The Problem Within: Confronting Systemic Racism, Wokeness, Social Justice and Defunding the Police
By Maurice Washington
Maurice Washington has been in public service to the Lowcountry since 1991. Image provided.
In Black America, it is time that we address the enemy within. No longer should we allow the mainstream media and partisan political pundits to spin narratives at our expense that divide America, promote victimhood and tell us that we are exempt from personal responsibilities because of the color of our skin. Using slavery and tragic encounters of Black Americans and police as cover to pitch narratives of systemic racism often leads to anger, distrust, divisiveness, disillusion and violence in cities across America.
To be clear, portions of American and human history are written in blood and can be difficult to comprehend, much less forgive. Blacks have faced generations of discrimination and still do, and the evils of slavery must never be forgotten. That said, none of us want to be defined by the worst thing we did as a young person, nor should a nation be defined solely by her birth defects — but by her commitment to a free and just society.
America is the only country that has an emancipation proclamation and has fought a war to end slavery, prohibited any participation by American ships in the Atlantic slave trade, prohibited importation of slaves by making any shipment of enslaved persons from abroad into the United States a crime and in 1865 declared slavery to be an illegal act at the constitutional level. And the great tragedy is that today across our globe, slavery is still practiced: Human beings are still sold, trafficked, treated inhumanely and cruelly abused.
Herein, the words of Jon Meacham still ring true: “To know what has come before is to be armed against despair. If the men and women of the past, with all the flaws and limitations and ambitions and appetites, could press on through ignorance and superstition, racism and sexism, selfishness and greed, to create a freer, stronger nation, then perhaps we, too, can right wrongs and take another step towards that most enchanting and elusive of destinations: a more perfect Union.”
The country was already struggling with the pandemic and economic hardship when the terrible and heartbreaking video of George Floyd ignited a firestorm. Tragically, when the country needed direction, trust and hope from our political leaders, it got abandonment instead. Giving way to the mob and divisive narratives led to anger, distrust, calls to defund the police, violence against innocent citizens and the destruction of businesses, public and governmentalbuildings, medical clinics including COVID-19 testing centers, and historical monuments and statues.
I agree that too often we have seen the repetitive movie of (just and unjust) police response against Black Americans that almost always leads to anger, violence in the streets and promises of reform — and nothing much happens.
Our political leaders’ response to all of this is “police reform.” For the sake of the country, we must find the will and courage to look at this in the right context. We can talk about reforming of police tactics and doing a better job of rooting out bad cops along with race sensitivity training. I am all for that. However, that’s only going to get us so far — because at the center of this problem is not only police behavior but criminal behavior.
Thousands of black homicides take place each year in America, close to 50 in 2020 and approaching 30 so far in 2021 in Charleston and North Charleston. Police are involved in about 2-3 percent of them. So where is the outrage, the protest and the anger over the 97-98 percent of black homicides that do not involve police in any way whatsoever? Even if the protesters are successful at ending police violence against Black Americans, that will only solve about 2percent of the problem here. So again, I think we need to put this into proper context, which is not being done in the media, among the black community or by our political leaders. All black lives need to matter at all times in all situations, not only when it meets a political agenda or narrative.
Discriminatory policing, crowding jails and prisons with black people and the stereotyping of innocent Black Americans are issues that should concern all people of goodwill and conscience across party lines. However, the reality is that homicides in major cities, including Charleston, are not race neutral. Of the more than 57 people killed in the streets of Charleston County last year, just about all of them were Black Americans, as were their assailants. This is a devastating plague acutely affecting black communities across the country. In some cities, the killings continued even as the country faced a coronavirus pandemic that prompted governors to place their states on a stay-at-home lockdown.
And while some people don’t want to admit it, the law enforcement tactics that some declare overbearing have worked in reducing crime. The stop-and-frisk practice in New York City was associated with a decline in homicides. The people who benefited most were Black Americans who lost fewer sons, daughters, fathers and mothers to senseless street violence. More black people lived.
This poses a real problem for the black elite and white progressives. How to address criminal behavior by some black folks without denigrating the “whole” black community? Many continue to struggle to give a balanced and positive picture of black life in America. The truth is this: There are some black folks who do bad things. Again, the sad truth is that their victims are most often other black people. At its core, we are speaking about the problem of human hatred, cruelty, even human evil that transcends race, nationality and religious and political affiliation.
The attitude toward bad guys with guns is not the same in these violent neighborhoods, where people fear for their lives every day, as it is in the relatively peaceful suburbs far away from crime. Many African American communities are under siege by black gun-toting terrorists. Children cannot play in their yards, and the elderly can no longer sit on their front porches.
Just last month, what started out as peaceful family pool party in North Charleston turned deadly in a matter of seconds with gunfire leaving families grieving the senseless murder of a precious 14-year-old daughter and the wounding of 13 others.
Now is the time to reconcile black pride, civil liberties and civil rights with the need for safe black communities. No one wants to resort to stop-and-frisk policies or mass incarceration, but something like this may be needed. Such efforts can target illegal weapons pretty much the same as stop-and-frisk efforts at major airports. This is not a problem in the larger white community, but it is in black communities and must be addressed as a problem particular to those neighborhoods.
Senseless violence and predatory behavior should not continue to be tolerated. This lawlessness victimizes black families, the black community and future generations. At some point we need to stop letting the presumed rights of a few endanger the lives of many. Homicide is a”‘devastating plague” on black communities, and it is time we stop ignoring it.
Violence upon violence heals no one. Hatred upon hate heals no one. Let’s be courageous and stand for equality, dignity, civil rights and the worthiness of all our citizens. This is a challenge we are all capable of accepting. It’s time to commit to building up our communities and seeing everyone as part of our community.
Charleston, it is time to “come to the table” — a table where everyone is welcomed and valued. Where every soul and every voice matters. It’s time. It’s long past time.
Maurice Washington is chairman of the Charleston County Republican Party and a former Charleston City Council member. He is president and CEO of Trust Management, LLC, and is committed to a life of public service.