I am at a loss. All the time. I walk around wondering if this new era ushering in might undo it all. We are at a fork in the road, surely. It occurs to me, often, how lucky I am to live in a democratic nation. And yet, how helpless I mostly feel. Democracy without agency is... something less than. I'd like to go to a polling booth every day and make it clear to my representatives that I believe in gun control. Instead I wake up and read the news and fight the terrifying sensation that my heart is hardening against such grotesque human behavior. So I try to live softer--to smile at people on the street, to live as courageously as I can--to speak up when necessary and right, to give others the benefit of the doubt.
It has been writers who have kept me sane during this last stretch of year in which populism has barreled in toppling over any semblance of good sense--when suddenly the worst of who we are is on display and exalted, at all times. The thing about populism that is so terrifying is the idea that some people are legitimate and others are less so, or not at all. It is one versus the other, which we can see mirrored now in so many different things currently taking place in this country.
So, while it's not a big thing, I want to share three articles that have kept me breathing in recent weeks. I'm posting them here in their full form because, while I usually try to avoid this and direct to the original source, some things are too important not to share. And words and discourse may now be our best protection against that which is not good.
WHY IT'S TIME TO REPEAL THE SECOND AMENDMENT | David S. Cohen (Rolling Stone)
I teach the Constitution for a living. I revere the document when it is used to further social justice and make our country a more inclusive one. I admire the Founders for establishing a representative democracy that has survived for over two centuries.
But sometimes we just have to acknowledge that the Founders and the Constitution are wrong. This is one of those times. We need to say loud and clear: The Second Amendment must be repealed.
As much as we have a culture of reverence for the founding generation, it's important to understand that they got it wrong — and got it wrong often. Unfortunately, in many instances, they enshrined those faults in the Constitution. For instance, most people don't know it now, but under the original document, Mitt Romney would be serving as President Obama's vice president right now because he was the runner-up in the last presidential election. That part of the Constitution was fixed by the Twelfth Amendment, which set up the system we currently have of the president and vice president running for office together.
Much more profoundly, the Framers and the Constitution were wildly wrong on race. They enshrined slavery into the Constitution in multiple ways, including taking the extreme step of prohibiting the Constitution from being amended to stop the slave trade in the country's first 20 years. They also blatantly wrote racism into the Constitution by counting slaves as only 3/5 of a person for purposes of Congressional representation. It took a bloody civil war to fix these constitutional flaws (and then another 150 years, and counting, to try to fix the societal consequences of them).
There are others flaws that have been fixed (such as about voting and Presidential succession), and still other flaws that have not yet been fixed (such as about equal rights for women and land-based representation in the Senate), but the point is the same — there is absolutely nothing permanently sacrosanct about the Founders and the Constitution. They were deeply flawed people, it was and is a flawed document, and when we think about how to make our country a more perfect union, we must operate with those principles in mind.
In the face of yet another mass shooting, now is the time to acknowledge a profound but obvious truth – the Second Amendment is wrong for this country and needs to be jettisoned. We can do that through a Constitutional amendment. It's been done before (when the Twenty-First Amendmentrepealed prohibition in the Eighteenth), and it must be done now.
The Second Amendment needs to be repealed because it is outdated, a threat to liberty and a suicide pact. When the Second Amendment was adopted in 1791, there were no weapons remotely like the AR-15 assault rifle and many of the advances of modern weaponry were long from being invented or popularized.
Sure, the Founders knew that the world evolved and that technology changed, but the weapons of today that are easily accessible are vastly different than anything that existed in 1791. When the Second Amendment was written, the Founders didn't have to weigh the risks of one man killing 49 and injuring 53 all by himself. Now we do, and the risk-benefit analysis of 1791 is flatly irrelevant to the risk-benefit analysis of today.
Gun-rights advocates like to make this all about liberty, insisting that their freedom to bear arms is of utmost importance and that restricting their freedom would be a violation of basic rights.
But liberty is not a one way street. It also includes the liberty to enjoy a night out with friends, loving who you want to love, dancing how you want to dance, in a club that has historically provided a refuge from the hate and fear that surrounds you. It also includes the liberty to go to and send your kids to kindergarten and first grade so that they can begin to be infused with a love of learning. It includes the liberty to go to a movie, to your religious house of worship, to college, to work, to an abortion clinic, go to a hair salon, to a community center, to the supermarket, to go anywhere and feel that you are free to do to so without having to weigh the risk of being gunned down by someone wielding a weapon that can easily kill you and countless others.
The liberty of some to own guns cannot take precedence over the liberty of everyone to live their lives free from the risk of being easily murdered. It has for too long, and we must now say no more.
