Juneteenth of 2020 arrives with more fanfare than in the past, as many states and businesses make it an official holiday, but that’s the case because it comes amid a moment of national reckoning on race, after weeks of protests across the country. The Fix spoke with five scholars, activists and policymakers about what has happened over the last several weeks, how to fix some of the more pressing issues related to race and where the country needs to go from here.

I spoke to each in separate conversations. Their answers are compiled below and have been edited for length and clarity.

Where does the country stand on conversations about anti-black racism headed into Juneteenth?

Rep. Cedric L. Richmond (D-La.), a national co-chair for Joe Biden’s presidential campaign: I think we’re exposed. It is as exposed as it’s ever been — which is encouraging. When you want to build something, you want to make sure you’re building on a solid foundation, so you have to strip away everything that’s rotting and bad. So if you look at public sentiment, at people acknowledging racism — especially white people — I think we’re at a real point where we have a chance to address it.

Keisha Blain, history professor at the University of Pittsburgh and president of the African American Intellectual History Society: It’s really hard to describe it. We’re probably in a place of disarray. I think unfortunately and especially in light of [Tuesday’s] announcement concerning the very odd executive order Trump is going to sign. I just think we’re at a very dark place considering everything going on with covid-19 over the last two months. And we’ve seen these uprisings across the nation in response to several high-profile police killings. I just think we’re in a very dark place.

What has surprised you most over the past few weeks?

George Johnson, activist focused on race and LGBT issues and author of “All Boys Aren’t Blue”: I found it surprising that the world stood up with us, that the world rallied around several black people. And it’s not just George Floyd. I want to be clear: George Floyd will be named the unwilling martyr. However, George Floyd’s martyrdom is one we’ve never quite seen before, and now we look at Rayshard Brooks [and so many others]. There is something happening now because that system can no longer be trusted. This is a system that we’ve never trusted. And now this other thing is happening where those people who thought they were protected are realizing that these systems are not theirs either.

Do you think there’s anything different about this moment?

Derecka Purnell, human rights lawyer and activist who works to end police violence: Today, people aren’t satisfied with just putting cops in prison, because they know even as the number of police officers are being convicted, the institution is still hurting people. People are still harassing people. And people know that convictions don’t lead to more safety, and what people want is to feel safe. So there’s been an absolute shift in the last six years in terms of the policing conversation.

Richmond: We’re in a serious moment, and we have video of black people being over-policed, killed by police officers. This is not an academic case study. This is real people, real life, and black males’ and black people’s experience with law enforcement is real.

It took some creativity by Republicans for them to try to make Trump the victim [during Wednesday’s House Judiciary hearing on police reform]. You heard them talk about Michael Flynn and all these other things, but the one thing they didn’t want to talk about is the 8 minutes and 46 seconds that the police had his knee on [Floyd’s] neck. Or Breonna Taylor. And the list goes on. If you want to deal with the other stuff, let’s deal with it. But at another time. But right now, we should be singularly focused on fixing this problem. But clearly [Florida Republican Rep.] Matt Gaetz didn’t get that.

What is the media getting wrong?

Blain: Well, the media has gotten several things wrong. One, they keep calling the uprisings the George Floyd protests. What you’re saying is that people are protesting his death specifically and only. This did not begin with his death. What we can argue is that this particular incident is the straw that broke the camel’s back, but the danger in calling it the George Floyd protest is we minimize the problem and say all we have to do is address police violence and police brutality. But we fail to address the fundamental problem, and that is structural racism — which no one really wants to talk about. From my perspective, we’ll know when we‘re headed in the right direction when we’re no longer feeling comfortable. We have to break free from the comfort zone.

What conversations are people not having?

Blain: Perhaps the conversation I think people are having but maybe more people need to have is a conversation about Joe Biden and about the role he is supposed to play. It seems to me that some people are pushing back against him, suggesting he’d invest millions of dollars to further expand the police. I would really like to see more people, more leaders demand better from Joe Biden, especially as we head into an election where we’re having to choose between someone pushing law and order and someone who’s clearly stood on the side of the police and someone who is going to dance around the problem of police violence and say he’s going to support black people yet not support radical changes.

[Following national protests against police violence, Biden called on Congress to pass a law banning police from using chokeholds and to stop providing police forces with military weapons. He also called for a model “use of force” standard and supports improving oversight and accountability of departments by creating a national police oversight board if elected.]

What type of response to demands for defunding police are you expecting from lawmakers?

