With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
— Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address
Last weeks’ news has been difficult to bear for every compassionate American. Many have striven to express variations of the thought that there is no inconsistency or conflict between reducing the suspicion African-Americans have toward cops and not tolerating any level of violence in reaction to that suspicion.
Though the way forward toward simultaneously achieving both ends in the real world is not completely clear, in a metaphysical sense, this is clearly logically correct. Why then, are so many compelled to make the statement, as if few others agree or understand?
In part, it is because some are insensitive to the fear blacks feel due to past and sometimes current experience.*
In part, it is because to some, returning violence with violence is seen as the best course of action.
But in addition to that – and perhaps more important, in the sense that it can incubate such reactions – it is the divided state of our public discourse. Most sense it, but still it goes on. It is a time in which a unifying figure ought to emerge to bring us together over our common American values.
Where then is the unifying political leadership that Washington embodied and Lincoln pursued? Or the relentless, ubiquitous image and words of Martin Luther King saying that love is the answer to division, not violence returned with violence?
Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are two of the most divisive and disliked candidates in our nation’s history. Neither is suitable to lead in this situation. Considering how ordinary Americans are conversing about politics, perhaps they are the leaders we deserve, but they are certainly not the ones we need right now.
Barack Obama has been barely better – many African-Americans agree – saying “the police acted stupidly” in arresting Henry Louis Gates before any facts were in, and later pointing out that if he had a son, he’d look like Trayvon Martin, both of which imply that though he is the president of all Americans, he publicly assumes that the victim must be the African-American in the situation. That is no better than any police officer who acts on an unjustified assumption due to race and certainly not helpful for our political discourse.
Some elected officials have spoken eloquently on the events, such as Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse, who said the following:
There is a distressing gap between the smartphone footage and the kind of country we want to pass on to our kids. Every American—Republican, Democrat, black, and white—wants something better for our children. We all ache for peace and justice. While we may disagree on some policies to pursue those aims, we cannot forget that these are still our common aims.
There are no easy solutions for our communities that have been sown with distrust and violence. This must necessarily involve lawmakers but it is bigger than politics and will primarily depend on parents, pastors, and civic leaders.
That last sentence is the one every person needs to keep at the forefront of his mind. Regardless of whether there are unifying leaders, we have no excuse not to do our part not to politicize tragedy, dehumanize those on the other end of our computer or smartphone screen, or judge before the facts are in. Anything short of that is not acting justly our very social fabric when widespread enough.
The Dallas sniper met justice when the bomb killed him and officers in both Alton Sterling’s and Philando Castile’s cases need to stand a fair trial, whatever outcome that entails. Nothing short of true justice will be helpful in these cases. But justice, though a necessary condition, is not a sufficient one.
In addition, we need three things. The first is reform. Can we reduce the danger to both cops and ordinary citizens by having the police do less? The Federalist’s John Daniel Davidson suggests we can, by reducing the number of offenses on the books that are arrestable. Too, there may be ways in which to reform the War on Drugs. Many other ideas will be put forth by knowledgeable people in the coming months.
The second is grace. People fear and hurt and react. They have reasons for doing so, some more legitimate than others, but they must be understood if they are to be dealt with.
Finally, we as a nation and as individuals need to seek God and his love and mercy, striving to act like Christ. No more running our faith or our treatment of others through the sieve of our political biases, but instead acting and speaking “with malice toward none, with charity for all.” Only then can we “bind up the nation’s wounds.”
*This fear is something that the media is culpable in perpetuating more than is necessary. Though cops are more likely to use force when interacting with blacks, they are actually less likely to use lethal force in such interactions. That, however, doesn’t get in the way of a good story. Nor does it excuse injustices done in individual circumstances, whether the victim is black, white, a cop or whoever.