What happened to George Floyd is a human tragedy to be dealt with swiftly, severely and surely. This is what the ugly side of bias left un-remedied looks and feels like, and we must not only acknowledge it but do all we can to eradicate it from the American experience.
With that said, brace for a hot and disturbing summer followed by a frothing fall, because the health and economic pandemic threatening America will be lighter fuel for those out to change America by any means necessary. They excuse attacking police as deserved and looting as a response virus-caused joblessness. They will storm the gates of the White House as justified, and threaten news journalists to right what they see as televised wrongs.
In the fifth episode of ESPN’s soon-to-be-classic documentary on Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, the former basketball mega-star was asked why he wasn’t more vocal or engaged in the push for racial justice as were Mohammed Ali, Jackie Robinson, Arthur Ashe, and others.
After disclaiming he’s not a politician who engages in unsated controversy, Jordan was succinct and direct, "I never thought of myself as an activist. I thought of myself as a basketball player." Although Jordan has now openly expressed how "saddened, truly pained and plain angry" he is over the Floyd tragedy, his example of exercising a measured voice is something all leaders should emulate when they try to turn crisis or chaos into calm.
Chicago’s Democratic Mayor Lori Lightfoot, after a needlessly intemperate remark about the president, was nonetheless spot on in condemning the violence pelting her city’s streets.
Channeling the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Lightfoot said "you don’t come to a peaceful protest with a bowling ball or a hammer or a shovel or a baseball bat."
Wield something more powerful — your truth.
Tampa’s Democratic mayor (and former police chief) Jane Castor proved that with her actions, marching with peaceful protestors and the current (white) police chief, before condemning the criminal looting (and looters) that rocked her city late into the night.
Castor emotively concluded that this no longer was "a call for voices to be heard" but a "shameful" and "disheartening" degradation into criminal unrest.
The president’s Twitter feed has been — as ever — active and combative.
Yet while attending the first private space launch of NASA astronauts at Cape Canaveral, Trump weighed in with presidential bearing. While empathizing with George Floyd’s family and the universal demand for justice, Trump made it clear "mob rule" in America would not be tolerated today, tomorrow or ever.
All three supplied major elements to the message America wants to hear.
Racism has no place in America.
It must not be allowed to hide in our classrooms or on our playgrounds, in our workplaces or houses of worship, at home or within our local communities. It must be addressed, constantly, if we are what we say, "one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
America is also a nation of laws where people can’t threaten others with abuse or bodily harm, where innocent small businesses can’t be brutalized by force or razed by fire.
The words of a black firefighter in Minneapolis broke our collective heart, hearing he lost everything he had when his tavern was torched by the angry cheered on by the inconsolable.
According to Gallup’s most recent survey, police are second only to those who serve in the military among the most respected of institutions. To see men and women in blue assaulted, pelted, and abused is wholly unacceptable. It shreds the tender fiber that separates civil society from the chaos of nature described by John Locke, Thomas Hobbes and others.
Protest peacefully, check.
March until your feet hurt and your voice grows hoarse, absolutely. Speak your truth, and know the Constitution will protect you.
History has a stubborn way of repeating itself, as much as violence has a harrowing habit of begetting more (MLK’s assassination on April 4, 1968; the deaths at Kent State on May 4, 1970; the Ferguson riots beginning on Aug. 10, 2014; similar riots in Baltimore, April 18, 2015 to May 3, 2015).
Thankfully, more protests speak to the conscience of America without violating lines of safety. Cue the March to End the War in 1965; the Million Man March, Oct. 16, 1995, and the Women’s Marches over the past three years.
Fresh scenes of looting and rioting bring back memories for all of us, many of them painful. As much as we must never hide from the truths they revealed and remedies they still require, we must never tolerate lawlessness posing as justice or violence masquerading as principled.
This is the core message we hope leaders will intone and the people will follow. Isn’t the COVID-19 pandemic bad enough, and our economic peril tough enough, to be asked to shoulder social breakdown (the uprooting or breakdown of any moral values, standards, or guidance on top of it all?)
Yes. Yes. And why?
Adam Goodman is a national Republican media strategist and columnist. He is a partner at Ballard Partners in Washington D.C. He is also the first Edward R. Murrow Senior Fellow at Tufts University's Fletcher School. Follow him on Twitter @adamgoodman3. Read Adam Goodman's Reports — More Here.
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