Dear Queens Public Library Family,
The horrific killing of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis last week and the disproportionate toll the coronavirus outbreak has wrought upon people of color have fueled a level of rage and unrest this country has not seen in decades. I want to express my deepest condolences to all of those who have been affected by these twin injustices.
I know firsthand the pain and frustration of being involved with the police for no other reason aside from being black. Many years ago when I was a teenager, I was driving with some friends about four blocks from my house in St. Albans when two police officers pulled us over. They approached our car, guns drawn, ordering us to keep our hands visible and not to move. With a pistol not far from my face, I was able to de-escalate the situation. I do not remember what I said, but I will never forget the anger and the hurt.
I have another memory from that time that gave me an alternate perspective. One night the police were called to investigate a possible break-in at a house a few doors down from mine. With a street light shining behind them, the officers entered the house practically blind, not knowing if anyone was waiting inside to harm them. For the first time, I recognized the difficulty and danger police officers face, an understanding that only deepened as I grew older.
My respect for their sacrifices is why I find even more disheartening the death of Mr. Floyd and those of many other unarmed black people at the hands of police across the nation. The officers involved in those incidents failed to live up to their sworn duty to protect the public. The vast majority do, and some with tragic outcomes—I have attended too many police funerals.
The grief, heartache, and fury the nation is experiencing now have the potential to polarize us even further. Still, I am optimistic that before that happens, we will come together, and we will do better. It will not be easy, but I cannot imagine what the future holds for our children and our grandchildren if we fail to address these seemingly intractable issues now.
Through our commitment to understanding, inclusion and unity, Queens Public Library is here to bring our communities together in the most diverse urban area in the world in the most dynamic city in America.
The doors to our physical locations may be temporarily closed, but the Library remains open to all, regardless of their circumstances or background. As we have for the past 124 years, we continue to offer to everyone the chance to realize the promise of their lives through free access to knowledge and ideas to help us walk in other people’s shoes.
Thank you for being part of the Queens Public Library family as we work shoulder to shoulder to ensure equity and opportunity for all. I look forward to seeing you in person one day soon, and I hope you and your loved ones stay safe and healthy.
With my best,
Dennis M. Walcott
President and CEO, Queens Public Library