America is facing a difficult moment. For the past few months, we have been enduring a global pandemic that has claimed more than 110,000 lives. We are dealing with an economic catastrophe that …
America is facing a difficult moment. For the past few months, we have been enduring a global pandemic that has claimed more than 110,000 lives. We are dealing with an economic catastrophe that has left tens of millions out of work. Now people have taken to the streets in outrage over the brutal murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. These three nearly simultaneous events have created a veritable maelstrom across America. In the midst of all these problems, we are grappling with hard truths about our country’s origins, systemic racism that is still pervasive today, and the type of society we want to pass on to future generations.
In the aftermath of his killing, it can be easy to forget that George Floyd is not just a symbol; he was a person. He was a son, a brother, and a father. George Floyd died begging for his life because officers of the law, who are sworn to protect and serve, showed callous disregard for human life. The list of black people who have died in similar ways is long. The pattern follows a history of racial violence that stretches back four centuries, to when the first African slaves were forcefully brought to these shores. It is a pattern of violence that tragically has continued to today.
The United States has always prided itself on being a nation founded on enlightened ideals. Our Declaration of Independence established the principle that all men are created equal, and they are entitled to the very basic rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Our Constitution established a rule of law and started a grand experiment. However, there is an inherent contradiction in our founding. Many of our founders were slave owners, including Thomas Jefferson, third president and author of the Declaration of Independence, who put our ideal into words. Other founders, who were opposed to slavery, still made a “compromise” to accept slavery for the sake of forming a union of the 13 states. In doing so, they failed to live up to the ideals that are part of the very DNA of this nation. Sadly, almost 250 years later our nation is still grappling with the effects of casting a whole group of people into the category of chattel.
Despite my pride and belief in the ideals in the Declaration of Independence and my oath to protect and defend the Constitution that I swore on when I took office, I recognize America still has much work to do to achieve those ideals. This is in no way a condemnation of America, but rather a confession that perfection is still not in reach. Our nation’s ideals are lofty, audacious, and perhaps always just out of reach, but it is our duty to strive to achieve them for every member of our society, or risk losing them for anyone of us in the future. Our founding fathers knew this; in fact, they said as much in that preamble: “In order to form a more perfect Union.” After all, the Constitution was their second try, following the Articles of Confederation, and was only ratified once the Bill of Rights was added.
I will never be able to fully comprehend the fear that people of color must face every day, but I can and must acknowledge it. Racism and discrimination exists in our society. It rears its head in many forms, not just in the most gruesome killing of black men and women at the hands of police and vigilantes, but in much more subtler forms, like in discriminatory hiring practices and real estate redlining. If we fail to recognize and speak to the problem, then we can never hope to address its root causes. Citizens of all walks of life have taken to the streets in protest to loudly expose the problem.
These protests may be loud and they may be uncomfortable, especially to those in leadership, but they are necessary. Our founding fathers would agree; it is why the right to assembly and free speech was the very first expressed right added to the Constitution. We as a nation must continue to have the long, hard and necessary conversation about how we put the sins of racism behind us and truly achieve the ideals of our nation, for which we stand. Until then, I mourn for those unjustly taken from us, I stand with the protestors calling for us to reach for our highest perfection, and I pledge to do my part to right the wrongs.