Johnson: Incrementalism. I have no expectations of politicians ever anymore. They have had thousands of chances to get something right, and they always lean on the side of reform or incrementalism. I have no trust in the politicians doing anything for us — us specifically being black folks. Do I think certain things will start to change a little bit? Yes.

Richmond: One, we can play a big role if we lead by example. Second, we can change laws in terms of reinventing policing and smart police reform. Beyond policing to address other issues of racial inequality, we can actually provide access to capital, technical support, microlending investments in African American communities.

We can do a lot, a number of things, in terms of wealth disparities for first-time homeowner buying. We can talk about the funding of HBCUs, K through 12 — a lot of these things play a big role in the economic side.

I’m cautiously optimistic because what has been done so far is woefully inadequate — commissioning studies and studying data. The Senate Republicans didn’t rise to the moment, so the next couple of weeks will be interesting to see if they have it in them.

What would defunding the police look like?

Purnell: It’s saying: We’re going to have a five-year hiring freeze. We’re not going to hire any more police officers. We’re not going to build any more police academies. We’re going to have a moratorium on SWAT raids and get to the bottom of why people are choosing to commit harm to other people.

We’re going to chip away at the budgets of police departments and taking the money and putting it into actual measures of safety that rely on people without guns.

It’s completely possible. It’s about whether we have the imagination and will to do it.

LaTosha Brown, co-founder of Black Voters Matter, a nonprofit focused on black voter outreach: At the end of the day, we’ve got to uproot the fundamental structures of racism. I think we need to uproot the system. Looking at reforming the police is like someone asking how can we create an equitable slave plantation. We can’t. What we need is a whole new approach. Our communities want to be safe. Having an agency that actually is rooted in protection and safety and maintaining peace — that’s what I want. There has to be a fundamental, whole reformation, transformation of structure where at the center of that structure is not enforcement, but the focus is literally on how do you use this department to really be able to facilitate or maintain peace.

What’s the biggest obstacle to defunding police?

Purnell: One of the biggest obstacles to defunding the police is that people conflate the idea of safety and policing, especially people who don’t experience police violence. So they’re just curious and are like, “What are we going to do?” They want an answer.

What we’re saying is don’t wait for abolitionists [people working on prison abolition] to give you an answer that sounds like police. Think of abolition as an invitation to think about other ways to address public safety.

And don’t just assume it’s a novel idea that hasn’t been thought out. So many organizations, so many writers are teaching people not to rely on police but to rely on each other and establish strong community networks to respond to public harm without public harm. Ask, “Are people already trying this, and what results are they seeing? Does it make sense to invest in those, or does our community look very different?”

Brown: We need sweeping policing and criminal justice reform. Also we need deeper accountability measures around those who are bad actors. I also think there needs to be some legal remedy around holding individuals accountable, but also the police department. There has to be some analysis on all these tax dollars we’re spending on settling lawsuits. We can’t continue to go this way.

What are you feeling now, and what’s making you feel it? Are you encouraged?

Johnson: I am exhausted. I am burnt out. I am running on what comes after you’re running on fumes. This is tough. It is not easy every day, and many of us do other work outside of this and these situations. But again, to see someone like Angela Davis be like, “This is what I’ve been waiting for.” It is scary a lot of times, and it is tough, but I do wake up inspired, because movement seems to be happening every day.”

Brown: This is my life’s work. I’m tired as hell, but this is my life’s work. I’ve been waiting for this moment. We’re in this moment to radically reimagine this country. I think we’re at this transformative moment. I see possibilities. I can’t say I don’t feel some sense of anxiety. I don’t want to see those who want to start a race war use this moment to fuel that fire of white supremacy. I’m fearful for how those who are on the front line are being treated right now.

So what is the next step?

Purnell: If people are truly interested, learn about the issues or support an organization. I think people should take inventory of what is happening. If we can cut a $6 billion police budget in New York City, what can we cut in other communities? If the University of Minnesota is severing its ties with the Minneapolis Police Department, can other universities do the same thing? Take inventory of all the wins that are happening and see how it applies to your local context.

And people must keep hitting the streets.

Richmond: We’re going to pass substantive legislation in the House, and I hope that people continue to let their voices be heard and show that this is a moment that Congress needs to rise to. And the Senate bill doesn’t rise at all. It doesn’t meet the moment. It doesn’t meet anything, and so I hope people just continue to let their voices be heard.