We all do it. As we go about our daily lives, we look past national problems that may not hit us personally. We know the problem is there, but we let it simmer until it boils over.
In Charlottesville this past weekend, a problem boiled over – and people died.
The Founding Fathers created for us a brand of freedom that was, at the time, literally revolutionary, and even today, that freedom still presents us with amazing ironies. In America, people have a constitutional right to be stupid, vile, offensive and disgusting – as long as their misguided beliefs or even words don’t cause harm to others.
That’s what makes it possible for a bunch of white supremacist neo-Nazis to gather in a city like Charlottesville for the purpose of spewing hate. Millions of members of our military, of all ethnicities, have fought wars to protect that right.
In Charlottesville last weekend, the black chief of police and, undoubtedly, a number of police officers of color found themselves protecting the rights of white supremacist idiots. That’s what we do in America.
But none of that means we have to tolerate hate, racism or “supremacy” of any kind. A free society works when the rights of not just the minority, but the individual, are insured by the majority. That’s what liberty is – and that is government’s most fundamental responsibility.
However, even in the aftermath of the weekend events in Charlottesville, we have seen the media and too many politicians get sidetracked into debates over whether we are sufficiently outraged. Personally, I’m not sure there actually are words to adequately capture the lowliness of a bunch of white supremacists who carry baseball bats and homemade shields into a so-called “rally”. Yes, words are important. But actions are more important.
Likewise, if we are to get into the finger-pointing business, I’m not sure any of us has enough fingers. At whom, exactly, do we point?
Let’s look for solutions rather than pointing fingers
In business as well as government, I have always found it to be more productive to talk about solutions, rather than blame. There is almost always plenty of blame to go around, and in the case of the violence and murder in Charlottesville, that obviously begins with the thugs who came to town looking for a fight. Murder is murder, and I hope that anyone who contributed to the death and injury that occurred gets the punishment they deserve.
As for the rest of us, it’s just too easy for us to take comfort in the fact that the vast majority of Americans aren’t racists, and that we all condemn the white supremacists who showed up in Charlottesville.
That cannot be the end of the story. First, let’s begin with admitting that racism exists. It does, and as long as we have ignorant thugs among us, it may always exist at some level. But that doesn’t exempt us from the imperative to examine laws and policies that we can control – and that are in reality racist and discriminatory, even if not intentionally so.
Criminal justice reform must be a priority
Let’s begin with the criminal justice system. When are we actually going to take a hard look at the stark reality that people of color are much more likely to end up in jail than the rest of us?
Are black people more criminal than white people? Don’t think so. But they are more likely to be arrested and more likely to rely on inadequate indigent defense programs. There is no excuse for that reality to persist in America today, and yes, it is racist.
It’s not some demographic reality that can be rationalized by the politicians who refuse to reform our drug laws or provide adequate defenses for those who can’t afford high-dollar attorneys. It’s racism we can fix — and we need to do so. Now.
Politicians are demonizing immigrants even though they commit fewer crimes
And speaking of the politicians, what about the ones who aren’t even subtle about suggesting that immigrants are bringing rape and thievery to our communities, notwithstanding the fact that immigrants commit fewer of those crimes than us red-blooded Americans.
And it doesn’t even have to be about race. What about the politicians who are blatantly trying to find ways to legalize discrimination based on sexual orientation or identity. I’m sorry, but enacting “bathroom laws” to somehow “protect” us is not just unnecessary, but hurtful.
Bigotry reared its despicable head in Charlottesville, and we are rightfully disgusted and outraged. And no one is suggesting that a piece of legislation or a government policy is somehow responsible for violence and murder for which there is no justification.
But at the same time, let’s at least turn our outrage into a productive and overdue look at what we can do to place our laws, our rhetoric and our politics squarely on the side of equality under the law and against any form of discrimination.
(Photo of hundreds of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and members of the “alt-right” march down East Market Street toward Emancipation Park during the “Unite the Right” rally August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia, by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.)