We have too much work to do. We have too much cruelty to confront. We have too much that needs healing. This is no time to celebrate America. While that might sound harsh, it’s how I’m thinking about this July 4th, 2017.
It is no time to celebrate America when police officers are killing unarmed Black people. While this is not exactly new in America, we are seeing this injustice in new ways. The Washington Post is the only reliable source of information on police shootings in America. They began tracking police shootings in 2015, after the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The FBI has only recently begun to gather this information and their data is incomplete. The Post reports that “…police have continued to shoot and kill a disproportionately large number of black males, who account for nearly a quarter of the deaths, yet are only 6 percent of the nation’s population.” It is not just Black males who are kill disproportionately in America either. The link above takes you to the Post’s database.
We see time and time again a video recording of someone who seems to pose no threat at all and yet he or she is shot. We see people of color running away from police– then shot in their backs. We see Black teens driving away from police officers only to be shot in their cars. We also see, time and time again, American juries acquitting officers of these crimes. Simply put– we have a lot of work to do. We need to strengthen laws and policies regarding when police officers can use lethal force. We need to train officers to de-escalate situations. We need to convince our fellow citizens, who make up American juries, that a badge is not a free pass to killing Black people because somehow the officer is afraid. Imagine an America where police officers were required to have social work degrees. That might be an America worth celebrating. But not today.
Similarly, it is no time to celebrate America when we have senators and members of congress delighting in dismantling our nation’s social safety net. In both the House and Senate versions of a potentially new health care law, we see Medicaid, the nation’s health plan for the poor and elderly, is gutted. The Congressional Budget Office estimates if either of these bills became law we would see more than 20 million people lose their health coverage. Why do these senators and members of congress want to do this? To deliver an enormous tax break to wealthy Americans, those making more than $250,000 a year. How is this American? How is this worth celebrating? It is not.
Finally, as long as we have a President who consistently lies, who regularly degrades women and minorities, who insists on playing to the fears of the most prejudiced Americans, we cannot celebrate. The New York Times has created a database to explore this dreadful topic. We all must work to counter his despicable behavior. We have to teach and reinforce basic civility, especially to our young people. We also have to insist, especially with our young people, that our attitudes and policies must be based on facts, demonstrable facts– not our whims and prejudices. When the President of the United States acts in bigoted, cruel, and ignorant ways, we all must counter his toxic behavior with compassion, protest, and kindness.
While I am under no illusion that my little protest will do much good, I am sure of its truth. While our country’s police departments assault people of color, while our legislators contemplate the denial of a basic human right, like health care, while our President behaves in vicious and ignorant ways, I will not celebrate America. This is no time to celebrate America.
Photo: Frederick Douglass’ house, Washington, D.C. I took this photograph in 2015.