This time may be different. I am hearing many people, including former President Barack Obama state that they sense this moment in our history is unique and unprecedented. Several events including the tragic, untimely and senseless deaths of Ahmaud Arbury, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, along with a botched response to a deadly pandemic and the resulting economic crisis have revealed how broken our society is. Some plutocrats are wondering if inequality has gone too far. As hopeful as I would like to be, check with me one year from today. In the meantime, I am going to do what I can to advance ideas that could heal our broken society.
This latest act of police brutality reminded me of the first time the police shooting of a young black male got my attention. As a young community newspaper editor, I wrote about the murder of 10-year-old Clifford Glover who was shot in the back by Thomas Shea, a New York City cop, in the spring of 1973. Young Glover had just gotten out of a car with his stepdad when the police accosted them and he started running. I read about that gruesome event over and over in various stages of disbelief. After Shea was acquitted, my view of the police and society changed forever.
Like most people, I was sickened by the images of disgraced police officer Derek Chauvin’s knee on the neck of George Floyd, hand in pocket with a smirk on his face. I have relatives and friends who are police officers. I agree the vast majority do their jobs by the book. But video has brought some bad apples out of the shadows. More police jurisdictions need to study recommendations developed by the Obama Administration’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. The Supreme Court needs to take another look at qualified immunity.
As thousand gather today to mourn the murder of George Floyd and give condolences to his family and friends, we hold on to events and incidents that suggest things may be different this time. The fact that the protests are so widespread--protest marches in 140 cities as well as numerous cities throughout the world involving people of all races and ethnicities—suggests that people are looking beyond their personal spheres of concern. It seems that the world is rallying together to say enough is enough. Is this enough to bring about real change?
I just finished reading Eric Foner’s latest remarkable book on Reconstruction, The Second Founding. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author has written several books on Reconstruction and in his latest, he recounts efforts to integrate newly-freed slaves into the American society that led to the enactment of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments. Each was a struggle to ensure equality for blacks, but carefully calibrated not to be on par with the rights and privileges of white Americans. At the end of the day, everyone threw up their hands and told black people they were on their own with no resources to speak of. It is must reading for anyone who would like a better understanding of how we arrived at where we are today.
Our society needs a major overall. Until we genuinely address racism and inequality, we have little chance to keep up with China and other rapidly developing nations. Creating wealth for a few Americans doesn’t make America healthy. It does the opposite. It is leaving our citizens with less education than we need to be competitive. Our roads and infrastructure are crumbling. And we still don’t have a system that provides healthcare for all who need it.
Where do we begin? We begin with a massive investment in educating African Americans who have been denied quality education for centuries. It can be done. But it must be done through a system of public education that is financed by other means than property taxes. Teachers need to be paid. While education is a local isue, the federal government must oversee the investment. This will not just lift African American children, but poor Latino and white children.
These latest tragedies have brought people of goodwill together across racial lines. There is a sense the desire to sincerely address racism and its consequences for society is genuine. But will it last? We have been there before with Hurricane Katrina and Rodney King. How will it be different this time? Count me among the enduring but skeptical optimists. I want to believe changes will be made but check in with me a year from now. Let’s see where things are one year later.