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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

This is not about the police.

At least, not solely. Granted, the police are the reason we are heartbroken today, the reason cable news networks are assembling panels to talk about black and blue, the fraught intersection between African Americans and the law. Last week, after all, saw two more African-American men shot by police under questionable circumstances and then, five Dallas police officers assassinated by a sniper at a Black Lives Matter rally.

But ultimately another tragedy overarches both of those: America’s ongoing struggle to reconcile itself along lines of race. We are still fighting over what being black means — and should mean — in a nation that ostensibly holds equality as a foundational belief.

We say that’s what we stand for, yet in virtually every field of endeavor, our behavior proves us liars.

In education, for instance, the federal government issued data in 2014 documenting that even as early as preschool, African-American kids are suspended far more frequently than others.

In medicine, a 2016 study by researchers from the University of Virginia found that white med students were sometimes less aggressive in assessing and managing the pain of African-American patients.

In labor, a 2003 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that job seekers with perceived “black” names were significantly less likely to get callbacks from prospective employers.

And in justice, oh, dear God. Multiple studies have documented a system that, from arrest to incarceration, is heavily stacked against African-American people.

This is not abstract. This is blood and bone reality, life as experienced by more than 40 million Americans. And can any thinking or compassionate person blame them if they are sick and tired of it?

Yet rather than respond to expressions of that frustration and anger in constructive and compassionate ways, too many of us seek every cowardly avenue of avoidance they can find.

Some take refuge in defensiveness, answering complaints about subconscious and systemic biases as if you’d just accused them, personally, of membership in the KKK. As if their feelings were what this is all about. Others try to shout down the messenger, often using the absurd formulation that to talk about race is racist.

Go online if you’re not there already and read the message board beneath this column; chances are good you’ll see examples of both.

Then, there are those who try to change the subject. As in Bill O’Reilly, the TV pundit, who recently proclaimed that Martin Luther King would never march with Black Lives Matter, a movement O’Reilly accuses of fomenting violence. King would probably find that laughable, given how often he was accused of the selfsame thing.

But again, to make this all about Black Lives Matter — or policing — is to make it too small. Granted, inequality becomes more visceral, visible and urgent when police are concerned, when we are called upon to tease out the role color played in some split-second decision to pull the trigger. But the point is, color also plays a role in the decision to punish a toddler, call back a job applicant, prescribe a drug, approve a loan, rent an apartment, or just extend the benefit of the doubt.

The police do not stand apart from society — they reflect it. And our society is riven by race, defensive about race, terrified of race. We say we seek understanding and light, yet too often generate only noise and heat. If America is ever to reconcile itself, that has to change.

It’s fine to demand better training, more body cams, more community liaisons. But to lay the onus entirely on the men and women in blue is to delude ourselves. Ultimately, the police are not the problem.

We are.

 

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via e-mail at lpitts@miamiherald.com.

Photo: Activist Najee Ali, seated center, is supported by a group of black civil rights activists as they block Spring Street in front of the Hall of Justice in downtown Los Angeles on September 30, 2015. (Al Seib/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Sen. David Perdue

Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) pulled out of his final debate against Democrat Jon Ossoff on Thursday —because he'd rather attend a Donald Trump campaign rally.

The Nov. 1 Senate debate was planned months ago, but Perdue's campaign said he could not participate as promised because he has been too busy doing his job.

"Senator Perdue will not be participating in the WSB-TV debate but will instead join the 45th president, Donald J. Trump, for a huge Get-Out-The-Vote rally in Northwest Georgia. For 8 of the last 14 days of this campaign, Senator Perdue went back to Washington to work for much needed COVID relief," his spokesperson John Burke said in a statement, referencing a failed attempt by Senate Republicans to pass Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-KY) "skinny" $500 billion proposal.

"To make up for the lost time, Senator Perdue has over 20 campaign stops planned for the closing days of this race, and he is excited to welcome and join President Trump in Georgia before November 3rd to campaign for both of their re-election efforts," Burke added.

WSB-TV noted on Thursday that it offered Perdue's campaign other time slots to accommodate the Trump rally, but the overture was rebuffed.

Ossoff's campaign blasted Perdue's "cowardly withdrawal," saying in a statement that the move "says it all: David Perdue feels entitled to his office, and he'll do anything to avoid accountability for his blatant corruption and his total failure during this unprecedented health crisis."

The incumbent's decision to break his promise to debate came one day after a video of Jon Ossoff criticizing Perdue's anti-Obamacare record at a Wednesday debate went viral. As of Friday morning, a 72-second clip of Ossoff has been viewed more than 12 million times.

Perdue responded to that attack by making the odd claim that he repeatedly voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act — which would take insurance away from hundreds of thousands of his constituents — because he believed doing so would cover more people.

"I voted against the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, because it was taking insurance away from millions of Georgians. Today almost 18 percent of Georgians don't have any health insurance because of the Affordable Care Act," he falsely claimed.

This is not the first time Perdue has put Trump ahead of the interests of Georgians. According to FiveThirtyEight, he has voted with Trump about 95 percent of the time, including backing his right-wing Supreme Court nominees, his tax cuts for large corporations and the very wealthy, and his repeated attempts to take money from military families to pay for a massive Southern border wall.

Medical experts and data analyses have suggested Trump's rallies have been super-spreader events for the coronavirus. Trump has refused to adhere to social distancing rules or to require mask usage at the events and the mass gatherings have frequently been immediately followed by case spikes in the communities where he holds them.

One poll this week found that voters across the country said they are less likely to vote for Trump because of his "large, in-person campaign rallies where wearing a mask is not required of attendees."

The race between Ossoff and Perdue is considered a "toss-up" by election experts, and polls show it as virtual tied.

If no candidate gets a majority on Tuesday, the top two finishers will face off in a January runoff.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.