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This letter to the editor was submitted to LebTown. Read our submission policy here.
Our nation is indeed “at the crossroads,” and I applaud LebTown’s initiative to help bring our community together to “share columns . . . on unitedness and healing” in this time of such division and rancor.
Sadly, Lebanon County District Attorney Pier Hess Graf’s appallingly bellicose, tin-eared contribution this past Tuesday, June 2, offered little by way of healing words, or words that might unite instead of divide us. It is extraordinary that in her discussion of the protests currently rocking our nation, she never once mentioned the actual origins of the protests: racist police violence against Black people. Not once.
Instead of emphasizing the core issue animating these protests – the egregious and systematic lack of equality before the law for people of color, and the systematic violation of black people’s civil rights, and indeed, of their right to live and breathe – she offers up an Orwellian attempt to paint the police as victims.
If you want the real story, visit MappingPoliceViolence.org, which offers abundant evidence demonstrating the systematic racism and lack of accountability in far too many police departments across the country.
In a remarkable display of blindness to reality, D.A. Hess Graf writes, “I watched our local police wonder how so many people could hate them simply for choosing to wear a badge and taking an oath to protect our communities.” This is not only absurd; it is deeply offensive. People are angry at the police precisely because so many of them systematically break their “oath to protect our communities” – again, mainly communities of color.
She even gets her U.S. Constitution wrong. No, District Attorney Hess Graf, “expressing one’s views peacefully and in an orderly manner” is not “a right guaranteed to each one of us in the Constitution.” The First Amendment says nothing about “an orderly manner,” and the word “orderly” does not appear anywhere in the Constitution. She made that up.
Democracy is inherently messy and disorderly, and we certainly need words of healing in these tumultuous times. But more than words, we need action. We cannot begin to heal as a nation until we open our eyes to the underlying realities of racism in our country, and especially racist police violence, as the first necessary step in implementing genuine and meaningful reform.
Police killings of unarmed black people, and police brutality against black people more generally, have gone on for far too long. We can’t bring back the life of George Floyd or any other victims of police violence, but we can insist that our local law enforcement officials make a firm and solemn commitment to implementing genuine equality before the law for all citizens.
Healing will come only from deep and structural reform of our institutions of law enforcement in cities, towns, municipalities, states, and communities across the country. And the time to begin developing those reforms is now.
Michael Schroeder is a professor at Lebanon Valley College and Executive Director of the Quittapahilla Creek Garbage Museum. Earlier this year he ran against Dave Arnold in the special election to replace Michael Folmer for the 48th Senate District.