The stirring of racial divisions harms all Americans

The stirring of racial divisions harms all Americans

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Eric Holder, Lesley Brown, Al Sharpton
Eric Holder, Lesley Brown, Al Sharpton

WASHINGTON, November 28, 2014 — The United States, with a population of more than 316 million people of every race, religion and ethnic background, is a vast human enterprise. As such, it must deal with every conceivable human impulse, from virtue and altruism to selfishness, greed, and contempt for those who are unlike ourselves.

Every time an incident like the one in Ferguson, Missouri occurs, some people view it as their job to fan the flames. They argue that things are bad and getting worse. Some of them are well paid to do so.

Many forget that Al Sharpton initially rose to fame with the false charge that a black teenager, Tawana Brawley, had been sexually assaulted by white police officers. It never happened, but Sharpton’s career was off and running, and he’s never looked back. As he rushed to stir racial division in Ferguson, he even found himself embraced by the White House.

Former Attorney General Eric Holder has also been prepared to stir racial division. He says that Americans have been “cowards” about race, forgetting that our society has been confronting questions of race for many decades. In the lifetime of many Americans, everything was segregated by law in much of the country. Black Americans could not vote in many states, could not eat in restaurants, could not marry those of other races, and were confined to segregated schools.

Equality was a legal fiction that did not exist.

Resistance to segregation grew. The civil rights movement emerged, made up of men and women of good will of all races. Segregation ended; we passed laws guaranteeing voting rights and access to public accommodations. Affirmative action programs, some ill-advised when they still sorted people on the basis of race rather than individual merit, were put into place. Rather than being “cowardly,” the American society sought to come to grips with the injustices of the past and to correct them.

In our political life, white voters showed that they were prepared to judge candidates, as Martin Luther King urged, on “the content of their character,” rather than “the color of their skin.” In Virginia, where Richmond had been the capitol of the Confederacy, a black governor, Douglas Wilder, was elected. Black mayors were elected in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and cities around the country. We have had two black Secretaries of State. And now we have a black president who has been elected and re-elected. A “cowardly” society still imbued with the racism of the past would hardly manage all of the positive change we see around us.

And still, as Ferguson shows us, there are too many who are prepared to stir resentment and violence on the basis of racial division. None of us knows exactly what happened in Ferguson. The available evidence, however, is that the grand jury was right not to indict the police officer involved.

Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus, a liberal, provided this assessment:

The St. Louis County grand jury’s decision not to indict … police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting of teenager Michael Brown was the worst possible outcome — except for one in which passion overwhelmed facts and Wilson was forced to stand trial despite a lack of adequate evidence … The decision before the grand jury involved a single incident, discrete facts about the encounter, and a criminal justice system properly focused not on the broader societal implications of the episode but on the two individuals involved, the shooter and the victim.

In Marcus’s view,

transcripts of contradictory testimony from Wilson; Dorian Johnson, who was with Brown at the time of the shooting; and several witnesses buttress the jurors’ decision not to bring charges. The outcome could have gone the other way, but convincing a trial jury of Wilson’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt — in particular, that he did not act in lawful self-defense — would have been a struggle.

Some black commentators have taken issue with those who portray an epidemic of murder by police officers of young black men. Jason L. Riley, a member of the Wall Street Journal editorial board and author of the recently published book, “Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make It Harder for Blacks to Succeed,” notes that,

According to the FBI, homicide is the leading cause of death among young black men, who are 10 times more likely than their white counterparts to be murdered … The police are not to blame. Blacks are just 13% of the population but are responsible for a majority of all murders in the U.S., and more than 90% of black murder victims are killed by other blacks … Blacks commit violent crimes at 7 to 10 times the rate that whites do. The fact that their victims tend to be of the same race suggests that young black men in the ghetto live in danger of being shot by each other, not cops.”

To the charge that there is “over-policing” in black communities, Riley argues that,

Research has long shown that the rate at which blacks are arrested is nearly identical to the rate at which crime victims identify blacks as their assailants. The police are in these communities because that’s where the emergency calls originate, and they spend much of their time trying to stop residents of the same race from harming one another … And if black criminal behavior is a response to white racism, how is it that black crime rates were lower in the 1940s and 1950s, when black poverty was higher, racial discrimination was rampant and legal, and the country was more than half a century away from electing a black president?

Racial profiling and tensions between the police and poor black communities are real problems, but these are effects rather than causes, and they can’t be addressed without also addressing the extraordinarily high rates of black criminal behavior — yet such discussion remains taboo.

Making police targets may, in the real world, make low-income black communities even less safe than they are now. In order to correct any problem, it is essential that it be properly diagnosed. This is as true for the social ills of society as it is for medical problems faced by individuals. The response of what can only be called racial provocateurs is to diagnose any problem arising in the black community as an example of continuing “white racism,” even though the real cause of the problem is something else entirely.

For the White House and the attorney general to provide a platform for such rhetoric creates unnecessary racial division in a society which has been steadily moving away from such polarization. Sadly, there are many such as Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and Michael Eric Dyson whose careers seem to depend upon painting a picture of “white racism” at every turn of events. They cannot seem to take “Yes” for an answer when it comes to the positive progress in race relations in recent decades. And by winking at the violence their rhetoric helps to provoke, they may be responsible for reversing the hopeful progress we have witnessed.

The first black woman to announce her candidacy for president, Rep. Shirley Chisholm, D-N.Y., once pointed out that, “We may have come over on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”

It is in the interest of Americans of every race and background to keep that boat afloat and moving forward, although some seem ready to bring it down every time something happens that is disturbing, which will be inevitable in any human enterprise. We have made tremendous progress when it comes to race.

Problems continue and, hopefully, these too will be overcome. But they will be overcome by men and women of good will of all races — not by those who aided, abetted and apologized for recent violence in Ferguson.

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Allan C. Brownfeld
Received B.A. from the College of William and Mary, J.D. from the Marshall-Wythe School of Law of the College of William and Mary, and M.A. from the University of Maryland. Served as a member of the faculties of St. Stephen's Episcopal School, Alexandria, Virginia and the University College of the University of Maryland. The recipient of a Wall Street Journal Foundation Award, he has written for such newspapers as The Houston Press, The Washington Evening Star, The Richmond Times Dispatch, and The Cincinnati Enquirer. His column appeared for many years in Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. His articles have appeared in The Yale Review, The Texas Quarterly, Orbis, Modern Age, The Michigan Quarterly, The Commonweal and The Christian Century. His essays have been reprinted in a number of text books for university courses in Government and Politics. For many years, his column appeared several times a week in papers such as The Washington Times, The Phoenix Gazette and the Orange County Register. He served as a member of the staff of the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, as Assistant to the research director of the House Republican Conference and as a consultant to members of the U.S. Congress and to the Vice President. He is the author of five books and currently serves as Contributing Editor of The St. Croix Review, Associate Editor of The Lincoln Review and editor of Issues.