The issue of race is one that has torn at the very fabric of American society since the birth of this nation. Even after President Abraham Lincoln boldly issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, blacks in the United States continued to face great injustice and were forced to contend with a degree of inequality that continues to pervade American culture even today.
When Barack Obama became the first African-American president of the U.S. in 2008, some people hailed it as not just a historic milestone, but as a major breakthrough for the black community. However, history has proven that what could have been a giant step forward in the area of race relations has sadly proven to be a virtual non-factor. The progress that was eagerly anticipated by leaders in the black community never actually materialized.
As I watched Baltimore burn and witnessed the looting and violence that tore the city apart, I could not help but consider how we got to this point. Regrettably, we have become accustomed to viewing footage of war-torn cities around the world and seeing images of countries across the globe that have been ravaged by bloodshed. Yet, when we see an American city in that same state of devastation, it impacts us in a far different and more profound way. We find ourselves asking how a thriving and flourishing city could undergo such a violent metamorphosis in such a short amount of time? We ponder how this could have happened when it is not antagonists from a foreign nation who are waging war on our cities; rather, the people wreaking havoc and causing destruction on American soil are American citizens.
The U.S. is in the midst of a race war. We have seen how a level of distrust and discrimination could quickly sink our nation to new depths. We saw it in Ferguson, Mo. last year. We saw it again in Baltimore last week. The reality is that we are a nation in crisis. We are a nation in need of healing and harmony. We are a nation in need of racial parity.
To be clear, the situation is spiraling out of control not because of one group or the other. We are a nation that is hurtling towards the precipice because of misgivings that exist both in the black community and among law enforcement. We are where we are today because of a deep-seated suspicion that has created a tremendous divide and, some may argue, irreparable damage.
Although I may believe in law enforcement and trust the police, I know that many of my counterparts in the black community do not feel the same way that I do. After repeatedly being the targets of racial profiling and experiencing the indignity of getting stopped by a police officer not because of any particular infraction but because of the color of their skin, I can understand why many in the black community harbor a deep sense of resentment towards the police. What I cannot understand is how that wariness of law enforcement is somehow a justification to resort to violence.
Demonstrations that lead to violence should not be deemed “protests”; they are criminal acts that further exacerbate an already tenuous situation. Engaging in an unlawful act and calling it a “protest” does a disservice to the many civil rights leaders who have dedicated their lives to improving race relations in a peaceful and proper way. Racial equality will not be achieved by torching police cars, burning buildings, and looting stores; racial equality can only be achieved by creating an environment of greater understanding and tolerance.
I have participated in numerous protest marches over the years. As a child, my parents took me to rallies in New York City on behalf of Soviet Jewry. I have marched in Washington. D.C. in solidarity with Israel. I marched because I believed in a cause and wanted to call attention to the issue. The prospect of engaging in violence or criminality was never considered. They were all peaceful demonstrations that effectively spotlighted the issues we were advocating for. The slightest hint of misconduct would have turned these events into an utter embarrassment and would have been antithetical to our mission. We protested peacefully because that is the proper way to protest.
The violent demonstrations that appear to have become part and parcel of the response to deadly conflicts involving law enforcement and the black community are unhelpful and unbecoming. Instead of spotlighting the issue of race in America, the protesters’ violence becomes the story and completely dominates the news cycle. Rather than trying to find a solution, the violence aggravates the problem and causes an even greater rift.
On the other side of the equation, there are those in the law enforcement community that are equally culpable. Every time we hear about another black man who was killed at the hands of the police during an altercation, regardless of the circumstances, we cringe. Unfortunately, “white police officer shoots unarmed black man” is a headline that we have been seeing far too frequently.
Over the past several months, there is one particular phrase that we have heard quite often—“Black lives matter.” The truth is, black lives do matter, but so does every other life. There should be no racial distinctions when it comes to assessing the value of human life. The mere fact that we feel compelled to put a label on different ethnic groups is part of the problem.
The value of human life must be universal. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” wrote our founding fathers in 1776 when they signed the Declaration of Independence. This nation is built on the premise and understanding that parity and justice must be ubiquitous.
As they pick up the pieces in Baltimore and attempt to restore a sense of normalcy to the city, the question is what lesson, if any, was learned there. We saw another police shooting followed by riots and violence. It was a storyline that we have seen before, and that we will in all probability unfortunately see again. It has become a vicious cycle of hostility that has thrown our nation into turmoil and that we desperately need to end.
When it comes to the issue of race relations, our nation needs to recalibrate its moral compass and reassess how it manages what has become a monumental societal problem. We are in the middle of a race war that is pitting the black community against the law enforcement community. Both sides need to do a far better job of containing this conflagration before it burns out of control. It is time to end this uncivil war. This has got to stop.
N. Aaron Troodler is an attorney and principal of Paul Revere Public Relations, a public relations and political consulting firm. Visit him on the Web at TroodlersTake.blogspot.com, www.PaulReverePR.com, or www.JewishWorldPR.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @troodler.
By N. Aaron Troodler, Esq.