Finally, if we take the gun-rights lobby at their word, the Second Amendment is a suicide pact. As they say over and over, the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. In other words, please the gun manufacturers by arming even the vast majority of Americans who do not own a gun.
Just think of what would have happened in the Orlando night-club Saturday night if there had been many others armed. In a crowded, dark, loud dance club, after the shooter began firing, imagine if others took out their guns and started firing back. Yes, maybe they would have killed the shooter, but how would anyone else have known what exactly was going on? How would it not have devolved into mass confusion and fear followed by a large-scale shootout without anyone knowing who was the good guy with a gun, who was the bad guy with a gun, and who was just caught in the middle? The death toll could have been much higher if more people were armed.
The gun-rights lobby's mantra that more people need guns will lead to an obvious result — more people will be killed. We'd be walking down a road in which blood baths are a common occurrence, all because the Second Amendment allows them to be.
At this point, bickering about the niceties of textual interpretation, whether the history of the amendment supports this view or that, and how legislators can solve this problem within the confines of the constitution is useless drivel that will lead to more of the same. We need a mass movement of those who are fed up with the long-dead Founders' view of the world ruling current day politics. A mass movement of those who will stand up and say that our founding document was wrong and needs to be changed. A mass movement of those who will thumb their nose at the NRA, an organization that is nothing more than the political wing of the country's gun manufacturers, and say enough is enough.
The Second Amendment must be repealed, and it is the essence of American democracy to say so.
THE THIN BLUE LINE BETWEEN US | Eric L. Adams (The New York Times)
THERE were days when I marched shoulder to shoulder with outraged New Yorkers, after the police-involved death of Amadou Diallo in the Bronx and police assault on Abner Louima in Brooklyn, and we chanted, “No justice, no peace.” There were evenings when I was policing the same protests and keeping the peace, and people came up to me and voiced their anger, not realizing I had stood with them just hours earlier.
They saw the uniform but not the man wearing it.
I have worn the blue uniform of the New York City Police Department, upholding the law even as I raised my voice to reform its enforcement and make policing better. I have also worn the blue jeans of a black father concerned about the safety of his family.
That duality is not unique to me; it is very familiar to all law enforcement officers from communities of color. Violence causes us to blur each other’s complexities, to try to line up the world on one side of the battlefield or the other.
If I allowed myself to be divided, my whole being would be split in two. But if I hadn’t believed change was possible, I could never have enrolled in the police academy.
We cannot, and should not, ignore the deeply rooted anger that millions of good-hearted Americans feel at this moment in our history. It is an emotion born not in the last few days, weeks or months. The police-involved shootings that claimed the lives of Alton B. Sterling in Baton Rouge, La., and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minn., are only the most recent causes to stir this anger.
Last week in Dallas, when hundreds of people chanted in protest, “Hands up, don’t shoot,” their prayer was interrupted by a hail of bullets; it shattered the spirit of peaceful protest that is the soul of our democracy. The sniper’s target was not the nonviolent protesters but the police officers who were protecting those concerned citizens and their constitutional rights.
It was a brutal reminder that any of us can be in the line of fire, police officer and citizen, black and white. Here in New York City, in December 2014, two police officers, Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, were targeted by a depraved individual who claimed his criminal assassinations were some twisted act of revenge.
Regardless of the skin we are in or the uniform we wear, we bleed the same, cry the same tears and wrestle with the same fears. The intentional elimination of law enforcement officers is an act that does more than devastate the policing family. What men and women in blue are feeling after Dallas is the trauma of the realization of their own vulnerability as they go back on the beat: Who might target them as they protect the same street corners and defend the same protests?
So my solution to the tension between the police and the people — which I recognize as my own inner tension — is to seek unity, not find division. Right now, people feel that the time for transformation in our society has long since arrived, and they are undoubtedly correct.
I hear those saying the time just for talk is over — and I agree. Talk, and the greater freedoms of speech and expression that it encompasses, are national imperatives that should deliver a more righteous tomorrow. But the next step after talk is not violence, it is concrete action.
Action means common-sense gun reform. Time and again, this has been stonewalled by a do-nothing Congress, which has helped turn a ban on high-capacity assault weapons into a controversial issue. This has to change.
Action means urgent attention to the mental health epidemic that plagues our nation. This epidemic is blind to a person’s background and profession, yet unattended it can distort the honest, passionate rhetoric of protest into the delusional hate of dangerous radicalization.
Twenty years ago, as a founder of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, I helped to organize workshops for young black men called “What to Do When Stopped by the Police.” We had many critics who told us we were being divisive. But today, when I reflect on the deaths of Mr. Sterling and Mr. Castile — not far from the age of my own son, who faces similar dangers because of the hue of his skin — I can’t help feeling that despite our efforts, this education is still needed.
