The Tragedy of American Violence

Instead of seeking to reform the individual, the wisdom of a Nation should apply itself to reform the system.

In light of recent events it seems only fitting to comment on the violence, especially the violence by and against police, we have seen this week. Two men were shot it seems, for little or no reason. At least 10 cops were shot in cold blood from a distance at which they could not even defend themselves.

Admittedly, in these stories we see a few seconds or minutes of video coverage which is almost certainly not the whole story or we see the disgusting violence without knowing the motives, but if the injury of any man is an injury to all humanity, the death of any man is a blow to the heart of all mankind.

To Qualify:

Such is the irresistible nature of truth, that all it asks, and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing.

I feel obligated to begin this exploration of events by clarifying that most cops are great men. Most cops work hard. Most cops uphold justice. Most cops experience more terrible things that the rest of us ever will.

I once saw a policeman in Chicago break down in tears discussing the horrible waste of human life he sees every day. Chicago, after all, is one of the most violent cities in America. Today (as of July 7) there have been over 100 shootings in the city and 15 murders just since the beginning of the month. On average someone is shot every two hours and someone is murdered every 13.

Most of this is gang violence. If you visit Chicago they say to avoid the South Side, which you probably should, but you’re not actually any more likely to get shot in the city as a passerby than in any place else where people who probably shouldn’t have guns have guns.

Chicago violence is based almost 100% off revenge for Chicago violence that has already occurred.

In America policemen face hatred for targeting blacks in the same way TSA agents face criticism for targeting Middle Easterners. This targeting sounds ridiculous and unjust but it is, in fact, based off statistics. Blacks (specifically inner city minorities) are more likely to commit violent crimes (in inner city minority communities) in the same way someone from the Middle East is statistically more likely to commit (airport) terror attacks.

That said, the majority of violent crime—like really violent, weird, disgusting baseless crime—is committed by white males. Over 70% of rapists are white guys and yet white men are only 60% of the population (cc: Donald Trump who thinks Mexicans are rapists), and almost every serial killer and non-terror-themed mass shooter in the United States is a white man.

The fact is, in certain scenarios, racial targeting is probably beneficial—but there’s a difference between pulling over a flagged car in South Side Chicago for a traffic violation, an outstanding warrant, or a clearly-displayed illegal weapon and pulling over a businessman, a lawyer, a family man, a student, or any kid for almost no reason and then to proceed being excessively abrasive—much less shooting someone without cause. This is not only detrimental to the black community but creates the problem police officers face who are all tainted in the eyes of many by the excessive violence these cops display. Police offices are made up good men with a few bad members. BLM need to recognize this, but, similarly,  conservatives who are set in their opinions need to realize, outside of certain localized problem-areas, black men aren’t a problem. Every race and every profession has a broken subculture and every human being and every American needs to be doing everything we can to fix these issues.

The Dignity of Man:

… why do men continue to practice in themselves, the absurdities they despise in others?

We all have a habit of subdividing Americans into groups. And we all think our groups are awesome and right and other groups are stupid and wrong.

Men define themselves by their own identities which they create and proceed to place excessive value in. Northerners, Southerners, Blacks, Whites, Christians, Gays, Gun Owners, Pacifists, Feminists, Conservatives, Democrats, Millennials, Baby Boomers, Farmers, Business Men. But we do not leave these identities to stand alone. We make ourselves into groups based on these factors.

Stop that.

Just stop. We are Americans. One of the valued traits of America is individualism. I can be a Midwestern, white, Christian, female, career-woman. That makes me who I am, I suppose. It gives me a distinct point of view and a specialized set of skills; but who would I be if that defined me more than what I contribute to society or than what I do with the privilege of having a unique set of characteristics?

Think of applying for a job or going on a first date. Your characteristics are what set you apart. Your individual story matters. That’s how you present yourself. Every person is made up of unique characteristics that get them jobs or make people fall in love with them.

Our individualism is what gives us value to our community. Our characteristics make us who we are and should bring us together. We all need to recognize the value in everyone’s unique identity.

