Without doubt, the United States of America has much to be proud of. The great experiment in a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” which the founders of this country began almost two hundred and fifty years ago, has brought the blessings of opportunity, freedom and happiness to a vast number of its citizens.
At the same time, we cannot ignore the fact that these blessings have been denied to many Americans, simply by reason of race. This list doesn’t pretend to be exhaustive. Most of us would be shocked at the living conditions both squalid and life-threatening which so many of our people endure, especially those who occupy our inner cities; the sense of hopelessness, and in contrast, the perception of white privilege which guarantee the growing disparity between the empowered and the under-privileged. However, the fact that at this time, when those who are commissioned to protect all citizens are shown to have a long-standing and consistent pattern of abuse and brutality against the Black American population, we cannot be surprised when that segment of our society expresses their fury and has risen in revolt against such treatment.
On the one hand, the number of those in support of the “Black lives matter” movement is a source of encouragement and hope. In establishing the Constitution, the framers clearly sensed the importance of being able to express outrage on the part of the governed through “peaceful assembly.” I believe they were wise enough to realize that it might take such expression to bring about needed change on the part of those who occupied the positions of power. Even today, the vast majority of the people taking part in the current demonstrations are (almost surprisingly) seeking a peaceful way to express their systemic anger at the long history of abuse, both physical and economical, stretching in an unending chain all the way back to the days of slavery.
Tragically, at the same time, there are those individuals who see, in all this, an opportunity to undermine through violence, destruction of property, and pillage, the foundations of our society. Here we depend on our institutions of law-enforcement, local, State and, if necessary, Federal, to assist law-abiding citizens to bring such criminal behavior under control and restore order.
A greater tragedy would befall our society, if we were to mix up these two groups. We should not use the latter civil disobedience as an excuse to attack all those other people for using their right to peacefully assemble and bring their legitimate issues to the public forum.
It’s been about 170 years since this country was almost cast asunder by the American Civil War. It’s fortunate outcome was the official end to slavery. While emancipation was a major milestone, it could never be considered the end of the road. True, there have been important steps taken towards bringing the black community into line with the majority of its citizens, but the truth is, the expressions of outright racism and, in this case, brutality, the clear inequality of opportunity in the economic and educational areas, continue to pervade our society. This is truly a blight on all of us.
The response of “All lives matter,” to “Black lives matter,” misses the point entirely! True, the black community is hardly the only community that experiences bigotry or racism in our country. However, the fact that their predecessors were forcibly brought to this country under inhumane conditions, the length of time they have had to endure racial discrimination, economic abuse and brutality, makes a compelling argument for the need to address this outrage in an immediate and determined way.
At this point in history, it becomes imperative to devote significant resources to work with the black community to address the wrongs of history: to do our best to re-educate and hold accountable those who suffer from the social disease of racism. By working to grant the opportunities of full citizenship to that segment of the population that has suffered the most, we can begin a process of securing the blessings of this nation and its Constitution to all who come under its banner.
Rabbi Mordecai Miller
Congregation Beth Ami
Santa Rosa, CA