Unjust Streets

Several weeks back I saw a press conference in one of our embattled cities where the backdrop was a repeated logo that boldly declared “No Justice, No Peace.”

This sight has stayed in my mind, and been refreshed there every time the tension in America has spread to a new city.

I am not sure what the person who wrote the slogan meant by it. Perhaps they were saying that ultimately we will find peace by creating a society that practices justice. In this manner it could have been a call for justice in America.

But on the other side of the coin, it could be taken as a call for violence, lack of peace, in order to force the nation to behave more justly. This was how I took it, and it seemed to be (as much as soundbites can reveal), what the speakers in front of that curtain were asking for.

The problem is that nothing is more unjust than rioting in the streets. Any person or property caught in the path may meet the anger of the crowd. Instead of injustice occurring individually or in isolated incidents, hundreds of people will be caught in the grind of injustice simply because their homes, businesses, or workplaces are in the affected regions.

The people most adversely affected by violence in the streets are the same ones who were offended by whatever initial event sparked the unrest in their area. In this way the violence in the streets becomes a downward spiral, further disenfranchising and socially alienating those they hoped to help.

I am sure that some of these people are hoping to return to actions similar to those of Martin Luther King. In his era, he was the figurehead for a movement that brought about positive change. But please study your history and remember that he did it by advocating non-violence. He didn’t tolerate roaming neighborhoods, burning businesses, or looting. Nor did he advocate attacking police, not even when they were attacked.

Trying to address injustices in America is important, but doing so by spreading injustice is nonsensical.

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Culture of Distrusting Government

New York City, like too many places in our country, has seen division created by racial tension. This division has erupted in violence that has destroyed trust, common sense and in the worst cases entire neighborhoods. All this destruction has a real cost on society, but especially on the people and neighborhoods affected.

The destruction stems from people making decisions about events they have no first-hand knowledge of. They assume a suspect was treated a certain way because of racism. Second-hand or third-hand reports of the situation are mixed with basic assumptions about the shape of society to make an explosive mix.

Many of the protestors, bloggers and commentators have painted the police as the villains. I believe the majority of law enforcement officers are honest, fair people attempting to do an extremely difficult job well. I don’t doubt that some will make horrible mistakes. Painting an entire group by the actions of a few is exactly what we are all against. Failing to see the police as people worthy of respect and assuming them to be villains has resulted in many needless confrontations and at least two deaths.

In a sense it all comes down to which group a person chooses to make negative assumptions about. And if you look at it that way, the central point becomes why do we make the assumptions we do about any group? I believe the way news is presented is a part of it. I believe history is a part of it, too. Unfortunately, I also believe, in recent times, presidential politics is a part of it. The president has waded into a number of situations in such a way as to exasperate the situation. It is sad when the highest elected official in the land contributes to the cultural distrust of government.

Political Communication

Communication is at the heart of all politics. The communication of ideas, the communication of values, and the communication of policies. A good politician will not only be a skilled policy maker, but a great communicator.

But the art of communication is sometimes not just about conveying information. Sometimes it is also about what is purposefully not communicated, or maybe even purposefully miscommunicated. The manipulation of information is at the heart of all bad politics.

Several times lately, I have heard details of three cases where government was purposefully preventing communication. When Gibson Guitars was raided by homeland security, they immediately ordered the plant to shut off all of their surveillance equipment. Another case was when a hospital disagreed with a standing diagnosis of a child by another doctor, they not only succeeded in having the child removed from her parents, but also successfully asked the court to order the parents to break all contact with the family’s priest. Just today, I learned a basketball player who was also a paid social media publicist was in trouble for having tweeted a selfie he took with the president.

In all three cases I don’t see the point in the action taken. If the raid on Gibson Guitars was being done in a lawful way, why prevent the details from being recorded? How was ordering a couple parents to cease contact with a family priest in anyone’s best interest? If the president shows a lack of discretion in who he takes a selfie with, why would anyone expect the other party to take that responsibility for him?

Who controls the flow of information is always critical, and without solid communication there is no accountability. When a society loses the ability to access factual data about their government and its activities, they cannot expect to remain free.

Legalizing Drugs

America is in love with its highs. I thought of this while seeing a commercial for the old Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts. He was one of several, who made their living as comedians by making us laugh at the lovable drunk.

But drunk is not really that lovable and neither is high. However it appears we have moved from laughing at the lovable drunk to laughing at the lovable pothead. Some people would like to go further and legalize all form of drugs.

At what point do we begin to admit our love affair with being high is self-destructive.

Once upon a time in America we had enough people who saw alcohol as a danger to society that we made it illegal. I assume the decision was like deciding it was more important to avoid the destruction of those who would become alcoholics than it was for individuals with control to have their casual drinks. During the days of prohibition, illegal alcohol changed the face of crime. The criminal aspect of it became so strong that it didn’t take long to decide to legalize it in order to cut down on the crimes surrounding it.

Please notice, prohibition was not overturned for the sake of the drunk, it was despite the drunk. Illegal drinking became trendy. This made illegal booze very profitable and the black market became dangerous. Making alcohol legal again was essentially a measure to take the power and money away from the gangs.

In essence reversing prohibition allowed an attitude toward alcohol which is now expanding to other intoxicants. Namely that allowing a certain number of people to lose their lives to the substance is preferable to withholding the high from the public or fighting the crime of those who will get their high even if illegally.

If this is the decision society ultimately makes, the number of people losing their lives to substances will increase. Some substances are massively more addictive than alcohol. Are we sure, the cost will be worth avoiding the fight?