Standing in Solidarity with Black and Brown Lives

Empire Justice Center July 31, 2020

In recent weeks, we all witnessed and many of us participated in the largest protest movement in the history of the country. That this happened during a pandemic is not coincidence.  Police violence and the health disparities experienced disproportionally by Black and Brown communities stem from the same systems of white supremacy that are deeply imbedded in our culture and institutions.  As state coordinators for the Disability Advocacy Program (DAP), we stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, and all those mourning and protesting the unjust and senseless loss of Black and Brown lives.


It is on all of us to fight for change. Here is what we plan to do.


As DAP advocates, interfacing with the Social Security Administration on a daily basis, we pledge to oppose the discriminatory impact of white supremacy that is inherently woven into Social Security policies.


In working to secure disability benefits for our clients, we pledge to combat the many effects of legalized racial injustice, including income inequality, health disparities, and biased adjudication.


The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed in stark terms the health disparities that have always existed in the communities we serve. These disparities include the higher rates of infection experienced by Black and Brown people and higher chance of death – all incriminating indicators of racial and economic bias in the quality of treatment. We pledge to continue shedding light on these inequities, and to use evidence of those disparities to combat the many adversities commonly faced by our clients, particularly those who are Black and Brown.


We pledge to fight anti-Black and other forms of bias.  We see racism seep into disability adjudication all the time.  Often it manifests in errors such as a failure on the part of adjudicators to understand reasons for a lack of medical treatment.  Other times it is more pernicious, with throw-away comments about a person’s life circumstances, often made in a credibility determination, about drug use, so-called “motivation,” limitations that are “self-imposed,” and other repugnant judgments that reek of anti-Black and other racial stereotypes.


We pledge to support Black and Brown voices speaking out against the impact of these policies on communities of color.  As we move forward, we will echo these voices when planning policy reform efforts, training, and litigation.


We pledge to provide culturally competent representation that is sensitive to and responds to the needs of our clients of color.


We pledge to begin examining our own internal policies through an anti-oppression lens and to continue to identify opportunities for Empire Justice staff of color to have more prominent roles in DAP coordination.


With future hires, we pledge to work with Empire Justice leadership to look closely at our hiring practices for staff and interns to ensure a process that is anti-racist and one that increases diversity.


In our role as training providers, we pledge to increase diversity in future training opportunities.  We will improve the representation of people of color among those planning and presenting future DAP trainings.


Finally, we pledge to foster inclusivity, dialogue, and expanded opportunities to collaborate, such as through the ongoing DAP supervisor forum and other venues.


There is much work to do.  The challenges are substantial, but we are committed to seizing this opportunity for transformative change in the long-term struggle for justice within the Social Security system.  We look forward to collaborating in this effort with you.