Submitted to the AFRO by Congressman Elijah Cummings
Last week, in the wake of yet another series of traumatic shootings, I was honored to speak at the NAACP’s 50th annual Freedom Fund Luncheon in Paterson, New Jersey.
We prayed for the families of the African American man and woman who were gunned down in a blatant act of racial hatred at a Kentucky grocery store on October 24 (just after the gunman attempted to attack an African American church).
We prayed for the families of the 11 Jewish Americans who were slaughtered out of political and religious hatred as they worshiped in a Pittsburg synagogue on October 27 (the worst mass attack on Jewish Americans in our nation’s history).
Then, I shared my own thoughts about how we must confront the cancer of hatred and violence that is endangering both our families and our country.
I hope that the good people who came together there at Paterson’s NAACP gained half as much from my observations as I did from being there with them at this time of national turmoil and tragedy.
Our fundamental human right to be free of violence has been at the core of the NAACP’s mission since its very beginnings. Our calling, as Americans, to reject hatred and violence is just as essential today as it was in 1909, when good Americans, Black and White, came together to confront the lynchings that were a plague upon our land.
The vision that the multi-racial NAACP offers is a model for all of us to emulate today, whether in response to the evil that invaded a Black church in Charleston, a nightclub in Orlando, a grocery store in Kentucky, a Pittsburg synagogue, or the lives of innocents gunned down on the streets of Baltimore or Paterson, NJ.
In moments like the present, when we are being hammered by shock and fear, it is not easy for us, as human beings living in a still democratic society, to move beyond our powerful, individual emotions and respond collectively to hate-based crimes that, ultimately, are directed at us all. Yet, we must try.
Meeting the challenge of violent hatred has been the ultimate test for every society in history that has attempted the experiment of democratic self-government. So, during our time of trial, it is for our own.
We must gain from the lessons of history – and we must fashion and implement our answer to this democratic test together.
The cost of resorting to tyranny in the name of public safety would be far too high, as it always has been in the past. Rather, we, the People, must be the ultimate guardians of our safety, as well as our liberty.
Americans are a people of faith, a people who want to believe in the power of the individual and the God-given sanctity of every human being.
From our earliest childhood, we are taught to believe in our right to forge our own destiny, our right to be protected from predation in our persons and homes, and our right to be valued more for who we are than for what we possess or contribute to our nation’s GDP.
This, I am convinced, is at the heart of our shared American creed – whatever our varied physical differences, ethnic backgrounds, faith traditions or political preferences may be. However often individuals, organizations or government leaders may attempt to diminish our collective strength, this is the foundation for our shared national identity.
This collective belief in who we are is what makes us Americans (and not simply 320 million people who happen to be living in relatively close proximity).
And this is why, as citizens, we are duty-bound to stand together and proclaim that these hate crimes are not random acts of violence, but, rather, an anti-American plague that is threatening the fabric of our society.
As a people, we do not need to be a world-class psychologist like Abraham Maslow to understand that, for nations like individuals, we must secure the basic need of all our people for necessities, security and safety if we expect our higher values – like national unity and a widespread sense of belonging – to flourish.
The forces of prejudice and hatred which the President has too often encouraged are becoming a clear and present danger to the American Republic, as well as a threat to the Americans who are being victimized personally.
The encouragement of division and hatred by those in high office must stop, and it must stop now. Otherwise, the President will learn why the framers of our Constitution placed the Legislative Branch of our national government, and not the Executive, in Article I.
Yet, it would be a grave mistake to believe that President Trump is solely responsible for this evil that threatens the foundations of our democratic society. Nor is Hobbes’ Leviathan the answer to the dangers that we now must face and overcome as a society.
Those whom we elect to represent us must respond far more humanely and effectively to the millions of Americans who, today, are feeling hopeless and abandoned. In both our government and our society as a whole, we must confront hatred and terror sooner, rather than later, for later could be too late.
The U.S. Department of Justice has created a new website that we all can use to report suspected hate crimes. It should become an essential resource for us all [https://www.justice.gov/hatecrimes].
Moreover, citizens of every political viewpoint should support my colleagues, Representatives Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) and Steve Cohen (D-TN), in their call for emergency hearings in the House Judiciary Committee on the rise of domestic terrorism and hate crimes.
Americans are being killed in acts of hatred. We must pray for their families, but we all know that our prayers, without action, will not be enough.
The unity and social fabric of our society are being threatened. We either act together to strengthen E Pluribus Unum – or we risk the destruction of the Republic we love.
Congressman Elijah Cummings represents Maryland’s 7th Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives.
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