Imagine a world where the greatest country on earth benefits from leadership, rather than being burdened by small-time politics, racial animus, and the politics of fear. In such a world, the first African-American President might have given a speech like this after a young black man was shot in Ferguson, Missouri by a white police officer.
“My fellow Americans, I stand before you as your president. I am a black man. When born, my parents could not have legally married in the state right across the river – Virginia. In 2008 and 2012, I carried the Commonwealth of Virginia, once the home of the confederacy. I have seen first-hand the reality of racism, both in its ugliest and most subtle forms. Likewise, I have benefited from the honest effort of Americans to reverse both the spirit of racism and the legal framework that institutionalized it. Racism – that awful perspective that one is inferior due to one’s color – is learned. We are not born with it. With each passing day, Americans are putting it behind us. However, with events like those in Ferguson, we are reminded that the wounds of racism are fresh. In this adversity, we must decide if we will go forward or backward on issue of race. I insist on going forward.
“Yesterday, a young black man died in a confrontation with a white police officer. All the facts surrounding this death are unknown at this time. What is known is that some residents of Ferguson are rioting, protesting, and alleging that the basis for this shooting was race. It is said by some that when an unarmed black man is killed by a white police officer, race must have played a role. That view is, in itself, racist. It is uninformed, and it asks us to believe the worst of each other. This I will not do. I went to Harvard Law School. I have served in a state legislature, in your senate and now as your President. From this I know we are a nation of laws. Laws are made through reason … not emotion. The pillars that support this great nation rest upon the bedrock of law. In that law, we must have faith. We have no basis today to distrust the law or those who enforce it. We have no basis but fear and racism to assume that the legal process will not reach a just conclusion in this matter.
“If you are on the streets today, throwing rocks, looting, attacking your fellow citizens or our police officers, you are a law breaker. You attack the rational basis for our very system of government. You appeal to our darkest, base instincts, and you send the unmistakable message that reason is a casualty to the emotion of racism. You embrace racism and riot to protest it … actions without reason or justification. Go home. Go home and make your families better. Wake up and improve your communities. Go to work, pay your obligations, and treat your neighbors with respect and dignity. The shooting today will be investigated by local authorities. To the extent they need or want assistance from our federal government, we always stand ready to help. In the end, however, this is an investigation best done by the professionals on the ground in your community…irrespective of their color.
“Justice is a process. If the process is just, the outcome will be just. We must trust that our police, our prosecutors, and ultimately our fellow citizens will adjudicate this matter in good faith. Faith in our fellow man – irrespective of his color – is our best defense against the scourge of racism. Faith in our legal system – irrespective of the color of those involved – is a requirement for us to lay to rest the racial demons that divides us. It is simply no longer acceptable to count, divide, and motivate based on race. We are a nation of laws. We are a nation of people of good will, good deeds, and honest hearts. The equality we seek requires not merely that laws mandate equality. To be equal, we must have the faith and character necessary to teach tolerance in our toughest times. Our justice system, to which I am sworn, requires not that we be color bound, but that we be color blind. I trust my fellow Americans to resolve this matter justly, and I ask you to show the faith and decency that equality demands as we wait for the legal process to fairly run its course. Racism is learned in the actions we take and the words we use every day. Today, I stand against racism, and I reject those who preach or profit from it. That’s my America.”
Imagine the atmosphere today in Ferguson – had leadership been color blind.
Richard Kelsey is an Assistant Dean at George Mason Law School. A former Virginia state court law clerk and commercial litigator, Dean Kelsey was also the CEO of a technology company. He teaches legal writing and pre-trial practice. He is a regular commentator on legal and political issues in print, and on radio and TV. His Twitter handle is @richkelsey.