We need the Civil Rights Act of 2020 for battling racial in­jus­tice

Orlando Sentinel - - Opinion - Charles M. Blow is a colum­nist for The New York Times.

There are im­ages of po­lice of­fi­cers join­ing pro­test­ers in danc­ing the “Cupid Shuf­fle,” tak­ing knees and hug­ging lit­tle girls.

There have been im­ages of mem­bers of Congress don­ning kente cloth stoles, Joe Bi­den tak­ing a knee and Mitt Rom­ney march­ing with pro­test­ers.

There have been im­ages of a rain­bow of races and eth­nic­i­ties march­ing through streets with Black Lives Mat­ter posters held high, of them kneel­ing in mo­ments of si­lence, of de­faced and be­headed stat­ues.

All of these are feel-good ges­tures that cost noth­ing and shift no power. They create no jus­tice and pro­vide no eq­uity.

The Democrats in the House and Repub­li­cans in the Se­nate are pon­der­ing sep­a­rate leg­isla­tive re­ac­tions. It is not yet clear if Don­ald Trump would agree to any of the pro­vi­sions. The Democrats’ bill predictabl­y goes fur­ther than the Repub­li­cans’ plan, but both pri­mar­ily fo­cus nar­rowly on po­lice train­ing, ac­count­abil­ity, record keep­ing and pun­ish­ment.

But, these bills, if they pass as con­ceived, would ba­si­cally pun­ish the sys­tem’s sol­diers with­out al­ter­ing the sys­tem it­self. These bills would make the of­fi­cers the fall guy for their bad be­hav­ior while do­ing lit­tle to con­demn or even ad­dress the sav­agery and vo­ra­cious­ness of the sys­tem that re­quired their ser­vice.

This coun­try has es­tab­lished a sys­tem of supreme in­equity, with racial in­equity be­ing a pri­mary form, and used the po­lice to pro­tect the wealth that the sys­tem gen­er­ated for some and to con­trol the out­rages and out­bursts of those op­posed to it and op­pressed by it.

It has used the po­lice to make the hos­tile tran­quil, to erase and re­move from free so­ci­ety those who ex­pressed sick­ness com­ing from a so­ci­ety that poi­soned them with per­se­cu­tions.

This so­ci­ety cre­ates con­di­tions in which ex­treme, con­cen­trated poverty can ex­ist and then pun­ishes those who re­act neg­a­tively to be­ing con­demned to that poverty.

This so­ci­ety doesn’t suf­fi­ciently care for and in­sure peo­ple, guar­an­tee­ing that ev­ery per­son, re­gard­less of sta­tion or wealth, has equal access to health care, and then it pun­ishes those who suf­fer from stress, de­pres­sion and vi­o­lent fits of rage be­cause of it.

This so­ci­ety sys­tem­at­i­cally clois­ters power — eco­nomic, po­lit­i­cal and cul­tural — in the hands of an elite few, al­most all white, and then be­moans the ap­a­thy of those from whom power is with­held.

We need more than per­for­ma­tive sym­bols of sol­i­dar­ity. We need more than nar­row, chaste leg­is­la­tion. Even if ei­ther of the po­lice re­form bills were passed and signed into law, they would cost the na­tion noth­ing and would leave the power struc­ture un­touched.

In Martin Luther King’s 1967 book “Where Do We Go From Here,” he wrote:

“The prac­ti­cal cost of change for the na­tion up to this point has been cheap. The lim­ited re­forms have been ob­tained at bar­gain rates. There are no ex­penses, and no taxes are re­quired, for Ne­groes to share lunch coun­ters, li­braries, parks, ho­tels and other fa­cil­i­ties with whites.”

What he was seek­ing, what we were seek­ing, at that point — qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion; de­cent, good-pay­ing jobs; fair hous­ing — would ac­tu­ally cost the na­tion some­thing. That is what real jus­tice looks like: equal access to pos­si­bil­ity, suc­cess and safety.

If we are se­ri­ous about battling racial in­jus­tice in the pub­lic square and not just on the po­lice squad, we need noth­ing short of a new civil rights act, the Civil Rights Act of 2020.

At this point, politi­cians are still play­ing safe, be­ing risk-averse while call­ing it rad­i­cal.

They want the ap­pear­ance of sub­stan­tial ac­tion while leav­ing the sub­stance of so­ci­ety un­touched. They want to ap­pear re­spon­sive with­out tak­ing full re­spon­si­bil­ity.

Poverty is the prob­lem. Wealth in­equal­ity is the prob­lem. All the things that lead to and at­tend poverty and wealth in­equal­ity are the prob­lem.

The po­lice didn’t give birth to Amer­i­can vi­o­lence and in­hu­man­ity. Amer­ica’s vi­o­lence and in­hu­man­ity gave birth to them.

Charles M. Blow

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