Dr. Tanisha Price-Johnson is president of the YWCA of Southern Arizona.

Kelly Fryer

Tanisha Price-Johnson

Last week was a horrific week in America.

We are appalled by the shooting deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile at the hands of law enforcement officers. We urge the Department of Justice to pursue immediate, transparent investigations that lead to justice.

The shootings of 12 police officers and two other citizens during a peaceful protest is a horrendous crime. We extend our deepest sympathies to those impacted and pray for the safety of law enforcement officers everywhere.

We also want to be very clear: The events of this week must be a wake-up call. It is time for white people in this community to take a stand against racism, to speak out, act up and demand change.

Racism is stitched into the fabric of our nation. The white men who gathered in Philadelphia to declare our independence refused to sign that declaration until Thomas Jefferson deleted the section in his first draft, which called slavery “a cruel war against human nature.” In the drafting of our Constitution, the debate over whether slaves should be counted toward determining congressional representation was resolved through a compromise that made each black American three-fifths of a person.

After slavery was abolished, our government found new ways to exclude, impoverish and brutalize black Americans: segregation, voter suppression, mass incarceration. Over the past 25 years, the mind-boggling growth in the number of “crimes” created and harsh sentencing laws, even for nonviolent offenses, have put one in three black men in prison. Furthermore, more and more prisons are privately owned, making it big business to put people in jail and keep them there.

Here on the border, it is painfully clear that racism is not just anti-black. Racial bias against all people of color is built into the way everything in our society works. It explains our broken immigration system. And there has never been a time in our history that people of color have not had to wonder if and when racial profiling and state-sanctioned violence would harm their families.

Of the 569 people killed so far this year by police officers (this number increases every single day), 51 percent have been people of color, even though they represent just 38 percent of the population. And blacks, making up 12 percent of the population, represent 25 percent of all those killed.

Racism isn’t new. What is different today is that everybody carries a camera. And the Black Lives Matter movement has effectively used social media to make us pay attention. We have watched people die on Facebook. We have met their families and heard their children cry. And we have seen the courts fail, again and again, to deliver justice.

Here in Tucson, our law enforcement leaders, we believe, have their hearts in the right place and desperately want fair and just policing. But they alone cannot purge our community of racial bias.

White people must educate themselves, their families and friends about the past and the current reality of racism. They must root out all prejudice in themselves and begin changing the way they think, treat and talk about people of color. They must speak out against racial profiling, the militarization of the police, mass incarceration and racial bias,w wherever it appears.

Our mission at the YWCA is eliminating racism. This will not be quick or easy. It is a vision of what can be and a call to make it happen. In the midst of these brutal days, we ask our community to join us in saying a simple but profound truth, Black Lives Matter, and to commit ourselves to making it real.

Tanisha Price-Johnson, Ph.D., is president and Kelly Fryer is CEO of the YWCA of Southern Arizona. The YWCA’s mission is eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.