disproportionate rate to their peers and counterparts.

While Alexandria is not Ferguson, Mo., the systemic challenges African Americans face are parallel. It is imperative that residents of all racial backgrounds and socioeconomic status work collectively to address overt disparities in the systems we all strive to live within. The development of Alexandria is happening at an alarming pace, yet the unemployment rate for African-American males is in the double digits.  Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

In the short term, it is the NAACP’s recommendation that you write a letter to the United States Department of Justice requesting they take over the investigation of the shooting of Michael Brown. A second suggestion is to have a town hall meeting with the youth of Alexandria regarding the major issues impacting their community.  There must be a continuous dialogue with the young people in order to consistently address those issues that confront them.  Each citizen of Alexandria must take ownership of communal shortcomings in order to address the suffering in our neighborhoods.  The streets of Alexandria are calm during this national outrage, but should we turn a blind eye to the overt issues affecting the outrage of folks in Missouri, we very well could find ourselves battling a crises right here in Alexandria.

LaDonna J. Sanders, is president of the Alexandria Branch of the NAACP.