Black lives matter—black lives do matter.

Police lives matter—blue lives definitely matter.

Women’s issues matter. The concerns of peaceful Islam matter. The many problems faced by people with specific characteristics always matter.

How we approach these problems and differences matters more.

When we form groups around issues like Black Lives Matter or when we combat these issues by shouting “all lives matter” at people who are just trying to make a point of solidarity after a tragedy we are polarizing these issues and disrespecting the men who have died because of them.

Every human is a beautiful gift from God. Just this week we have witnessed crimes against our brothers that have left men dead.

It doesn’t matter that they are black men. It doesn’t matter that they are cops. It matters that they are men that belong to the same God as we do, the same country as we do, and who have worked, suffered, and lived as we do.

This is not an issue of black people committing crimes. This is not an issue of police departments causing problems. This is not an issue of men killing cops. And most of all this cannot be an issue of a new race war.

This is two cops who made terrible decisions and two more men who killed unrelated individuals in retaliation.

But more than that, more than anything, this is an issue of a tragic loss of human life.

Human life is sacred. We are all brothers and sisters on this planet. Our lives belong to each other and to God.

The Catholic Church:

…proclaims that human life is sacred and that the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society. This belief is the foundation of all the principles of our social teaching. In our society, human life is under direct attack from violence of all kind. Mankind must protect the right to life by finding increasingly effective ways to prevent conflicts and resolve them by peaceful means. We believe that every person is precious, that people are more important than things, personal beliefs, prejudices, and that the hatred of another human is never acceptable. The measure of every individual and institution is whether it threatens or enhances the life and dignity of the human person.

As faithful people we are called to always defend the dignity of the person. The deaths of these men is a blow to us all. As men of all kind, religious or not, it is our duty to not only pray for- but also to tirelessly work to defend human life from any threat.

The Bill of Rights:

Whatever is my right as a man is also the right of another; and it becomes my duty to guarantee as well as to possess.

Gunning men down, shooting men at point-blank range, killing defenseless men in their own vehicles, sniping men who cannot defend themselves. These are not only crimes against humanity, they are crimes against the rights of all persons in the United States upheld by the Constitution.

The Declaration of Independence states:

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.

Every child born in the world must be considered as deriving its existence from God. The world is this new to him as it was to the first that existed, and his natural right in it is of the same kind. They are inherit and cannot be removed by government or individual.

The subtraction of unalienable rights was at the heart of the foundation of the United States. When we remove the rights instated by our forefathers we are not only violating God and our fellow man, we are breaking the law.

Shooting without due cause is a direct violation of the Constitution and is spitting on the Declaration of Independence and the work of all social activists from the last 240 years.

Remember Frederick Douglass’ famous speech, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”:

Fellow citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here today? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?

But such is not the state of the case. I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence bequeathed by your fathers is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony.

I would hope that we, as a society and a race of mere humans could be beyond a point where this speech holds more that literary merit and historic value. It should not continue to hold social truth. In many ways society has made great progress, and yet, here we are in 2016 watching as men’s constitutional rights are stripped away before our eyes.

The First Amendment:

Within the United States, all citizens are free to speak as they wish (within reason), even to and about police officers. And police officers are allowed this same right. All men are allowed to stand outside businesses, they are allowed to drive their cars, they are allowed to gather in protest, they are allowed to socialize with men gathered in protest.

The Second Amendment:

The second man who was shot had a properly permitted gun. He was trained and allowed to carry this weapon. He was not reaching for this gun when he was shot. All men, regardless of race, sex, or age, unless reasonably prohibited deserve this right.

The Fourth Amendment:

Pulling people over and shooting them without due cause is beyond unjust and does not leave him ‘secure in his person’. Arresting a man on a complaint outside a store on reasonable suspicion is fine. Searching him for a gun is fine given the complaint against him. Tazing him repeatedly, throwing him on the ground, and shooting him does not leave him ‘secure in his person.’ Sniping men gathering to peacefully discuss with protesters does not leave them ‘secure in their person.’ Leaving people afraid to do normal activities ensures no one is ‘secure in their person.’

