Whether we’re experiencing the beginnings of a period of profound social change or witnessing the effects of the long lockdown hangover, it’s time someone stood in the middle of the public square and shouted “Enough!” at the top of their lungs.
President Trump tried to do that Monday as he spoke to the nation from the Rose Garden but, we suspect, there were too many people shouting epithets at him to hear. We agree with some commentators that his walk to the historic St. John’s Church may have been ill-advised, but we appreciate the sentiment behind it. And we are indeed in a strange new world when the symbolism of a president of the United States holding up a Bible in front of a vandalized church stirs up more comment and controversy than the effort by allegedly peaceful demonstrators to burn that same church to the ground.
Still and all, we remain hopeful that peace will come and that we as a nation have shown ourselves to have advanced on the subject of the police and race considerably, not just from the riots sparked by the original acquittal of four Los Angeles police in the Rodney King case and even the hotly-debated and highly distorted for the record events in Ferguson, Missouri.
In those instances and others of a more recent vintage, the discussion has always broken down over whether the police involved were justified in using the force they did. That hasn’t happened here. No one of any prominence of which we are aware has tried to defend the Minneapolis police or now ex-Sgt. Derek Chauvin’s actions which led, directly or indirectly, to the death of George Floyd. Instead, the country has come together with one voice and, from President Trump on down, condemned the killing in strong terms as an offense against humanity, liberty and the idea of equal justice under law.
There’s still a long way to go, as we’re witnessing, and a lot to discuss. It’s legitimate to ask if the police, especially those in large and middle-sized cities have too much authority and if the power equation between law enforcement and a presumed innocent citizen is tilted too much on the cops’ side. Some say they do while others argue that having laws like the ones that require people to obey the orders given by the police in every situation only increases the chance confrontation will ensue.
We give the police tremendous power and trust they will use it wisely and judiciously. When they don’t, and someone captures it on their smartphone and sends it around the nation on social media, it creates a problem for everyone. In one way it’s reassuring as if we finally have an answer to the question of who will watch the watchers. On the other though, it may make the tough job of policing our streets that much tougher.
We should respect the police, but not because they carry guns and can put us in handcuffs at the drop of a hat. We should respect them because they are there to protect us and our property and our interests. When they’re used for other things, and sometimes the politicians, who raise fees and fines to generate revenues rather than protect the public safety put them in that position, they are being undermined and we are not being well-served.
The peaceful protests over what happened to George Floyd are more than justified: They’re symbolic of the best of what it means to be living in America. We can say “No” to power because, as voters, the ultimate authority rests in our hands.
Amidst all the chaos caused by Antifa — who seem to have a different agenda in mind than the protesters — we can find hope. People of all possible hues are coming together to protest peacefully a profound injustice. The riots, with their looting and burning of buildings, and the shooting at and of police officers and others who are trying to preserve neighborhoods and the commerce that is the lifeblood of these communities within cities, should not cause us to lose sight of that when it would be very easy to do so.
America is a strong nation, full of good people who sometimes do amazing things. The way some in our communities have responded to the riots and the rioters, trying to chase them out lest they do further damage while government officials stand by almost idle, afraid of making the politically wrong decision, makes us optimistic we can preserve our self-government.
As Madison said, no government would be necessary if men were angels. But the better people we are, the more we do for one another, the less government we need. Let’s meditate on that as we move forward and try to heal our fractured country.
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