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A group of people listen to speakers recount stories of their loved ones who were killed by police during a demonstration outside the Hennepin County Government Center on June 13, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Protests and demonstrations have continued in cities around the world in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis Police custody on May 25.

(Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

Communities are more than just the places we live and work, they are our homes. They are where we meet friends and partners, where we start families and raise children. They can also be places that cause joy and pain. That pain is often targeted, methodical and overwhelmingly impacts Black people.

This pain doesn’t come from the city itself, but it actually is rooted in the lack of love that grows out of the policies and practices created by often misguided elected leaders. 

This month, the Schott Foundation for Public Education released the second phase of its Loving Cities Index, which provides a comprehensive look at the systemic racism prevalent across education, health, and economic opportunity in ten of America’s largest cities.

Read More: Cities make deep COVID-19 budget cuts but not to police departments

(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The Index measures access to supports like healthy food, sustainable wages, health insurance, and mental health care, highlighting the connection between local and county policies that can create healthy living environments.

Unsurprisingly, the Index found significant racial gaps in access to resources across all ten cities, reflecting systemic racism in local, state, and federal policies.

This information comes during a pandemic that is ravaging the country, and taking the greatest toll on people of color. While, at the same time, there is no federal policy in place and an abysmal — honestly frightening — response from the highest office of our federal government.

Based on this administration’s actions and words, we, as Americans, as people of color, as taxpayers and community members, do not matter. That lack of care and love is represented through the inequities in our healthcare system, the recent police murder of George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks, and the weeks of sustained peaceful protest calling for racial equity met with tear gas, violence, and more police brutality.

Read More: Minnesota passes historic police reform bill two months after George Floyd’s death

Demonstrators in the BIPOC Mothers March walk from the Third Police Precinct Station to the memorial site for George Floyd on June 14, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

This country chooses to be racist; from our current healthcare system to the amount of money we spend on policing instead of community support, the neglect and hostility are ubiquitous. 

Take Miami for example. With nearly half a million residents, it is the second-largest city in Florida and nearing capacity in its hospitals. There are not enough beds, there are not enough nurses, and people are feeling that lack.

In a world where the hospital cannot manage 1% of the population during a pandemic, how can there be a debate about sending children and teachers back to school without addressing these related support issues?

Read More: Iowa teachers write, send obits to governor in response to schools reopening

At the very least, hospitals should be able to accommodate their own residents, but beyond that, the community should seek to create a loving environment for these residents. For communities that look like ours, witnessing unloving by our cities is an everyday occurrence.

Our children feel it in their under-resourced classrooms. Our neighbors feel it when they have to walk outside their communities because they live in a food desert devoid of public transportation. We all feel it as we watch COVID-19 wreak havoc on an already brittle healthcare system. 

A medic from Empress EMS receives a suspected COVID-19 patient from a home for transport to a hospital on in Mount Vernon, New York. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

The Loving Cities Index is crucial because it provides cities with information to begin conversations and collaborations needed to adopt a comprehensive system of support that provides all children with an equal opportunity to thrive.

If their lives matter, then addressing these systemic gaps must matter. We must pivot to a comprehensive, cross-sector, collaborative approach that shows love and not disregard for our nation’s children. The Index is an extended olive branch to help fix these disparities. 

We need to dismantle racism in this country, and we must be systematic in our approach. It starts with who we elect to our local and state offices, as well as who we elect to lead our country. Elections are about contrast, and the contrasts in 2020 are crystal clear.

Read More: Biden says Russians are meddling in 2020 election

Even as our communities are suffering, we must mobilize to ensure that every one of us votes, even in the face of obstacles that almost surely will be put in our way. We are no strangers to obstacles, and yet, in the legacy of Congressman John Lewis, we must persevere. 

MONTGOMERY, AL – JULY 26: Julia Bennett of Montgomery waves a “Good Trouble” fan as she awaits the funeral procession of civil rights icon, former US Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) on July 26, 2020 in Montgomery, Alabama. (Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)

Systematic change is not going to be easy; it never is. It takes time and perseverance (and maybe a prayer or two) to ensure meaningful progress in creating a more just and equitable society. It begins with loving the people who call it home; that means closing the economic and racial opportunity gaps in areas like housing, healthcare, and community involvement.

There will be no quick fix to our nation’s racial woes, no one-size-fits-all solution to end the centuries of White privilege and heal the wounds left in its wake. These truths should not stop us from voting or engaging in civic processes; they should push us toward electing leaders that we will hold accountable.

Now more than ever, this is when philanthropy, community, and government must all come together to make cities more loving. We must be unremitting and tenacious in our demand for equality.

As Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones said in her foreword to the Loving Cities Index: “Inequality is a choice. It is time for us to make another. We can start here by getting at the root of it all. We can start by committing to build, for the first time in our history, a nation of Loving Cities.”

Have you subscribed to theGrio’s podcast “Dear Culture”? Download our newest episodes now! 

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How the 1971 Stanford prison experiment prophesied America’s authoritarian backslide

If your boss dressed you up in military gear and told you to spray tear gas on a group of nonviolent protesting mothers, would you obey their orders? Most of us humans like to believe that we are moral creatures, driven by empathy, and that we wouldn’t do something cruel even if ordered to. Yet psychological studies have shown that the opposite is true, and that humans often obey unquestionably. Perhaps the most infamous study of this was the Stanford prison experiment, conducted nearly fifty years ago by Stanford University psychology professor Dr. Philip Zimbardo, which revealed how many human beings will be corrupted by power and bow to authoritarian leaders if socially permitted to do so.

One can see how this experiment has lingering relevance — for instance, in the ordeals of the Portland protesters, who have been tear-gassed amid peaceful protests and kidnapped in unmarked vehicles. What makes a law enforcement officer willing and ready to behave in these ways, to become foot-soldiers of a nascent police state, is a question that was already answered by the Stanford prison experiment.

First, though, a few words about the experiment itself. Conducted at Stanford University between August 14 and August 19, 1971, 24 students were divided into groups of “guards” (with nine students) and “prisoners” (consisting of 15 students) at a simulated prison in the basement of the college’s psychology building. Once there, Zimbardo reports, the “guards” fell into sadistic and authoritarian roles, while the “prisoners” became submissive and despondent. A number of “guards” appeared to show genuine pleasure in tormenting the “prisoners,” while the “prisoners” showed signs of extreme stress and learned helplessness.

Although intended to last for two weeks, the plug was pulled after less than one week. Still, the experiment became a go-to reference point for scholars and pundits attempting to explain how ordinary people can become tyrants when given power. Though ethical concerns and controversy still swirl around the Stanford prison experiment, its relevance today is undeniable. And as many Americans perceive the nation lurching towards authoritarianism, its conclusions are more vital to understand than ever. Indeed, only in understanding authoritarianism can one stop it.

As Zimbardo explained in his response to criticisms of the experiment:

My interest in exploring the psychology of time perspective, or the temporal zones in which we all live, emerged in part from the sense of distorted time we all experienced during the [Stanford prison experiment]. Without clocks or windows, that basement prison’s time revolved around each guard shift coming and going. We often felt trapped in an expanded present time zone when the guards were endlessly harassing the prisoners, or in a present fatalistic time zone that most prisoners experienced when nothing they did made a difference in how they were treated. I subsequently developed a scale to measure individual differences in time perspective, the Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory…

Salon reached out to Zimbardo for this thoughts on how his experiment pertains to America’s political situation today.

“We have never seen anything like this before in America. And hopefully, when we get rid of [Trump] in November, we won’t see anything like this again,” Zimbardo — now a professor emeritus at Stanford — told Salon. After discussing how he and other psychologists, psychiatrists and mental health experts wrote a book in 2016 warning that Trump was mentally unfit to serve, he explained that Trump “is the most extreme case of a Present-oriented hedonist. And he attracts similar kinds of people.”

The phrase “Present-oriented hedonist” refers to the Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory, which refers to the different ways in which people experience the past, present and future. As Zimbardo explained, “about 20% of almost any population are Present-oriented Hedonists.” Present-oriented hedonists are defined by how “they live in the moment. They never think about future consequences of their current actions. They always seek novelty and excitement. They’re easily bored with the familiar. They always challenge rules that limit their freedom.”

He added, “These are the people earlier who were against wearing seatbelts. These are the people earlier who against wearing head gear for riding bicycles or motorcycles. In general, they’re anti-conformist. They want to have freedom from any rules. They don’t follow rules. And so this is the most terrible positive for somebody who has the power of the President of the United States.” Not only has it caused Trump to bungle America’s response to the coronavirus, Zimbardo argued, but it has inspired the worst behaviors in his followers.

“What he exudes is power without limits. He can say whatever he wants, he makes up reality. He lives in his own world,” Zimbardo explained. “He makes it up. He makes it up. He doesn’t care. So that’s a real sense of power. I say whatever I want, because I like it. And his followers get power through him. They admire his ability to do whatever you want to say, whatever you want. He doesn’t have to follow any rules. He doesn’t have to follow any decor. And that’s what makes him and them dangerous, because it is all about power. It’s unconstrained power and it’s power without reason, which is deadly.”

