If I Were Giving a Speech… (My Response to Recent Shootings)

By | July 18, 2016

We in the U.S. recently celebrated the independence of our country. We take pride in our freedoms and the belief that each person has a right to be treated justly. We desire for our nation to be a proponent of freedom and human rights around the world.

We have recently witnessed the tragic loss of human life in several instances here in this country. There has been even greater tragic loss of life in other parts of the world. There are no words which can express our true sorrow regarding these events. However today I want to address my fellow Americans.

When tragedy strikes, we are left with many questions. We want to know the reason behind what happened. We want to know what could have prevented the tragedy. In our grief, we want to figure out how we can prevent such a tragedy from reoccurring.

During this process, we often rush to point fingers and find someone or some group to blame. We blame the republicans and conservative policy. Or we blame the democrats and liberal policy. It’s the fault of the president. Or the Governor. Or Muslims. Or the police. Or the rich. The list goes on and on.

One of these parties may have responsibility and we need to acknowledge this. We also need to acknowledge that when we blame others—especially other groups—we divide ourselves. When we do this, it is easy to fall into the trap of believing that our side is good and that therefore anyone who is not on our side is against good. But it is a myth that if we can only eliminate or dominate “those people”—whomever “those people” are—that this will solve the problem. So long as we believe the solution is protecting ourselves and our “tribe” from “those people”, we will remain in conflict. To the degree we are in conflict, we are not free. So long as we are fighting one another, peace will elude us.

The the attacks on and murders of several police officers, both in Dallas and elsewhere, are upsetting and frightening. This is in part because of the number dead and injured. But it also represents an attack on our perceived security and order. To many of us, police represent safety and justice, protecting those who are good from those who are bad. We honor police for this reason. It is also for this reason that the recent attacks on police officers seem scary to us. They are causing us to question the peace and security we usually take for granted.

Yet this loss of perceived security and order is something which blacks have experienced for many years. For many, there is no sense of peace, security, and justice because too often, a police officer has brought injustice, disruption, harm, and even death to black people.

Are blacks biased against white police? They may well be. But if so, this doesn’t seem unjustified. Are whites biased towards white police? This seems at least as likely.

We need to acknowledge that presence of some bad cops does not mean that all or even most cops are bad. On the other hand, the belief that most police are good does not rule out the presence of any bad cops. Unfortunately, it only takes a small number of people to create a big problem. For example, the majority of men may not mistreat women, but even if only 1-percent do, we still have a major problem which needs to be addressed. We must not indite an entire group based on the actions of a few, but neither can we excuse or protect a few because of their association with the group. Just because some black men are violent does not mean that all or even most black men are “thugs”.

We must say that violence toward police is not acceptable. There is no justification for the shooting of police. We need the police to maintain order in our society, an order, security, and peace we all want. But we need the police to represent these values to all people equally. Excessive force and mistreatment by police of citizens which comes apparently due to their race is not acceptable. Abuse by police is just as unacceptable as is abuse of police.

Whites typically want to consider each incident on a case by case basis. This is understandable; we don’t want to punish a person for a crime they didn’t commit. But whites often deny or ignore the history of mistreatment and discrimination against black people. Brushing discrimination off as something which only happened in the past and which should now just be dropped does not acknowledge the reality of the situation. To the degree we ignore or minimize the issue of race, we will fail to solve our problems and will remain in conflict.

I said earlier that we want the United States to be a proponent of freedom and human rights around the world. To this end, we must acknowledge that we ourselves have not always treated all people justly. We have a history of mistreating various groups of people: native Americans, blacks, the Japanese who were imprisoned during World War II, Latinos, Muslims refugees, etc. 1) We must acknowledge the harm which was done in the past, 2) we must acknowledge that blacks, native Americans, and others groups continue to suffer the consequences of centuries of mistreatment in the past, 3) we must acknowledge the discrimination which continues to this day, 4) we must correct whatever systemic racism is currently in place, and 5) we should work toward making amends to the black community as a whole as well as other groups similarly wronged. The first four of these should be done immediately while I recognize the latter will take some time.

In light of recent events, I will speak mostly about blacks and whites as I continue. Understand however that I do recognize there are other groups which are in a similar position to blacks.

