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The Hard Conversation: Public Advocate Jumaane Williams On What's Next When It Comes To Race In America

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - CBS2 is continuing its series, The Hard Conversation.

What's next when it comes to race in America?

CBS2's Maurice DuBois got some prescriptions for change from Jumaane Williams, New York City's public advocate.

"We're in pain. We've been in pain. We're saying we're in pain. Every time we say we need resources, you send more police," Williams said.

He says the racial divide over policing is deep and steeped in America's ugly past.

DuBois and Williams talked in front of the Harriet Tubman Memorial in Harlem, just a block away from NYPD's 28th precinct station-house.

"Next to a police station while race demonstrations are going on across the land, pandemic, flags at half-staff. What bubbles up? What comes to mind?" DuBois asked.

"We just have to always bring it back to the DNA of this country. I mean, quite frankly, if you look at the history of policing, they probably would have been chasing after Harriet because she was a runaway slave to bring her back," Williams said.


"Four hundred years, still having the same conversation. And people are in the streets right now asking, 'Why? Why is it like this?'" DuBois asked.

"We have to understand that the country has maintained itself the way it is because of the systems that are here. The systems of bigotry, the systems of discrimination that are pervasive, quite frankly, although we focus on the police department, not just in the police department," Williams said. "When we think about black women, whose maternal mortality rate is higher than anyone else just because people don't believe their pain. If we look at the educational system, black and brown kids who are not getting the education simply because the education system is not working.  When we look what's happened with the pandemic and coronavirus, black and brown people are dying at a much higher rate than they even live in this country, in this city, in this state."

Williams says he feels and hears the pain. He's also walking the streets, joining protesters in Brooklyn, and across the city.

"What is the action that everyday people can take when they watch this? I'm talking about everyday white people," DuBois asked.

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"What of your privilege are you willing to let go of? That's a very difficult conversation. 'Cause many times we'll say, 'You know what? We want things like diverse schools,' but when it goes into effect, we just don't want it in my child's school," Williams said.

"I want everyday everybody, including white Americans, to really understand what it's like to be black in this country," he added. "I want folks to realize, look at how quickly people respond to loss of property, which we don't want to happen, but how long it takes to respond to the loss of black life."

"At the most basic level, we're talking about treating people the same. We're talking about treating people fairly. What's so hard about that?" DuBois asked.

"Human beings... we're just a weird group of folks, man. And we always have to find and point out the other," Williams said. "It's a difficult thing... and now when you get to point to other and immediately you see the difference 'cause of the color of their skin, that's even worse.

"It's harder to say we're all equitable. It's hard to say we're all equal when our leaders won't help us have that conversation," he added. "And so I get so happy when I see the splendid colors of this country out and white folks screaming, 'Black Lives Matter.' But what I want them to do is make sure, while they're screaming that, allow the black voices to be the ones that are heard."

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