By Ruth Gadebusch
In a way that we never foresaw, this nation has been shaken to its bones—to its graveyards—with the convergence of the COVID-19 pandemic and the killing of a Black man. Seemingly unrelated, It is arguably the pent-up energy of the pandemic shutdown that awakened this nation to the notion that there was work to be done to fulfill the image we had of ourselves. Still the best that humans have been able to design, the difference between the design and reality cannot be denied.
Many a person, Black men in particular, has been killed in horrific ways that no sane person could possibly accept, although whatever interest was generated was short-lived with little, if any, punishment, and even less action to prevent future such incidents. Neither the multiple gun shootings nor the racist acts have brought any restraints on our gun culture or reduction in the pervasive “lock ’em up and throw away the keys” justice system.
Even when well planned, those shootings were attributed to moments of boiling-over anger or fear but near nine minutes of video struck a spark. There was plenty of time both for the perpetrator, a police officer supposed to protect. and the onlookers to appreciate the inevitable results of a knee cutting off blood to the brain.
Made all the more graphic was clear evidence that the victim was in no condition to cause harm to anyone. Regardless of whatever triggered the encounter in the first place, his resistance was nil long before almost nine minutes passed.
Not many of us ever watch someone dying at the hands of another, but this one was so undeniable as to flash around the world bringing long tucked away grievances to new life. It was time: Time to go beyond talk. It was a moment of realization for those who had enjoyed the profits of this nation as well as those who had been denied the promise.
Egregiously bumbling leadership had allowed the coronavirus to bring us to the pandemic with its focus on the world around us. With all our technology, we were not as much in control as we had thought. Worse yet, there was vast disparity in the benefits of that technology that was intended to improve lives.
The noise was sufficient to shake us out of our lethargy. We may disagree on solutions, but we were in the mess together and must solve it together.
It is as unfair to condemn all law enforcement as it is to judge by skin color or, for that matter, culture. On this latter, we can only act on what we know, what we have been exposed to. Our technology for communication and transportation should open a whole world of new possibilities to us.
No one group, no one culture is the one and only. Each has something to offer, and it would serve us well to observe and learn how best to share this planet.
Be it generated by a pandemic or a horrific death, we must strive to make our action match our intentions to create a better world. We must share the resources. It is not acceptable to think our success is due to our own efforts, and if the nebulous “they” worked as I did they too would be successful. It does not happen that way.
Every single one of us had some help in whatever achievement we might have reached. Every single one of us can benefit by appreciation of the needs of others.
To the many who have a newfound interest in justice, let us not substitute one evil for another. Let us use this marvelously created system to its fullest. Let us recognize that street protests can also offer a venue for those who would put their own selfishness into play.
As one long involved in civic education, I can only wish the system had worked before resorting to street chaos to express dissatisfaction. I can’t help but think of those damaged and speculate how much of the money now spent rectifying the damage could have been used to achieve much of what the protesters desired, what the nation needed. One mistreatment, or many, does not justify another.
The goal is perfecting the system to work for all. We have a vote. Let it not be taken from us in false claims of voter fraud and other impediments to voting.
While we work to change attitudes, let us recognize that there will always be some with devious intentions; therefore, we use the system by participation in electing thoughtful, honorable people for public service at all levels and selecting the same type for law enforcement.
It won’t bring instant gratification, but given a chance it would surely move us in the right direction. It won’t give life back to a Black man or freedom to any unjustly imprisoned, but it would ensure that their lives were not in vain.
It would be a step in the right direction toward becoming the country of our dreams. Now that is something to celebrate this July 4 and in November.
Ruth Gadebusch, a former U.S. Naval officer and an emeritus member of the Board of the Center for Civic Education, is a community activist having served on the Fresno Unified Board of Education, the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, the Association of California Urban School Districts, the National Women’s Political Caucus, the American Association of University Women and other local, state and national efforts.