With cities on fire from coast to coast and nightly battles raging between police and protesters, it may seem like our country has descended into a dark and dangerous place.
In truth, we’ve been here for a long time.
How could it be otherwise when so much, including whether you live or die, depends upon the color of your skin?
But that is life — still, in 2020 — in a country whose founders declared 244 years ago that “all men are created equal” at the same time many of them were slave owners. It is America’s original sin, and the ugly stain of racism has never really been washed away.
Not by the Emancipation Proclamation which freed the slaves.
Not by a bloody Civil War that guaranteed their freedom.
Not by the Civil Rights Act that outlawed discrimination.
It is simply undeniable that racism — at both institutional and individual levels — still exists here in the “land of the free.” It’s in the workplace. It’s in the public sphere. It’s in housing. And it’s in the justice system.
The killing of an unarmed and handcuffed black man, George Floyd, at the hands of police Monday in Minneapolis, Minnesota, served as the trigger for the spasm of riots that have erupted across the country. The surprise is it didn’t happen sooner.
For far too long we have counseled patience — always patience — when a person of color has been killed by police. George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. Walter Scott. Sandra Bland. Philando Castile. Eric Garner.
But when you are black in America, you cannot afford more patience. Not when you, or your parent, or your spouse, or your child, could be the next victim.
According to the National Academy of Sciences, an astounding 1 in 1,000 black men in this country can be expected to be killed by police. That’s the same death rate as the seasonal flu.
Police violence is the leading cause of death for young men in the United States, according to the Academy. Although the vast majority of police officers take seriously their vow to serve and protect, this is not the case of a few “bad apples.” It is systemic in far too many departments.
As a society, we cannot find that acceptable nor tolerate it any longer.
Certainly, the violence and destruction raging across our country is a tragedy. But it is a tragedy of our own making. When the riots inevitably end, we cannot go back to everyday life and pretend the problem is solved, that all is well.
At long last, we must address the ongoing issue of racism aimed at black Americans — and not just when there is a flash point like riots to spur us to action.
All of us, this newspaper included, must do better. Living in a diverse community is not enough. Donating to nonprofits is not enough. Attending seminars or rallies is not enough. Being friends with diverse members of the community is not enough.
We must be willing to confront the issue of equal opportunity and equal treatment for all Americans openly and transparently. No more hiding behind anonymous phone calls, letters and emails. This must be a public conversation because it concerns all of us.
At other trying times in our country’s checkered racial history, we have looked to a national leader to light the way to a brighter and more just future. But there is no Abraham Lincoln, no Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., no Robert Kennedy, to guide us forward this time.
Certainly, a president who sows division instead of healing it, and who seems to think it’s in his political interest to do so, is uniquely unqualified for the task.
So we are largely our own.
But perhaps that is how it should be, indeed how it must be, because the solution — like the problem itself — is in us.
— Akron Beacon Journal; Online: https://bit.ly/3eRfXnd