Following yet another caught-on-video killing of a black man by police, our nation once again is engulfed in the flames of racial tension.
In multiple cities, the flames are more than metaphorical as rioters burn vehicles, loot businesses and generally wreak havoc in the streets. Many of the victims of this senseless violence are black small-business owners who have seen their stores heavily damaged or destroyed.
As we act immediately to stamp out these riots, our nation must also undertake a fresh and earnest conversation addressing the root causes of these waves of unrest.
And that discussion starts with a clear-eyed look at the incidents provoking the outrage among people of color in the first place – incidents such as the sickening display of unreasonable and deadly force used by white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin that led to the death of George Floyd on Monday.
As a career prosecutor trained in evaluating evidence and the importance of due process, I have made it my practice to reserve judgment on conduct “caught on tape.”
Fundamental fairness requires that we allow for evidence to be properly gathered and reviewed before rendering pronouncements – especially in actions where police conduct is subject to public scrutiny.
But we also must be real.
We must recognize that there exist far too many indications of blatant police brutality captured on video in real time that reflect a consistent disregard for human life, particularly as it relates to people of color. We cannot deny what we plainly see.
The arrest of Chauvin, who has been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter and fired from the police force, provides a proper avenue toward accountability for the death of George Floyd.
But this arrest does not even come close to addressing the widening divide of racial animus splitting apart American society.
These awful cases of black Americans losing their lives at the hands of police have simply become too much of a regular pattern.
Aside from the most tragic incidents resulting in deaths, we see the ugly bubbling to the surface of anti-black prejudice even in the smaller details of daily life.
Our Constitution guarantees the right to assemble and protest, but it does not condone anarchy, violence and lawlessness.
Consider the exhibition of raw racism caught on another video in which a woman repeatedly used the words “African-American man” as a trigger to falsely depict a black man in Central Park in New York City as dangerous. The clear dismay of the black man, who recorded that encounter, epitomizes the frustration in the black community.
While we must seek and encourage peaceful solutions, we must understand that peace and justice can no longer be a one-way street.
For me, these issues are personal. My late father was a freedom fighter and NAACP branch president in the 1950s and 1960s. Like my father before me, I am a life member of the NAACP. I appreciate the drive for equality and justice that have produced the civil rights victories of the past and that continue to motivate the push for progress today.
And yet no amount of frustration can justify the random destruction of property nor injuries caused to others through violent rioting across the nation, including in my own state of Indiana.
Our Constitution guarantees the right to assemble and protest, but it does not condone anarchy, violence and lawlessness – crimes that must be put down quickly and decisively.
Furthermore, while shameful conduct by police must be stopped and prevented, the law enforcement community overall deserves our appreciation and support even as we work to improve law enforcement interactions with people of color. I believe the majority of our police officers are worthy of our trust.
Let us take a moment to be candid. We all harbor certain stereotypes, preconceptions and implicit biases that influence our beliefs and inform our behavior. We must engage in conversations that encourage us all to confront our own shortcomings in upholding fairness.
Therefore, I cling to this hope: Once we recognize that each one of us engages in some type of racial, ethnic, gender or religious stereotyping, then we can be more forgiving and accepting of the shortcomings of others. And we all can work to improve our attitudes and behavior.
In cases of gross infringement of people’s civil rights, meanwhile, we still must gird our loins and fight tooth and nail for justice for all.
In these cases, we must use the court systems and every legal tool at our disposal. Murderers – even those who wear badges – must pay the appropriate penalties for their crimes.
There are times, as Frederick Douglass said, that “it is not light that we need, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake.”
In other situations, such as the Central Park incident, we might be surprised at how much we might accomplish simply through civil and respectful dialogue.
Our nation is badly in need of racial reconciliation and healing, and it begins by listening and working to understand the concerns of our neighbors.
As Indiana’s attorney general, I am calling upon my federal, state and local law enforcement partners; other elected officials; members of the faith community; and citizens from various other walks of life to join me in organizing a Forum on Race and Justice.
Through this process, we will engage in frank dialogue to illuminate the conflict between people of color and the law enforcement community, and we will work to create greater understanding, acceptance and accountability.
Further, I will reach out to the White House, fellow attorneys general and other partners to encourage the coordination of similar conversations in communities nationwide. Through open communication, we can all work together to improve race relations and achieve equal justice for all.