Dear ERI community,
The phrase “I can’t breathe” has come to symbolize not only the most recent examples of police brutality against people of color, but more expansively the centuries-old racism that is baked into the American economic and social system, the knee that has been on the neck of black Americans since the first enslaved black Africans were forcibly brought to the colonies in 1619.
“I can’t breathe” originated from the words of Eric Garner, who died as a result of excessive force used by police in 2014. Most recently, it has been linked to the tragic killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. But the phrase is relevant to the societal chokehold on communities of color in another way as well. According to a recent EPA study , black Americans are exposed to 1.54 times more particulate matter—microscopic particles of air pollution—than the overall population. Exposure to fine particles and other air pollution can bring on a deadly asthma or heart attack, keep a child home from school or an adult home from work, and lead to numerous other health and quality of life challenges that contribute to the systemic oppression of communities of color.
The Indiana University Environmental Resilience Institute was established in 2017 to help Hoosiers be resilient to the environmental changes happening in our cities, rural communities, businesses, and farm fields, especially those resulting from the changing climate. And the fact is that the kinds of changes happening in Indiana—more frequent and dangerous floods, more intense storms, and increased heat—put people of color at higher risk than white people. Historic and ongoing environmental challenges, such as air and water quality that do not meet health standards and proximity to industries with emissions or hazardous waste sites, also impact communities of color more than white communities. That means their present health, economic security, quality of life, and their future security and comfort are in greater jeopardy.
ERI stands with IU and so many others who have spoken up recently in outrage at the police killings of Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and—in our own Indianapolis—18 year-old Dreasjon Reed, among so many others. This must stop. And as environmental injustice is intrinsically linked to systemic racism, we must commit ourselves to eliminating systemic racism in ERI’s activities and to pursuing equity and environmental justice in all our work.
Those of us affiliated with ERI include researchers, teachers, policy and economic analysts, students, hiring supervisors, financial managers, communication specialists, and many others. We all have a role to play in examining our assumptions and behavior, asking how our activities help address or contribute to systemic racism, and taking proactive, concrete steps to learn and change.
Our first step in this process will begin this summer with the development of an ERI social/environmental justice action plan. Whether you are part of the IU family or connect with ERI in some other way, we want your help and advice on what specific actions we should be taking. Please send your ideas and suggestions for what ERI can do to firstname.lastname@example.org. We will be transparent about our work, but I hope you will check back with us next year at this time to see what progress we have made.
Environmental Resilience Institute
Dear ERI community,