As our nation rolls from crisis to crisis, virus to violence, allow a few observations. These thoughts aim to reassure not inflame, restore not stoke, and bring calm. They center on a fact: There is nothing we Americans cannot do – if we resolve to do it.
So, what are we seeing? First, in the tragic death of a young black man named George Floyd, we witnessed humanity failing itself, a profound loss of perspective that resulted in senseless loss of life. We saw lack of judgement, compassion, decency, and simple caring. We saw cruelty in uniform, disgracing hard-won honor and selflessness that on most days, in most places, at most times – defines American law enforcement. But the camera does not lie; what is showed distresses a soul to see.
What else are we seeing? At first, we saw the exercise of First Amendment rights to speak, assemble, and petition the government for redress – by black and white, young and old, using rights our Founders preserved for such moments. We witnessed anger channeled into protests. Their objective: Redress a wrong.
What next? We saw the Trump Justice Department turning the power of law at the same objective. Exercising federal authority, they put into action pursuit of justice. This, too, our Founders intended. State and federal authorities confirmed facts, coordinated action. Within hours, the responsible officer faced murder and manslaughter charges for “holding his knee to Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes before Floyd died.” Three others face investigation.
Then, events changed. Constitutionally protected protests got overtaken by political activists, riotous mobs, and indefensible looters. Lawless opportunists, pre-organized and marauding in jeeps, hit the nation’s streets. By May 29th, these criminal groups had changed everything.
Rather than peaceful protests seeking due process, street action turned violent. In almost 30 cities, as if coordinated, violence radiated. Cars and buildings were burned, including a police station. Innocent business owners, bystanders, and concerned citizens were attacked and killed.
The violence widened. By May 30th, America saw lawlessness in Minneapolis, Seattle, Portland (Oregon), San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, Los Angeles, Des Moines, Denver, Lincoln (Nebraska), Milwaukee, Indianapolis, Chicago, Louisville, Memphis, Knoxville, Austin, Houston, Detroit, Columbus, New York, Washington DC, and Atlanta.
Responses varied. Minnesota and a dozen other governors mobilized the National Guard, while the Pentagon prepared to deploy active duty military police. Some local leaders got political.
Here – when all is said – is where the rubber meets the road, where America either finds our “better angels” and restores a common commitment to living as “one nation under God” or loses who we are. Here is where the future begins, consistent with peace and love of neighbor, or we forget who we are, the sacrifices and obligations we inherited, power we share to be our best.
In short, we will either remember that we have within us the ability to reach higher, or we will take the low road, indulging mankind’s basest instincts. If you wonder whether we have it in us – wonder not: We do – if we love this country.
The pool of inspiration is deeper than most imagine – for moments like this. Ronald Reagan reminded us to be our best selves and showed us what that looked like. So did Theodore Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, and countless Founders. The Trump Administration reminded us to lift our heads, lower antipathy for one another, and trust rule of law.
Faith in the positive and in the power of non-violence is not a Republican creed – it is an American creed. Atlanta’s Democratic Mayor Keisha Bottoms – no fan of Trump’s – spoke with conviction last week – directing her comments to the lawless. “This is not a protest… this is not in the spirit of Martin Luther King Junior … this is chaos.” She was blunt: “You are not honoring the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement … You are not protesting … We are better than this as a country … go home.”
She is right. Her words echo Robert Kennedy’s on the night Martin Luther King was killed. I have always marveled at his spontaneous power to speak from the heart – and to be heard. Whatever your party, persuasion, race or views, you cannot hear Kennedy’s words without pausing. I just did again. Click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GoKzCff8Zbs
What Robert Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Theodore Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, and modern leaders who want to stop violence knew and know – is that America is a place defined by courage to bridge unbridgeable divides, show compassion when none is expected, deliver miracles by faith. That is who we are.
So, here is a last bit. Speaking for peace is often hard, making peace is harder. That is why St. Mathew wrote: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” That task can be dangerous, but those who dare … are where it counts.
Speaking for love in the face of anger and fear is hard, living that conviction harder. Recall St. Paul to Corinthians: “Love suffers long and is kind.” It is “not provoked, thinks no evil, does not rejoice in iniquity…” but “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” And St. Mark – reminding us to love our neighbor, affirmed “with God all things are possible.”
Simple observations, but strangely fitting, no? There is a timeless element to being human, a timelessness to natural law, and a timeliness to understanding the “legacy battles” we face. Many have been faced before, may have to be in each generation.
Our job is to dig deeper, believe we can do not only what others have done, but more. We can make the future a place of peace and principle, not misplaced pride and prejudice, if only we will try. Believe with me: There is nothing we Americans cannot do – if once we resolve to do it.