All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression.
THE PRESIDENT: For too long, we’ve been blind to the unique mayhem that gun violence inflicts upon this nation.
Removing the flag from this state’s capitol would not be an act of political correctness; it would not be an insult to the valor of Confederate soldiers. It would simply be an acknowledgment that the cause for which they fought — the cause of slavery — was wrong, the imposition of Jim Crow after the Civil War, the resistance to civil rights for all people was wrong. It would be one step in an honest accounting of America’s history; a modest but meaningful balm for so many unhealed wounds. It would be an expression of the amazing changes that have transformed this state and this country for the better, because of the work of so many people of goodwill, people of all races striving to form a more perfect union. By taking down that flag, we express God’s grace.
But I don’t think God wants us to stop there. For too long, we’ve been blind to the way past injustices continue to shape the present. Perhaps we see that now. Perhaps this tragedy causes us to ask some tough questions about how we can permit so many of our children to languish in poverty, or attend dilapidated schools, or grow up without prospects for a job or for a career. Perhaps it causes us to examine what we’re doing to cause some of our children to hate. Perhaps it softens hearts towards those lost young men, tens and tens of thousands caught up in the criminal justice system and leads us to make sure that that system is not infected with bias; that we embrace changes in how we train and equip our police so that the bonds of trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve make us all safer and more secure.
Maybe we now realize the way racial bias can infect us even when we don’t realize it, so that we’re guarding against not just racial slurs, but we’re also guarding against the subtle impulse to call Johnny back for a job interview but not Jamal. So that we search our hearts when we consider laws to make it harder for some of our fellow citizens to vote. By recognizing our common humanity by treating every child as important, regardless of the color of their skin or the station into which they were born, and to do what’s necessary to make opportunity real for every American — by doing that, we express God’s grace.
THE PRESIDENT: For too long, we’ve been blind to the unique mayhem that gun violence inflicts upon this nation.
Sporadically, our eyes are open: When eight of our brothers and sisters are cut down in a church basement, 12 in a movie theater, 26 in an elementary school. But I hope we also see the 30 precious lives cut short by gun violence in this country every single day; the countless more whose lives are forever changed — the survivors crippled, the children traumatized and fearful every day as they walk to school, the husband who will never feel his wife’s warm touch, the entire communities whose grief overflows every time they have to watch what happened to them happen to some other place.
The vast majority of Americans — the majority of gun owners — want to do something about this. We see that now. And I’m convinced that by acknowledging the pain and loss of others, even as we respect the traditions and ways of life that make up this beloved country — by making the moral choice to change, we express God’s grace.
We don’t earn grace. We’re all sinners. We don’t deserve it. But God gives it to us anyway and we choose how to receive it. It’s our decision how to honor it.
A Letter From Black America
Yes, we fear the police. Here’s why.
Last July 4, my family and I went to Long Island to celebrate the holiday with a friend and her family. After eating some barbecue, a group of us decided to take a walk along the ocean. The mood on the beach that day was festive. Music from a nearby party pulsed through the haze of sizzling meat. Lovers strolled hand in hand. Giggling children chased each other along the boardwalk.
Most of the foot traffic was heading in one direction, but then two teenage girls came toward us, moving stiffly against the flow, both of them looking nervously to their right. “He’s got a gun,” one of them said in a low voice.
I turned my gaze to follow theirs, and was clasping my 4-year-old daughter’s hand when a young man extended his arm and fired off multiple shots along the busy street running parallel to the boardwalk. Snatching my daughter up into my arms, I joined the throng of screaming revelers running away from the gunfire and toward the water.
The shots stopped as quickly as they had started. The man disappeared between some buildings. Chest heaving, hands shaking, I tried to calm my crying daughter, while my husband, friends and I all looked at one another in breathless disbelief. I turned to check on Hunter, a high school intern from Oregon who was staying with my family for a few weeks, but she was on the phone.
“Someone was just shooting on the beach,” she said, between gulps of air, to the person on the line.
Unable to imagine whom she would be calling at that moment, I asked her, somewhat indignantly, if she couldn’t have waited until we got to safety before calling her mom.
“No,” she said. “I am talking to the police.”
My friends and I locked eyes in stunned silence. Between the four adults, we hold six degrees. Three of us are journalists. And not one of us had thought to call the police. We had not even considered it.
We also are all black. And without realizing it, in that moment, each of us had made a set of calculations, an instantaneous weighing of the pros and cons.