The Fifth and Sixth Amendments:

Denying a man to hear witness against him, denying him public trial, and shooting without stated reason is pretty much the definition of removing due process and a fair trial.

The Ninth Amendment:

Refusing a man his rights based on suspension or claiming one person’s rights are somehow more important than another’s is illegal and inhumane. Shooting for retaliation is barbaric and eliminating based on the deemed value of rights comparatively is deplorable.

Shooting people for any of these reasons is unconstitutional, un-American, sacrilegious, and not allowable.

This clearly isn’t a problem experienced by every black man or every cop and these are certainly not actions carried out by the majority of police officers or protesters, but after this week’s tragedies to deny that these issues are not problems is to ignore reality.

To say that black men do not experience persecution is laughably ignorant.

To say police are not targeted is embarrassingly ridiculous.

To say that either of these issues justify the other is disgraceful, inexcusable, and atrocious.

But these are not matters of individual groups. This is not a problem that belongs to blacks or minorities. This is not a problem that belongs to cops or public figures. This is a problem at the heart of America, of faith, and of mankind. We cannot let others suffer or lose their rights and we cannot idly sit by and let injustice prevail.

We are America.

We have a goal that was set out by our founders and all Americans must work together until it is achieved.

When it shall be said [about America]: my poor are happy; neither ignorance nor distress is to be found among them; my jails are empty of prisoners, my streets of beggars; the aged are not in want; the taxes are not oppressive; the rational world is my friend, because I am a friend of its happiness: When these things can be said, there may that country boast its Constitution and its Government.

This goal must be applied without prejudice. Both civil servants and citizens deserve the rights guaranteed by American citizenship and deserve this nation we continue to work toward.

The Sorrow of Violence:

If every one is left to judge of his own work, there is no such thing as work that is wrong; but if they are to judge of each other’s work, there is no such thing as a work that is right; and therefore all the world is right, or all the world is wrong.

The work of policemen and activists is not contrary to each other. The world is not either-or. We cannot be only pro-black or only pro-cop. Both policemen and protesters work to bring about positive change. Both cops and civilians live normal lives. In light of recent events, we can no longer afford to let this issue be polarized. All lives are important, all problems need to be solved. We can only uphold the dignity of all people and resolve the issues our society faces by working together.

To shoot a police officer without reason is to shoot a public servant-likely of the highest moral standard-without grounds.

A cop shooting an unarmed man is removing his rights and devaluing his live, a man shooting a cop in the line of duty without cause is denying him rights and disrespecting the service the officer provides.

Most police offices are outstanding men, most civilians are not criminals 

A cop gives his life to the community. He stands to defend the citizens he works for.

A police office’s job requires continual self-sacrifice, constant work, and the horror of witnessing terrible crime on a daily basis. It is work that comes with no days off, no free time, and the pressure of lives relying on his actions.

Police officers die every day in the line of duty and they do more to defend people than most will ever realize. The physical and emotional distress of their work is more than most men could handle.

It is the duty of every American to treat good cops with respect, to appreciate all they do, to help make their lives easier, and to promote their welfare.

The death of an officer is as tragic as the death of an innocent man on the street.

We must all realize that the only people who have more information about violence, especially violence in minority communities, than police officers are those who live in violent communities.

The suffering of minorities in America is an unjust experience that many citizens will never understand.

I know people who are in gangs, I know people who have died from gang violence. I know people who have been unfairly pulled over because they were black. I know people who face persecution because others don’t understand their culture.

But I can never even pretend to know that struggle. I see it, but I don’t live it and I don’t work with it. I know it needs to end. But empathy doesn’t fix things.

I do, however, know that minorities hating cops causes more problems than it could ever logically solve. A good relationship between every community and their local police department helps mitigate tension and actually solves issues. As men who deal with the problems of inter-racial and intra-racial conflict on a daily basis, no one knows the problems and the legitimate concerns of minority communities better than police officers and no one is better suited to help solve them.

