Leaders' Blog

America Doesn’t Just Have a Police Problem: It Has a Morality Problem

By July 1, 2020 September 7th, 2021 No Comments

By Dr. Joseph Chuman, Leader
(Originally published at The Hill)

It’s happened again. This time in Minneapolis, a city with a progressive ambiance. A black man dies under the knee of a white cop. In an episode reminiscent of the death of Eric Garner in New York in 2014, George Floyd had a cop’s knee pressed on his neck for more than eight minutes as he cried out that he could not breathe. To be black in America is a potential death sentence.

With enough public pressure and some luck, maybe, just maybe, justice will be done. It was a good step that all four officers were arrested and charged. But there is no certainty here. Some police seem to have a sensibility that they are beyond accountability, protected by their union and by a “blue wall” which places loyalty to one another ahead of their duty to society and to just conduct.

I am the clergy leader of a Humanist congregation in New Jersey, the Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County. In our religion, to be human is to be worthy of respect and care. It may be true that we have a police problem in this country — but an underlying current beneath that is we have a morality problem.

No doubt how police are trained is an issue. Mayor Jacob Frey said the technique the officer used was against regulations. It’s also worth noting that the officer in question had 18 previous complaints against him.

But beyond this case, there is the much larger context that propels these violations to happen.

In our religion, to be human is to be worthy of respect and care.

The largest is the endurance of racism that pervades American society. It’s a persistent disease reflective of a lack of respect for our fellow man and woman. I must admit that ten years ago, with the emergence of multiculturalism and the influence of the cultural left, I allowed myself to believe that America was on its way to overcoming its ugly legacy of racism and bigotry. I never believed that the election of Barack Obama signified that we had become a “post-racial” society, but I did believe that we were moving in the right direction. I was wrong.

Divisions across all lines, most ominously racial lines, have become characteristic of American society and have grown malignantly strident. Hatred has become too comfortable, and violence rooted in hatred too common. The resurgence of white supremacy is the potent fuel ready to be ignited into racial violence.

Yes, we need to rigorously investigate every incident of the police killing black men. We need to reform police practices. But I fear that until the persistence of racism and hatred in the American fabric is radically mitigated, police killings will inevitably continue.

…we can move our society in the direction of greater inclusiveness

American society is at a great watershed. We can either move in the direction of continued divisiveness, tribalism, distrust, intolerance, fear, and hatred. Or, we can move our society in the direction of greater inclusiveness, of an enlightened cosmopolitanism in which we can exercise our local allegiances if we choose and, at the same time, open ourselves up to embrace those outside our immediate community in a spirit of respect for the other, an appreciation of differences, and an abiding commitment to justice and equality for all.

This cannot be the responsibility of the black community.

Martin Luther King realized that if he was going to overcome Jim Crow, he needed the support of whites, who, of course, did not share the black experience, but were sympathetic to the cause and the goals of the Civil Rights Movement. Today we are faced with an analogous challenge, but perhaps one that it is even more daunting.

Joseph Chuman

Joseph Chuman

Dr. Joseph Chuman is a Leader at Ethical NYC.

Skip to content