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My first real memory of any neighborhood watch that took place in a community I lived in came from my youth in South Florida. We had moved out of east Miramar to the west side of town — a side that provided a culture shock when we noticed how often Black and other minorities were targeted by this same community vigilantism. Polished golf and country clubs, gated communities and private parks almost always had a sign with the image of a cloaked figure accompanied by the phrase “community watch” on it staked somewhere in their winding cul-de-sacs.

In the early 2000s, these issues of systemic community racism didn’t have the same reach conversations today have, but neighborhoods and communities at large are still failing to address it strategically, even with today’s traction. Earlier this month, residents of Wakefield Estates and Wakefield Plantation neighborhoods were outraged by an anonymous letter sent to an interracial couple, rife with racist descriptions of what their “upscale neighborhood” did not tolerate.

While residents took to the streets to show their disgust with the letter and support of the family, many wondered what ramifications, if any, would follow such an offense. Charleston Management and the board of directors for Wakefield Estates Homeowners Association issued a statement to WRAL condemning the letter and applauding the family’s response. In it, they also said the vile sentiments detailed in the letter stand completely contrary to their company’s views.

The community rallied together and responded in the most appropriate way: peaceful demonstrations and open dialogue about protecting our neighbors from systemic racism. Charleston Management took the first steps in issuing a very necessary statement but could take these actions even further with additional community support.Neighborhoods across the country are pushing to remove racist and bigoted remnants of their past through organizing amongst themselves, but with the support of their respective HOAs, change can occur far more proactively.

Since Trayvon Martin’s murder in 2012, community and neighborhood watch entities have taken on a much more insidious reputation, leading those on the outside to ask “Who are you really trying to keep out?”Ahmaud Arbery’s murder shook the nation to its core when three white residents in his South Georgia neighborhood exercised their own community vigilantism and killed him while he jogged. Their arrests came only after months of social media and news coverage led the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to get involved.

Communities operating without the full support of their HOAs or board members are less likely to succeed in creating change on a holistic level. Community forums are even simpler to set up and moderate now and could be used as a space to discuss and dismantle implicit and explicit biases that lead to racism experienced in communities. Even diverse neighborhoods like Treyburn in Durham have experienced racist incidents this month when one of their homes was vandalized with hateful graffiti.

Despite the phrase “Keep America White” spray-painted alongside other racially charged expletives, authorities have yet to confirm if hate crime charges could be filed in this incident. A community with the support to demand a more thoughtful investigation could result in considerable change and help neighborhoods focus on dismantling racism in Treyburn.

Even through the pandemic, we’re seeing the damage done to communities of color on a national scale,with COVID-19 infecting and killing more African Americans than white people. Structural and systemic racism have persisted long enough in BIPOC communities without much opposition, and the results are staggering. States are releasing racial demographic data confirming COVID-19 cases, and North Carolina has seen African Americans take up a disproportionately large number of its cases.

When looking at the data and the mounting disparities further hurting communities of color, it’s crucial to note just how far back these inequities go. The Rev. William Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign and a past president of the North Carolina NAACP, said these disparities were preexisting, and the pandemic is further exposing that. Economic disparities hit communities of color hardest when looking at insured versus the uninsured. Nearly 30% of North Carolina’s Hispanic population and almost 11% of its Black population are uninsured.

Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, said uninsured patients will often let illness run its course before seeing a doctor due to many not having a relationship with a primary care doctor. The disparity stretches further when thinking about lower-wage workers who are less likely to be able to work safely from home, nearly 20% of those being Black workers.

The data is irrefutable. BIPOC neighborhoods and communities continue to face debilitating systemic and structural racism bolstered by an even more damaging pandemic now sweeping the country. Stimulating grassroots efforts should be the aims of committees and boards claiming to stand against racism and bigotry, otherwise these preexisting issues will continue to plague our communities of color.

I’m a first MFA student studying creative writing and working as a correspondent at Technician. Before working here, I was a guest columnist at Duke University where I focused on race relations, representation in the arts and cases of police violence.