The hardships of the black communities of the United States is deplorable and inexcusable, but the adversity police officers face while trying to solve problems is outrageous and needs to end.

We as Americans must pray to end violence against her citizens, and we must include the victims of all violence. We recognize and rue the tragic deaths of innocent black men and the affliction of prejudices against them and we acknowledge and mourn disastrous deaths of officers and the tribulations of the discrimination they face.

Prejudice instills conflict. Death inspires hatred. Peaceful protests work. Voluntary cooperation solves problems.

Our Response:

There exists in man a mass of sense lying in a dormant state, and which, unless something excites it to action, will descend with him, in that condition, to the grave.

The American people are more polarized and more segregated than almost ever before. It’s not a legislated segregation, it may not even be an intentional segregation, but we have let ourselves fall prey to hateful rhetoric and group-oriented and increasingly radical causes.

We are Americans and humans.

Unless we can establish a community-not a community of like-minded people, not even a community of patriotism, faith, or love; but a community of human beings who are all related through our struggles, our successes, our losses, our suffering, and our work, we will never overcome the hatred that poisons our relationships, our country, and our world.

The Quran (2:213) teaches that “mankind is one single nation.” The Bible (Romans 12:4-5) teaches that through Christ we “form one body, and each member belongs to all the others”. The Buddha said, “Life is dear to all beings. All have the right to live the same as we.”

To treat another human as anything less that, to not allow everyone the respect and love with which we treat ourselves and our families, is to deny that person their right to a life of dignity.

We are not here to perpetuate anything other than love and the promotion of rights—both God-given and constitutional. Between 32,000 and 36,000 Americans of all races fought and died for our rights during the Revolutionary War. Hundred and hundreds of thousands of Americans of all races fought and died during the Civil War. Hundred of thousands of police officers have died protecting American citizens. Thousands of citizens have died from hate crimes and for standing up for civil rights of all kinds.

In America there should be no such thing as a second-class citizen or a person who is not worthy of dignity.

Malcolm X said:

Who are you? You don’t know? Don’t tell me Negro, that’s nothing. How did the ‘man’ do, what did the ‘man’ do to make you as [complacent] as you are. …[we] have begged for civil rights, [we] have begged…for freedom. If you beg another man to set you free you will never be free. Freedom is something we have to do for ourselves. We must all pay the price that is necessary for freedom.

If the present generation, or any other, are disposed to be slaves, it does not lessen the right of the succeeding generation to be free.

For over a decade we have formed ourselves into exclusive groups that are victims of other people’s exclusive groups. We have put group identity above individualism and above our status as a national community of Americans.

This must stop with us.

We are not slaves to our identities; after all, in America you can choose your own identity. We are not here to be thralls to a system which promotes shiftless acceptance of the status-quo, to accept brutality where it does not belong, or to distance ourselves from our fellow man.

We are not predisposed to prejudice, to violence, to group think, to exclusivity, or to polarity.

We are not here to incite violence, but we must call attention to problems. We are not here to hate or segregate, we must work together.

We are more than races, occupations, men, women, children, faiths, or politics. We are more than groups filled with hate for other groups.

We cannot be complacent.

We are individuals with skills and voices and value. We are a community of human beings who uphold principles, rights, and the worth of ourselves and each other.

As a member of mankind we are obligated to mourn the loss of these lives, extend assistance to their families and friends, work within our community, nation, and world to prevent further tragedy, and to preach the sanctity of human life and the paramount importance of the rights set forth by our God and our Founding Fathers as rights which belong to every member of this great nation.

Our battle is not hopeless.

That which a whole nation chooses to do, it has a right and an obligation to do it.

We all possess the dormant sense of right and wrong, and the longing for justice in all things. If everyone acted on these inherent impulses I expect, hope, and pray these problems would begin to disappear.

In stating these matters, I speak an open language, dictated by no passion but that of humanity. Independence is my happiness, and I view things as they are, without regard to place or person; my country is the world, and my religion is to do good.

(Every quote in italics comes from Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man.)