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Eric Garner Memorial

Eric Garner Memorial

National leaders and would-be leaders are weighing in on who’s to blame for the high profile deaths of Mike Brown and Eric Garner, among others. In Brown’s case, a law enforcement officer shot the young man until he fell dead in the middle of a Ferguson street. In Garner’s case, a law enforcement officer choked the man into cardiac arrest.

In Brown’s case, there is no video record, witnesses disagree on what happened—forcing the grand jury to decide whom to believe—and forensic evidence was inconclusive. In Garner’s case, there is a video record that does not match the officer’s account in a couple of important aspects, the forensic exam concluded the death was a homicide. The cause of death was heart attack caused by choking and chest compression.

If Michael Brown’s case is murky and confusing, Eric Garner’s seems straightforward. Neither case resulted in charges being leveled against the officer involved in the death. Both have resulted in demonstrations and outrage among Americans of all ethnicities and both major political parties.

Thus, it was surprising to hear high profile political operatives such Ben Carson and Rand Paul laying blame for these deaths on such things as the “women’s lib movement” which is responsible for a lack of male role models, and the politicians who wrote the law under which Eric Garner was arrested. The police involved were innocent of responsibiity.

I’d like to focus on Rand Paul’s commentary because it has the virtue of making reasonable-sounding points. After pointing out that Eric Garner would not have been accosted by police if the tax on cigarettes were not so high in New York and if selling single cigarettes were not illegal, Paul added,

I have no intention to scold, but escaping the poverty and crime trap will require more than just criminal justice reform. Escaping the poverty trap will require all of us to relearn that not only are we our brother’s keeper, we are our own keeper. While a hand-up can be part of the plan, if the plan doesn’t include the self-discovery of education, work, and the self-esteem that comes with work, the cycle of poverty will continue.

Leaving aside the point that saying, “I have no intention to scold” will strike most people as setting up a scold, the senator makes several good points. We live in a society—a community—we are our brother’s keeper and our own. But the suggestion that this is really all about welfare reform and that we ought to be putting our energy and attention on that at this moment struck me as missing the bigger picture that Paul claims he wishes to address.

To frame it in a homely metaphor, imagine that a man has been brought to hospital bleeding from a terrible wound he suffered as a result of misusing his tools. Rand Paul’s response amounts to a leader on the medical team ignoring the gaping wound and informing his fellow medics that the real cause of the man’s injury was not a collision with a saw blade, but his ignorance about how to use the saw properly. Therefore the answer is not to stop the bleeding, stitch up the wound and get the patient into the ICU. What they really need to do is see that the guy gets trained on the proper use of his tools.

That’s patently absurd, of course, for if the man is allowed to bleed out while the medics try to determine who’s responsible for enrolling him in training (and who’s going to pay for it), he will die and all the training in the world will not benefit him one iota.

Our country is like that man on the gurney being rolled into the ER. Surely, we need to treat the immediate problem first, then consult on the forces that may have created the atmosphere in which it occurred. If we fail to do proper triage, to stop the bleeding, operate on the wound, and bandage it properly, then follow up with the right combination of medication, all the changes in law or rehabilitation of politicians or welfare reform will not save America from bleeding out.

O SON OF SPIRIT! The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice; turn not away therefrom if thou desirest Me, and neglect it not that I may confide in thee. By its aid thou shalt see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others, and shalt know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbor. Ponder this in thy heart; how it behooveth thee to be. Verily justice is My gift to thee and the sign of My loving-kindness. Set it then before thine eyes.

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