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Healing The Nation’s Wounds

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Healing The Nation’s Wounds


SAN FRANCISCO — We have a choice to make.

We can look at both violence and racism as scourges that all of us must join together to fight. Or we can turn the issues of crime and policing into fodder for racial and political division.

In principle, it shouldn’t be hard to recognize two truths.

Too many young African-Americans have been killed in confrontations with police when lethal force should not have been used. We should mourn their deaths and demand justice. Black Lives Matter turned into a social movement because there is legitimate anger over the reality that — to be very personal about it — I do not have to worry about my son being shot by the police in the way an African-American parent does.

At the same time, too many of our police forces are killed while doing their jobs. According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, 1,466 men and women in law enforcement died in the line of duty over the last decade. We should mourn their deaths, appreciate the dangers they face, and honor their courage.

Now I’ll admit: It’s easy for me to type these words on a computer screen. Circumstances are more complicated for those on either side of confrontations over the obligations of our police forces. Things get said (or, often, shouted) that call forth a reaction from the other side. A few demonstrators can scream vile slogans that can be used to taint a whole movement. Rage escalates.

Moreover, there are substantive disagreements over what needs to be done. Those trying to stop unjust police killings want to establish new rules and practices that many rank-and-file officers resist, arguing that the various measures could prevent them from doing their jobs. This resistance, in turn, only heightens mistrust of the police among their critics.

But politicians and, yes, even political commentators have an obligation: to try to make things better, not worse. There is always a choice between the politics of resentment and the politics of remedy. Resentment is easier.

And so it was this week that the murder of Texas sheriff’s deputy Darren Goforth inspired Sen. Ted Cruz to say on Monday: “Whether it’s in Ferguson or Baltimore, the response of senior officials of the president, of the attorney general, is to vilify law enforcement. That is fundamentally wrong, and it is endangering the safety and security of us all.” For good measure, the next day, Cruz condemned President Obama’s “silence” on Goforth’s murder.

The problem? For starters, Obama was not silent. He called the slain officer’s widow on Monday and issued a statement saying he had told Kathleen Goforth “that Michelle and I would keep her and her family in our prayers. I also promised that I would continue to highlight the uncommon bravery that police officers show in our communities every single day. They put their lives on the line for our safety.” Obama has made statements of this sort over and over. Vilification this is not.

Over at Fox News, the campaign against Black Lives Matter has become fierce. Bill O’Reilly called the organization a “hate group” and declared: “I’m going to put them out of business.”

Let’s take five steps back. The movement for police reform was not the invention of some leftist claque. It was a response to real and genuinely tragic events. Silencing protesters won’t make anything better.

And some potential solutions don’t even make the political agenda. The easy availability of guns on American streets is a threat to police officers and to African-Americans in our most violent neighborhoods. Why are those who seek reasonable gun regulations regularly blocked by interests far more powerful than those who demonstrate in our streets?

On April 5, 1968, the day after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, Robert F. Kennedy — who himself would be fatally shot exactly two months later — said this to the Cleveland City Club:

Whenever any American’s life is taken by another American unnecessarily — whether it is done in the name of the law or in defiance of the law, by one man or by a gang, in cold blood or in passion, in an attack of violence or in response to violence — whenever we tear at the fabric of our lives which another man has painfully and clumsily woven for himself and his children, whenever we do this, then the whole nation is degraded.

How much more pain must we endure before we recognize that these words are still true?

E.J. Dionne’s email address is ejdionne@washpost.com. Twitter: @EJDionne. 

Photo: Brandon Anderson via Flickr

E. J. Dionne

Besides contributing to The National Memo, E.J. Dionne, Jr. is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a syndicated columnist for the Washington Post, and a university professor in the Foundations of Democracy and Culture at Georgetown University.

His most recent book is Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent (2013).

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  1. Dominick Vila September 3, 2015

    Unfortunately for us, as a nation, the “solutions” that seem to resonate do not include comprehensive, enforceable, gun control law reform or even an honest, bipartisan, effort to determine the root causes of this problem and solve it, or at least mitigate it.
    For those inclined to see everything under the umbrella of an abusive government trying to infringe on our freedoms, for those consumed by fear bordering on paranoia, for those who see easy access to guns as an essential tool to carry out their fantasies or crimes, and for those whose financial benefits may be adversely affected if not every Tom, Dick, and Harry can have and carry a gun, regardless of their background or mental condition, even a tiny drop in the incidence of gun violence in the USA is unacceptable, and downright evil.
    To justify their refusal to address and do something to reduce the tragedies we see every single day in ever city and town in the USA, they provide statistics that indicate the incidence of crime has declined in the USA, ignoring that “crime” includes a lot more than gun violence, and that what we are seeing should be enough to make every sane person sick. The fact that gun violence in the USA is proportionally lower than in failed societies such as those in Venezuela, Guatemala, Colombia, several African countries, and countries beset by social unrest such as Syria, Libya, Iraq, and Afghanistan is no reason for comfort. We should compare ourselves with what is happening in Western Europe, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and other civilized countries, not failed states.

    1. Otto Greif September 3, 2015

      US gun violence rates are skewed by blacks.

      1. JPHALL September 3, 2015

        Otto Greif: Your bigotry knows no bounds!

        1. Otto Greif September 4, 2015

          That’s not bigotry, it’s a fact.

          1. JPHALL September 4, 2015

            Any in a bigot’s world. The real world knows that Blacks have struggled to end Black on Black crime with little help from White America since the 1920’s. Or the nearly three million Blacks in college this year out of a population of 42 million. You are stuck in the past with old information and sources. Good bye bigot! Subject: Re: Comment on Healing The Nation’s Wounds

  2. Carl Sdano September 3, 2015

    E. J.,you’re a voice of reason amidst all the pandering & fearmongering so prevalent in the media these days,

  3. Otto Greif September 3, 2015

    Democrats stir up blacks to motivate them to polls, when things get out of control they say “we” have to do something.

    1. Norma Stidha September 3, 2015

      I will share excellent internet freelancing opportunity… three to five hours of work /day… Payment each week… Performance depending bonuses…Payscale of $6k to $9k a month… Only few @hrs of spare time, desktop or laptop, elementary understanding of internet and dependable web-connection needed…Have a visit to my disqus_profile for more info

    2. Daniel Jones September 3, 2015

      So you’re saying that police won’t shoot black men if the colored folk keep their heads down and stop voting?
      You are a reprehensible thug and you should be in intensive therapy.

      1. Otto Greif September 3, 2015

        No, I said Democrats stir up blacks to motivate them to polls, when things get out of control they say “we” have to do something.


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