Why Policy Alone Isn't Enough To Change Racial Injustice In America

"We have to put our trust in movements."

The close of 2015 brought with it decisions from grand jury not to indict anyone in the deaths of Tamir Rice and Sandra Bland, who both died in high-profile police encounters.

According to Rashad Robinson, the executive director of the advocacy group Color of Change, the lack of accountability reveals an ugly truth about the fight for racial justice: Policy prescriptions won't be enough to create real change.

"This is why we can't concentrate on policy alone," Robinson told HuffPost Live's Caroline Modarressy-Tehrani on Monday. "The policies in our country are not applied fairly. So what I'm saying is policies alone do not change the underlying conditions if we don't change the power structure."

Instead, Robinson said systemic change would be the only way to yield real results in the new year.

"Our movement and our work has to be not just about a list of policy perspectives, but about changing the underlying power that ensures how policies are enforced, how policies are implemented, how policies are carried out," he said.

The Nation Institute's Mychal Denzel Smith added that the broken legal system has spawned anger -- and, in turn, action -- among people of color:

I think that in a weird, twisted way, it's the anger that gives people hope. It's the fact that people are so angry that they are willing to take to the streets, put their lives on the line and face down the rubber bullets and the tear gas and the militarized police forces to stand up for their rights. That's what turns into hope."

Robinson agreed that grassroots movements, like Black Lives Matter, would be the main vehicle for change moving forward and remained apprehensive about relying on politicians to do the work without pressure.

"I don't think that people of color... can put their trust in any political candidate. We have to put our trust in movements. We have to build the type of powerful movements that force candidates to follow us," he said.

Smith pointed to Hillary Clinton's shifting stance on racial issues -- from her support for her husband's 1994 crime law to her current views on mass incarceration -- as evidence of the movement's impact.

"The sort of politician that Hillary is, she responds to what the rhetoric of the moment is. And I think that this proves the power of the movement to sort of force the conversation and force someone like Hillary Clinton [to change her stance on the issue]," Smith said.

Watch the full HuffPost Live conversation on refocusing our discussions of race here.

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