Action means more progress toward community policing in every town and city. This public safety model has won praise in Dallas and other cities for lowering murder rates while advancing civic trust. Law enforcement training should ensure more focus on de-escalation techniques to defuse conflict in difficult situations and avoid the use of deadly force. Action also means changes to our criminal-justice system that would restore confidence in investigations into police brutality, with measures including independent evidence-gathering.
What the terrible events of Dallas should remind us of is the need to see the uniform and the person inside it at once, to recognize and learn from our complexities. We call the police the thin blue line. Let it not be a line that divides us.
A WEEK FROM HELL | Charles M. Blow (The New York Times)
Last week was yet another week that tore at the very fiber of our nation.
After two videos emerged showing the gruesome killings of two black men by police officers, one in Baton Rouge, La., and the other in Falcon Heights, Minn., a black man shot and killed five officers in a cowardly ambush at an otherwise peaceful protest and wounded nine more people. The Dallas police chief, David O. Brown, said, “He was upset about Black Lives Matter” and “about the recent police shootings” and “was upset at white people” and “wanted to kill white people, especially white officers.”
We seem caught in a cycle of escalating atrocities without an easy way out, without enough clear voices of calm, without tools for reduction, without resolutions that will satisfy.
There is so much loss and pain. There are so many families whose hearts hurt for a loved one needlessly taken, never to be embraced again.
There is so much disintegrating trust, so much animosity stirring.
So many — too many — Americans now seem to be living with an ambient terror that someone is somehow targeting them.
Friday morning, after the Dallas shootings, my college student daughter entered my room before heading out to her summer job. She hugged me and said: “Dad, I’m scared. Are you scared?” We talked about what had happened in the preceding days, and I tried to allay her fears and soothe her anxiety.
How does a father answer such a question? I’m still not sure I got it precisely right.
Truth is, I am afraid. Not so much for my own safety, which is what my daughter was fretting about, but more for the country I love.
This is not a level of stress and strain that a civil society can long endure.
I feel numb, and anguished and heartbroken, and I fear that I am far from alone.
And yet, I also fear that time is a requirement for remedy. We didn’t arrive at this place overnight and we won’t move on from it overnight.
Centuries of American policy, culture and tribalism are simply being revealed as the frothy tide of hagiographic history recedes.
Our American “ghettos” were created by policy and design. These areas of concentrated poverty became fertile ground for crime and violence. Municipalities used heavy police forces to try to cap that violence. Too often, aggressive policing began to feel like oppressive policing. Relationships between communities and cops became strained. A small number of criminals poisoned police beliefs about whole communities, and a small number of dishonorable officers poisoned communities’ beliefs about entire police forces. And then, too often the unimaginable happened and someone ended up dead at the hands of the police.
Since people have camera phones, we are actually seeing these deaths, live and in living color. Now a terrorist with a racist worldview has taken it upon himself to co-opt a cause and mow down innocent officers.
This is a time when communities, institutions, movements and even nations are tested. Will the people of moral clarity, good character and righteous cause be able to drown out the chorus of voices that seek to use each dead body as a societal wedge?
Will the people who can see clearly that there is no such thing as selective, discriminatory, exclusionary outrage and grieving when lives are taken, be heard above those who see every tragedy as a plus or minus for a cumulative argument?
Will the people who see both the protests over police killings and the killings of police officers as fundamentally about the value of life rise above those who see political opportunity in this arms race of atrocities?
These are very serious questions — soul-of-a-nation questions — that we dare not ignore.
We must see all unwarranted violence for what it is: A corrosion of culture.
I know well that when people speak of love and empathy and honor in the face of violence, it can feel like meeting hard power with soft, like there is inherent weakness in an approach that leans so heavily on things so ephemeral and even clichéd.
But that is simply an illusion fostered by those of little faith.
Anger and vengeance and violence are exceedingly easy to access and almost effortlessly unleashed.
The higher calling — the harder trial — is the belief in the ultimate moral justice and the inevitable victory of righteousness over wrong.
This requires an almost religious faith in fate, and that can be hard for some to accept, but accept it we must.
The moment any person comes to accept as justifiable an act of violence upon another — whether physical, spiritual or otherwise — that person has already lost the moral battle, even if he is currently winning the somatic one.
When we all can see clearly that the ultimate goal is harmony and not hate, rectification and not retribution, we have a chance to see our way forward. But we all need to start here and now, by doing this simple thing: Seeing every person as fully human, deserving every day to make it home to the people he loves.