On June 19, 1865, more than two years after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, enslaved Black people in Texas finally learned that they were free.
Today, Juneteenth is a time to celebrate that freedom. It also is a time to reflect on what we can do to fight actively against the systemic inequities that Black communities face: police brutality, voter suppression, housing discrimination and more.
Octavius Hayes, a member of Clean Power Lake County’s steering committee, explains what’s at stake:
The accumulation of incidents of racism, police brutality and murder of so many Black and brown people over the last few years alone has clearly left an indelible mark on young people, especially young people of color. But these types of violent acts of racism and bigotry are nothing new, predating the founding of our great nation. Therefore, as a nation, as Illinoisans, and as community members of Lake County, it isn’t simply enough to expect better. We must unite to demand better, and do the work of dismantling systemic racism, to ensure the safety and dignity of all people. Otherwise, this nation is doomed to continue to repeat the same mistakes that only further divide us at a time when we should be coming together to find solutions for imminent threats to humanity—such as climate change—that transcend race, economics, and borders.
For environmentalism to be successful and complete, it must include social justice. Environmental degradation and climate change do not affect the population equally: The brunt of the burden falls on marginalized communities. With the Black Lives Matter movement sweeping the nation, sparked by the murder of George Floyd, it is necessary for environmentalists to discuss the physical as well as the social environment for Black people in the United States.
The social environment for Black people in America has long been a painful one. America has a long history ofpolice brutality disproportionately affecting Black people. In 1927 and 1928, Black residents of Chicago constituted 30 percent of the victims of police killings, even though they only made up 5 percent of the area’s population, according to an Illinois Crime Survey cited in Smithsonian Magazine. Today, about 1 in 1,000 Black men in the United States die at the hands of the police, according to the Los Angeles Times. Black women are 1.4 times more likely than white women to be killed by the police (Los Angeles Times). Black men, according to the Washington Post, are 2.5 times more likely than their white counterparts to die during an encounter with the police, adjusting for the age of the person shot, whether the person suffered from mental illness, whether the person was attacking a police officer, and for the crime rate in the neighborhood where the shooting occurred.
Yet it is not only the social environment that hurts black people in America. The physical environment that Black communities live in also continues to cause them harm at disproportionate rates. Black Americans face a 54 percent higher health burden from air pollution compared to the overall population, according to a study by the Environmental Protection Agency, which cited historical racism and economic inequality as major factors for the disparity. Facilities emitting particulate pollution are more likely to be in Black communities, causing Black Americans to experience more asthma, a greater likelihood of heart attacks, and premature death. According to an analysis in the New England Journal of Medicine,Black Americans are 3 times more likely to die from exposure to air pollutants than white Americans.
The higher burden of air pollution on Black communities is particularly dangerous during this pandemic. A preliminary nationwide study from Harvard University found exposure to high levels of air pollution correlated with higher mortality rates from COVID-19. This finding, coupled with health disparities and unequal access to care in Black communities, helps explain why Black residents only account for 29% of Chicago’s population—yet 52% of those testing positive and 72% of those who had died as of April 6, 2020, were Black (WBEZ).
Additionally, because of Black communities’ fewer resources, economic disenfranchisement, and unstable housing, they are more vulnerable to climate change as it intensifies natural disasters such as heat waves, flooding, and hurricanes, said Janaya Khan, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto, in The Root. Climate change will further erode the disparity between Black and white communities.
Let us take this moment to reflect on how the environment in America is not the same for all of its citizens.
Leah Hartung is from Libertyville, Illinois, and is a rising junior at Emory University (Atlanta, Georgia) studying environmental science.
As a community organization committed to justice for all people, Clean Power Lake County is pleased to celebrate Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) Pride Month. We gratefully acknowledge the impact that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals have had on history locally, nationally, and internationally.
June 2020 marks the 50th anniversary of annual LGBTQ+ Pride traditions. The first Pride march in New York City was held on June 28, 1970, on the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, a tipping point for the gay liberation movement in the United States.
LGBTQ+ celebrations may look a little different this year—as Americans cautiously begin to resume public life in the midst of a global pandemic; as protesters across the country call for justice in the violent death of George Floyd; as police in riot gear fire rubber bullets, pepper spray, and tear gas at protesters and rioters. Yet LGBTQ+ celebrations are as important as ever, or perhaps even more important than ever: Pride Month offers us ways to protest discrimination and violence as well as to promote the dignity, equal rights, and self-affirmation of LGBTQ+ people.
An important modifications to the order will take effect May 1: People will be required to wear a face covering or mask when in any public space where they can’t maintain a 6-foot distance from others.