I have heard stories about how blacks have been mistreated. These have grieved me, yet I haven’t known what I could do. I am not in a particularly powerful position. I am not a police chief, governor, or congressman. Yet it occurs to me now that I can make the issue of racism and equality more important politically. Forgive me for not having done this previously.

I believe most whites are not intentionally racist. Yet I recognize that racism can exist even when it is not conscious or intentional. I remember recognizing how I was more likely to give a white person on the street money when asked than I was a black person. Please forgive me for this.

A person might argue that the statistical differences we see in how blacks are treated has more to do with economic status than it does race. This may well even be true. Yet we cannot overlook the fact that more blacks are poor due to the racism of the past and the systems which continue to discriminate even today. Money represents power; those without power have limited access to money, and those with little money have little power.

When looking at racial inequality, we must recognize that much of the systemic discrimination today isn’t overt. Blacks aren’t prevented from voting because they are black for example. The discrimination which is in place comes cloaked in a form such as voter ID laws. Is it good to require an ID in order to prevent voter fraud? Perhaps so. But in any case, laws like this affect blacks more than whites. This creates a form of hidden discrimination. The discrimination may be unintentional, but it is real nonetheless. This hidden discrimination separates us. It allows whites to continue to think that there is no racism while blacks continue to experience the unbalanced and perhaps unintentional consequences of these kind of laws.

How can we move forward? We need to recognize that our problem isn’t blacks verses whites, or blacks verses cops, or Americans verses Latinos, or Christians verses homosexuals, or liberals verse conservatives, or gun proponents verses gun opponents, or men verses women. To the degree we remain divided we will remain in conflict. And to the degree that we are in conflict, we will live in fear rather than freedom.

We need to act together to bring equality and justice to our country. We need to be united against the mistreatment of all people, whether they be black, in a blue uniform, or any other variation. We need to hold people accountable when they fail to live up to our standard. We need to work together to change our country so that blacks will have little reason to doubt the intentions of the police in the future. I want us to be a nation where a person doesn’t have reason to wonder if he or she will be turned down for a job because of their race or gender. I want the U.S. to be a country which lives up to its own values.

  • Therefore, I call all leaders, political and otherwise, to do what is in your power in order to seek the fair and just treatment of all people, whether they be employees, customers, constituents, or other.
  • I call on us as a community to invest in alleviating poverty. I believe this is the best solution to address the ills of the past. We don’t need to approach this in a racial way; poor whites should benefit just the same as poor blacks and other minorities. However, since a greater percentage of minorities are poor, this will help to reverse the affects of past racism.

    The type of policy I am advocating is not about simply giving money to the poor. In ways, handouts actually keep the poor enslaved to the government. I advocate investing in education, health, and providing resources for poor people to begin to take control of their own lives and work toward improving their fortunes. I advocate giving lower income people more opportunities, not merely gifts. Those of us who are not poor are often blind to how many more opportunities and resources we have compared to those in poverty.

  • I call for reform to the system of justice in our country. We imprison a significantly imbalanced share of minorities. And regardless of race, I doubt that locking men and women up for years is the most efficient means to the deterrence of crime and the prevention of recidivism.
  • We need to eliminate corruption in our political system so that our government won’t be merely a matter of the wealthy catering to the wealthy.
  • We need to take what steps we can in order to prevent violent people from shooting and killing others.
  • I call for investment into mental health. This is an area in which we have made great gains, but we still have a long way to go.
  • Though I’ve spoken mainly about race, I also advocate for the fair and just treatment of women. We must take seriously the issues of sexual harassment and rape, modern day slavery (regardless of gender), and any other ways in which women are treated unjustly.

I’m sure there are many more groups which could be mentioned but with which I am less familiar. Please forgive any omission on my part.

In conclusion I ask, will we continue in conflict and to that degree a lack of freedom? Will we continue in ignorance, denial, or indifference in regards to how we have mistreated others? Will we continue to point fingers, blame, and bicker about our problems. Or will we move forward to right the wrongs of the past and present in order to create the future freedom for our Unites States?

photo credit: Waving Flag via photopin (license)

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