Salon reached out to Dr. Bandy X. Lee, a forensic psychiatrist at Yale School of Medicine for 17 years who taught at Yale Law School for 15 of those years — as well as the editor of “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump” (to which Zimbardo also contributed) — for further elaboration on the applicability of Zimbardo’s theories.

“The main point of the Stanford prison experiment is about the influence of institutional structure,” Lee told Salon by email. “When abuse and violence occur, we are inclined to attribute it to ‘a few bad apples,’ and the enormous influence of structures, mostly unseen but well-documented, is easily overlooked. In my own area of study, I emphasize how ‘structural violence’ is not only the most lethal form of violence — causing more than ten times the deaths from all the suicides, homicides, and collective violence in the world combined — but is also the most potent stimulant of behavioral violence.” After explaining that structural violence can entail political, economic and cultural layers of oppression — as well as the institutionalization of classism, racism and sexism — Lee identified how Trump’s presidency has exacerbated these unjust structures in the United States.

“Having a perpetrator of structural violence in the office of presidency means that not only will he kill through his policies that vastly increase the advantage of certain groups over others, but he will also cause deaths through incitement of violence,” Lee explained. “This, of course, is what is happening in Portland and in other cities: his structures and policies are stimulating violence. For what is happening now and other reasons — such as my work in prison reform and in global violence prevention — I have long considered the Stanford prison experiment to be one of the most important contributions to our understanding and never fail to assign it in my courses.”

Lee said she invited Zimbardo to speak at a conference last year about the dangerous state of the world because “he gave critical psychological insight into how Mr. Trump resembled the worst prison guards in his experiment. . . . We can extrapolate from this how he, as commander-in-chief, would create systems that produce maximal suffering and death, as well as generate more violent personalities in the society of which he is in charge.”

Dr. David Reiss, another contributor to the book and a fellow professor at Yale, echoed Zimbardo’s and Lee’s observations.

“Even though the experiment itself had its problems in terms of methodology and what it proved or did not prove, it still brought out the ideas that under certain circumstances, people can act in ways that are very sadistic, that are very authoritarian, that are not part of what they consider their usual personality,” Reiss explained. “And in that situation, it may not have been a perfect experiment, but on the other hand, it brought out that those capabilities are there. And we get to see in politics right now is that basically the cover has been taken off the wrappings of the worst part of people’s personalities in a lot of different ways.”

Reiss drew attention to how some of these aspects of the American character existed long before Trump rose to power.

“There are unique aspects to America because of where we came from in terms of slavery, in terms of civil rights, in terms of other issues,” Reiss told Salon. “But you can look at most cultures and see the same basic dynamics played out in different ways, that human beings have a capability of cruelty and sadism. And if it’s not kept in check one way or another, it can be extremely dangerous. And of course, the more that technology and the media can come into play now more than it did 20 years ago or 50 years ago, or a thousand years ago, the more dangerous it is in certain ways.”

Elizabeth Mika, a clinical therapist and another co-author of “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump,” noted that “there are questions as to the methodology of [the experiment] and the ethics of [the experiment]” and that “the results of the experiments, because of that, may be tainted.” At the same time, she argued that the behavior of Trump and his supporters is a real-life demonstration of the experiment’s applicability.

“We see people following Trump now, and supporting him and doing his bidding quite enthusiastically in fact, and that itself I think — if you’re looking at this huge experiment playing out in front of our eyes, so we don’t even have to artificially create these conditions — we have it laid out for us,” Mika told Salon. “You see the Republicans in Congress supporting Trump in his decisions and defending his bizarre statements as if they completely lost conscience. And so the question is, do they have a conscience in the first place?”

She added, “What Trump has done, I think he, he has given permission for people with with deficiencies in conscience to show their true colors.”

Reiss was pessimistic about whether America can become a fully functional democratic welfare state again.

“We can’t close Pandora’s box,” Reiss explained ruefully. “We could acknowledge what’s emerged and find better ways to deal with it. But just like really any time in history when something like this has come out, it’s a process of first having to get past the denial and acknowledge that there is a problem. And then within the context of the culture we’re in now, what better ways are there to deal with it?”

He added, “What might have been better after the Civil War or the Revolutionary War or World War I or World War II may not work now. What would have worked in Ancient Greece would not work now. So it’s not really a matter of going back as a matter of acknowledging that this is human nature, that the changes in human nature are going to be evolutionary over not even generations but over hundreds of years or millennia. But there are things we can do better to keep it in check in the current environment.”

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