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Some lives don’t matter

| Thursday, September 3, 2015

My first column each semester usually exudes a “what happened to me” summer recap of excitement and enjoyable experiences. This year’s should lead with my highlight of the summer — coaching a charity congressional baseball team that plays annually at the Washington Nationals field. To everyone’s surprise, President Obama appeared in our dugout rolling a cooler behind him that contained White House Brew beer and said, “I brought the beer!”

But this summer has been an angry, deadly affair replete with raucous rhetoric and community activism that dwarfs much of any one person’s warm-weather pleasantries. Police-involved deaths in Baltimore, New York City and Ferguson ignited the demand for evenhanded procedures throughout the law enforcement ranks nationwide. Through a series of similar but unrelated incidents in diversely differing communities, the “I can’t breathe” slogan swelled into the “Black Lives Matter” cause.

Sadly, some sought revenge upon any law enforcement figure despite that officer’s personal distinction or honorable character. Officers were senselessly gunned down in a patrol car in New York. The hunt for three men this week is still ongoing in the Chicago area for allegedly ambushing an officer. Most notably, Harris County, Texas Sheriff Ron Hickman pointedly told the nation it was time to cool the hate-filled rhetoric because all lives matter, including those of cops.

Speaking of how the national rhetorical crusade has gone beyond control, Sheriff Hickman described how his assassinated deputy, Darren Goforth, was cold-bloodedly murdered execution-style from behind and then shot again while laying on the ground. The sheriff said, “We’ve heard ‘black lives matter’ [and] ‘all lives matter.’ Well, cops’ lives matter too. So why don’t we drop the qualifier and just say ‘lives matter,’ and take that to the bank?”

Nationwide, communities are struggling. Eventually, all of our law enforcement communities will work through and adjust to being aggressively vigilant in our era of terror threats while evenly administering their arrest duties. But many who seek “Black Lives Matter” changes are also the first to angrily confront law enforcement officials when told to comply with police orders. Conversation instead of confrontation is key to changing cultures who believe the other is overstepping its boundaries.

There’s no denying many law enforcement enclaves throughout the United States need improvement. It is wrong for any officer on any level to waver from strictly enforcing the law, in favor of behavior that gins up unfounded charges for financial gains in the town budget or due to personal prejudices or for political reasons. I work with officers of color who tell stories of being stopped in small communities for what they consider are not legitimate reasons. One described his journey as “driving while Hispanic” in Georgia. After immediately identifying himself as a federal official who was carrying a weapon to the local policeman, the conversation turned to how they both trained at the same facility in Georgia. My coworker refers to such an irresponsible local officer as “Barney Fife.”

How do we end a Barney Fife mentality? Together, we Americans of all backgrounds from every corner of our nation need to be open-minded and gracious toward our neighbors. Our society will only achieve our goal of a perfected balance between respecting personal rights and administering law enforcement duties when, as Sheriff Hickman says, all lives matter and are respected. Moreover, healing begins by changing religious canon and political pretense.

Pope Francis, our refreshingly humble Catholic leader, embraces rather than condemns. This week he shattered another rigid practice by embracing those within our Church who were previously shunned — remorseful women who had sought atonement for their abortions. As the Pope oftentimes affirms, we are not the ones to judge, we are to serve and accept others.

Ironically, many continue to use scripture as their authority to denounce others. Many so-called “pro-life” politicians rationalize away their bona fides in the name of religion while they Scripture-thump through Bible passages. If a political candidate opposes abortion, it matters little to political supporters whether that politician favors death through war or capital punishment. Former Virginia governor and Notre Dame alumnus, Bob McDonnell (class of 1976), who was recently convicted of several corruption felony charges, is a case in point. Portraying himself as pro-life against abortion, McDonnell favored the death penalty when other Christians may have prayed the condemned might find Jesus while serving life in prison.

In 2010, McDonnell refused a clemency request by 41-year-old grandmother, Teresa Lewis — judged with a 72 cognitive Full Scale IQ — making Lewis the first woman executed in Virginia since 1912. McDonnell’s statement clearly showed all lives did not matter to him. He said, “I find no compelling reason to set aside the sentence. … Accordingly, I decline to intervene.”

We Americans have what others around the globe admire and desire. Authority maintains our civil and calm society — so long as it is just. Respect for all other lives and the law maintains our peace. Yet we still have a long journey because, tragically, in both our political and religious circles, some lives still don’t matter.


Gary J. Caruso, Notre Dame ’73, serves in the Department of Homeland Security and was a legislative and public affairs director at the U.S. House of Representatives and in President Clinton’s administration. His column appears every other Friday. Contact him on Twitter @GaryJCaruso or email [email protected]

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