“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”Martin Luther King, Jr.
Unless you’ve been under a rock for the last year, you’ve likely heard about the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse. On August 25, 2020, the 17-year-old traveled from his home in Antioch, Illinois to Kenosha, Wisconsin claiming to be there to protect businesses during a protest against police brutality due to the shooting of Jacob Blake. I won’t go into all of the details, but you can read up on it the Rittenhouse case here.
As expected by most of the Black people I know, just a couple of hours ago, Rittenhouse was found not guilty on all charges: First-Degree Reckless Homicide, First Degree Reckless Endangering Safety, First-Degree Intentional Homicide, Attempted FIrst-Degree Intentional Homicide, Possession of a Dangerous Weapon by a Person Under 18, and Failure to Comply with an Emergency Order. Even though acquittals of white men who murder Black people and our allies are par for the course in the criminal justice system, it still hurts. We all know that had Kyle been a Black teen, he would have most likely been acquitted.
Over the past several years, we have watched as murderers were given the benefit of the doubt when killing black people. The Trayvon Martin case reiterated to us that we are exempt from claims of self-defense and subject to harassment based solely on our skin color. Breonna Taylor’s killing confirmed to us that Black women’s lives do not matter no matter how much you accomplish and that the same Stand Your Ground laws that have repeatedly been applied to white men who slaughter people of color would not be applied to her boyfriend. There have been too many cases like this to count, but one thing remains consistent; the legal system was not meant to protect Black people and it is working as intended.
The trauma inflicted on the psyche of Black people is compounded by the routine dismissal of our rights and the absence of justice in the face of clear and intentional murders and assaults. I’ve sat at work time after time, crying at my desk in between meetings and unable to focus because of the emotional toll of the news of yet another unjustified homicide or unwarranted acquittal. I could have used some support in the workplace but found that oftentimes, these matters are avoided and business continues as usual. I want to change that, so here are 3 ways to support your impacted employees.
- Cancel Work Obligations – One of the most difficult things to do is put on a happy face while dealing with devastating emotions. One of my first jobs was as a 9-11 operator. When we took a stressful call, the center would offer the opportunity to debrief afterward and take the remainder of the day off. This offer was not just extended to the employee that took the call, but everyone in the center who beared witness. The ability to stop and process emotions is important for the mental health and healing of your affected employees
- Onsite Support – Most companies have EAP programs to assist employees in personal situations. Allowing access to this support is important, but should be paired with onsite help during major incidents. Form a team that is aware of circumstances that can potentially negatively influence your workforce and proactively set up the resources needed to address those needs
- Monitor & Address Workplace Chatter – Whether your organization frowns on political conversations or not (sidenote: silencing your employees is a bad idea), they are being discussed. I can recall multiple times race matters spilled in to the workplace, causing conflict between black employees who felt betrayed by the system of justice and white employees who considered the outcome to be fair. These communications should be monitored and discussed transparently and any resulting discord dealt with fairly and effectively.
Regardless of your opinion on the case, if you are serious about diversity, equity and inclusion, it is your duty to create a safe space for your employees to express anger, grief, and empathy. Ignoring these matters continues to compound the scar left on your Black employees by generations of unfair treatment and discrimination. Be an empathetic leader, listen, understand and take action to keep toxicity, exclusion and racism at bay in your business.