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Opinion: Positive change around race starts with conversations

There has been a national conversation stirring the hearts of Americans these past few weeks. Recent violent acts upon black citizens have created a national conversation impacting communities across the country. These events have sparked a discussion about equality, justice, race and the need to treat all Americans with respect. They have created a need to review the conduct of our police officers to ensure that all people are treated the same, no matter the color of their skin.

Heartbreaking videos have emerged that shine a bright light on racial injustice in America. A video of Ahmaud Aubrey being gunned down in the middle of the day while he was jogging shocked all of us. Shortly after that video, the country saw the initial footage of George Floyd being pinned down with a knee on the back of his neck restricting his ability to breathe. These actions led to the death Mr. Floyd. Both videos are disturbing, outrageous, and show completely unacceptable behavior from those involved.

Many Americans are frustrated, angry, and have gathered in protest to make their voices heard. The protests have been overwhelmingly positive, peaceful, and a meaningful forum for discussion. I applaud the efforts of peaceful protests. While there has been violence in some cities across the country, I am happy to see protesters, officials, and law enforcement working alongside one another to promote peace, particularly in my home county of Gwinnett.

Recently, I attended a protest in Lawrenceville. I was able to speak to a number of participants, listening to their thoughts and concerns. I want to reiterate a recent social media post, “Why is ending racism a debate?” It should not be. It is time for a conversation between our citizens, community leaders, and elected officials to make real change.

In my last campaign, I wrote that Gwinnett should strive to set the example as a diverse community, accepting of everyone. The peaceful protest held recently shows that we are always working toward that goal. The protests have created an open discourse between local organizers, community leaders, law enforcement and local government officials. There much work to be done, but progress starts with meaningful conversation.

In the wake of these events, I have been reflecting deeply on their impact. I cannot put myself in anyone else’s shoes, but I can use my experience as a father and leader in our community. Through my children, I’ve gotten to know so many mothers, fathers, sons and daughters. The common thread we share is a desire for the very best opportunities to succeed.

I think of the children that play soccer with my son. The sport brings them together, but they come from different backgrounds and walks of life. I’ve watched them grow up together, witnessed their academic success, their best soccer performances, and talked them through their worst defeats. I have had discussion with parents about raising these young adults, being dads and moms, sports, faith, and race. These conversations have helped me see the struggles that each child and family have and how dramatically different they are. When I saw the unconscionable actions taken against Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, I thought of those boys, and the fear of something like that happening to one of them.

I’ll never be able to understand the fear and pain that Mr. Arbery, Mr. Floyd and their families felt. But, I will listen, educate myself, and do my best to help those around me understand what can be done to help.

No law can end racism, but we can take a stand against it. Education, conversations, and respect will help guide us to impactful policies that create positive change. Getting to these policies will require open discussions where questions can be asked and solutions can be presented. These conversations start at our dinner tables, in our communities, and amongst our friends. Engage your friends with open arms, ask how they feel, and find ways you can make a difference in your community.

What can lawmakers do after returning to the Capitol? We should collectively stand up against racism by passing the hate crimes legislation currently in Senate committee. We will work with law enforcement to improve training and increase outreach to minority communities. We will engage in respectful conversations to preserve justice in every corner of our state. Most importantly, we will listen, so we can act.

State Sen. P.K. Martin is a Republican from Lawrenceville.

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