These are challenging times. We are encouraged to maintain social distance and isolate for the safety of the most vulnerable in our communities, yet we must keep in mind that the very actions that help reduce the spread of disease make it harder for those on the margins to access food, shelter, and healthcare.
As people committed to justice for all people, we must find ways to prevent the spread of disease while also making sure that children who rely on school breakfast and lunch have access to nutritious food when schools are closed, those who depend on mass housing for shelter have a place to stay, and those who do not drive access the supplies they need.
Maintaining a safe physical distance does not mean complete social disconnection. We are called to use the tools we have to support and care for each other in times of crisis.
One such tool is reliable information. To help you make sense of all of this and get up-to-date information, we compiled a list of links to government websites, news articles, and audio resources: CORONAVIRUS/COVID-19: Helpful Resources
Celeste Flores, co-chair of Clean Power Lake County and Lake County Outreach Director for Faith in Place, will attend the State of the Union address at the U.S. Capitol on February 4 as the guest of Sen. Tammy Duckworth.
“Every American has the right to breathe safe air, drink clean water and live on uncontaminated land regardless of their ZIP code, the size of their wallet and the color of their skin. However, that’s often not the case for low-income communities and people of color,” Duckworth said.
“I’m so pleased to bring Celeste—a tireless advocate for environmental justice—as my guest to the State of the Union so together, we can shine a light on these issues and raise awareness of the fact that these communities face public health challenges at alarming rates while too many in power look the other way,” Duckworth added.
Flores, who was born and raised in Lake County, saw the devastation of mountaintop removal while a student at Bellarmine University in Kentucky. After graduating from college and spending a year as an AmeriCorps volunteer in Appalachia, she returned to Lake County. It was then that she learned about local environmental justice efforts to ensure Waukegan a just transition away from the coal-fired plant on the shore of Lake Michigan.
In November 2019, Flores participated in a Senate hearing—chaired by Duckworth and organized by the Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis—about the ways climate change uniquely impacts environmental justice communities.
“Growing up in Waukegan, a low-income and working-class area, and as a child of immigrant parents in a predominantly Latinx and African American community, I’ve seen firsthand how environmental justice communities in Lake County carry the burden of polluting industries and are forced to deal with the consequences of environmental injustice for generations,” said Flores.
“The time to act is now,” Flores added. “By joining together with elected officials like Sen. Duckworth, who has been a staunch advocate for environmental justice, we can lift up the voices of those disproportionally affected and achieve our shared vision for social change that is led by those most directly impacted.”
For years, Clean Power Lake County has called for state action on toxic pollution from two unlined coal ash ponds at the NRG Energy coal-fired power plant on Waukegan’s lakefront. On July 30, 2019, our calls were answered as Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed SB9, the Coal Ash Pollution Prevention Act, into law.
The most significant step to protect clean water in years, the new law will result in stronger rules for coal ash cleanup, fund cleanup programs, and require companies to set aside money to close and clean up coal ash ponds.
“This is a great win for coal ash communities, especially for Waukegan residents that have been continuously affected by corporate polluters,” said Dulce Ortiz, co-chair of Clean Power Lake County.
“The governor is putting the State of Illinois in a good trajectory in signing SB9 into law, by sending a message that environmental justice communities across the state are being put before profitable industrial polluters like NRG Energy. Waukegan residents commend Gov. Pritzker and our state legislators for making SB9 into law. Our land is our children’s future and we look forward to the State of Illinois continuing to strengthen protections for our vulnerable environmental justice communities,” she added.
The groundbreaking bill addresses the many waste pits filled with coal ash, the toxic byproduct of burning coal, located all over the state:
Creates a regulatory framework to ensure polluters, not taxpayers, pay for needed closure and cleanup.
Guarantees public participation and transparency around cleanups for affected communities.
Provides the Illinois EPA the funds it needs to properly oversee closure and cleanup.
Requires Illinois to put in place standards for coal ash impoundments that are at least as protective as federal coal ash rule requirements, with additional protections against dust and water pollution.
Now the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) will begin writing and proposing draft rules. The Illinois Pollution Control Board will finalize the IEPA rules.
“Illinois joins other states that are putting residents’ health before industrial polluters’ profit. We look forward to working with IEPA to engage communities most affected by coal ash in the rulemaking process,” said Celeste Flores, co-chair of Clean Power Lake County and Lake County Outreach Director for Faith in Place.
Once again, we thank the many Lake County elected officials who supported this important legislation: State Senators Melinda Bush, Terry Link, and Julie Morrison; and State Representatives Rita Mayfield, Joyce Mason, Dan Didech, Mary Edly-Allen, Bob Morgan, and Sam Yingling.