As far as we could tell, no one had been hurt. The shooter was long gone, and we had seen the back of him for only a second or two. On the other hand, calling the police posed considerable risks. It carried the very real possibility of inviting disrespect, even physical harm. We had seen witnesses treated like suspects, and knew how quickly black people calling the police for help could wind up cuffed in the back of a squad car. Some of us knew of black professionals who’d had guns drawn on them for no reason.
This was before Michael Brown. Before police killed John Crawford III for carrying a BB gun in a Wal-Mart or shot down 12-year-old Tamir Rice in a Cleveland park. Before Akai Gurley was killed by an officer while walking in a dark staircase and before Eric Garner was choked to death upon suspicion of selling “loosies.” Without yet knowing those names, we all could go down a list of unarmed black people killed by law enforcement.
We feared what could happen if police came rushing into a group of people who, by virtue of our skin color, might be mistaken for suspects.
For those of you reading this who may not be black, or perhaps Latino, this is my chance to tell you that a substantial portion of your fellow citizens in the United States of America have little expectation of being treated fairly by the law or receiving justice. It’s possible this will come as a surprise to you. But to a very real extent, you have grown up in a different country than I have.
As Khalil Gibran Muhammad, author of The Condemnation of Blackness, puts it, “White people, by and large, do not know what it is like to be occupied by a police force. They don’t understand it because it is not the type of policing they experience. Because they are treated like individuals, they believe that if ‘I am not breaking the law, I will never be abused.’”We are not criminals because we are black. Nor are we somehow the only people in America who don’t want to live in safe neighborhoods. Yet many of us cannot fundamentally trust the people who are charged with keeping us and our communities safe.
As protest and revolt swept across the Missouri suburb of Ferguson and demonstrators staged die-ins and blocked highways and boulevards from Oakland to New York with chants of “Black lives matter,” many white Americans seemed shocked by the gaping divide between law enforcement and the black communities they are supposed to serve. It was no surprise to us. For black Americans, policing is “the most enduring aspect of the struggle for civil rights,” says Muhammad, a historian and director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York. “It has always been the mechanism for racial surveillance and control.”
In the South, police once did the dirty work of enforcing the racial caste system. The Ku Klux Klan and law enforcement were often indistinguishable. Black-and-white photographs of the era memorialize the way Southern police sicced German shepherds on civil rights protesters and peeled the skin off black children with the force of water hoses. Lawmen were also involved or implicated in untold numbers of beatings, killings and disappearances of black Southerners who forgot their place.
In the North, police worked to protect white spaces by containing and controlling the rising black population that had been propelled into the industrial belt during the Great Migration. It was not unusual for Northern police to join white mobs as they attacked black homeowners attempting to move into white neighborhoods, or black workers trying to take jobs reserved for white laborers. And yet they strictly enforced vagrancy laws, catch-alls that gave them wide discretion to stop, question and arrest black citizens at will.
Much has changed since then. Much has not.
To a very real extent, you have grown up in a different country than I have.
Last Fourth of July, in a few short minutes as we adults watched the teenager among us talking to the police, we saw Hunter become a little more like us, her faith a little shaken, her place in the world a little less stable. Hunter, who is biracial and lives with her white mother in a heavily white area, had not been exposed to the policing many black Americans face. She was about to be.
n the phone, she could offer only the most generic of suspect descriptions, which apparently made the officer on the other end of the line suspicious. By way of explanation, Hunter told the officer she was just 16. The police called her back: once, twice, then three times, asking her for more information. The interactions began to feel menacing. “I’m not from here,” Hunter said. “I’ve told you everything I know.”
The fourth time the police called, she looked frightened. Her interrogator asked her, “Are you really trying to be helpful, or were you involved in this?” She turned to us, her voice aquiver. “Are they going to come get me?”
“See,” one of us said, trying to lighten the mood. “That’s why we don’t call them.”
We all laughed, but it was hollow.
My friend Carla Murphy and I have talked about that day several times since then. We’ve turned it over in our minds and wondered whether, with the benefit of hindsight, we should have called 911.
Carla wasn’t born in the United States. She came here when she was 9, and back in her native Barbados, she didn’t give police much thought. That changed when she moved into heavily black Jamaica, Queens.
Carla said she constantly saw police, often white, stopping and harassing passersby, almost always black. “You see the cops all the time, but they do not speak to you. You see them talking to each other, but the only time you ever see them interact with someone is if they are jacking them up,” she said. “They are making a choice, and it says they don’t care about you, it tells you they are not here for your people or people who look like you.”
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