Put Out into the Deep

Healing for the Human Race

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

The events of the last several weeks in Staten Island and Missouri give evidence to the deep racial divide that still exists in our country. In too many circumstances, it is the police, who are on the front lines of our society, who encounter difficulties and become surrogates for our own unrequited racism.

I, myself, cannot help but remember the days of the race riots in my native city of Newark, N.J., during the 1960s. The explosion of violence following the death of Martin Luther King Jr., who was the greatest proponent of nonviolent revolution, remains deep in my memory. As we look back to the 1960s, have we learned any lessons from that time when the racial divide seemed to be so great?

Like you, I had hoped our Nation had moved beyond race. Clearly, our Nation has matured. In many areas, race seems to have ceased being a deterrent to advancement. We have elected our first African-American President. Also, here in our own city, we have elected a mayor who has a biracial family. We have eliminated much of the discrimination based on race that still plagues our society. More opportunities have been given to racial minorities to achieve scholastically and economically. Most would agree, however, that our society is not yet color-blind. What is the path that will allow us to recognize all people as God’s children and treat each with equality?

Many people of color who consider themselves as a minority see the world differently from the perceived white majority. Two cases, one more recent and one more distant, show the difference of opinion: when O.J. Simpson was tried for the murder of both his ex-wife Nicole Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman, and the Trayvon Martin trial which took place in Florida.

Trust in our justice system is lacking for many. What about the basis of this divide? Certainly, I do not think it is artificial. But there are contributing factors of why the inequality of treatment of persons in our society is viewed differently by the shrinking white majority and the minority communities in our country. If one looks around the world today, we recognize that a certain tribalism is at the basis of the wars and insurrections. When I say tribalism, I mean a “group think” where people find solidarity with those that they see most like themselves. And when they react en masse, they react and attack others who harm any member of their group. Many times, the reaction is irrational based solely on knee-jerk reactions to situations. Other times, the reaction is truly self-protection that requires a reaction.

In the Ukraine, the ethnic Russians have reclaimed ancient territory only recently given to the Ukrainian people who have a different language and heritage. In Africa, we see tribalism at work in the genocide in Rwanda and other massacres and kidnappings that seem to cut along tribal and religious lines but have other contributing factors. In Iraq and Syria, the invasion by ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) confirms a tribal situation that has religious undertones. And perhaps most clearly in the Israeli and Palestinian conflict, we see a recurrent tribalism at work.

But the question has become, “What can be done to eliminate the divide between the police who maintain order in our society and those who sometimes perceive systemic inequality?” We all see the “broken window strategy” of policing, which is not understood by many, that has come under attack after “stop and frisk.” Strategies such as this are a means for maintaining civil order. The “broken window” policy means enforcement of laws involving minor infraction to prevent more serious crimes. All similar petty crimes, if contained, will curtail greater infractions of the law. This is a strategy that has worked in many cities; however, it is only a means to an end. The new strategy of neighborhood policing, involving community and police, means that everyone must take responsibility to make sure that the neighborhoods are safe and that crime is reported, especially a crime against an individual. Again, this may be a better strategy. In the end, if our City cannot experience security, our citizens are the losers.

Mayor Bill de Blasio called upon Cardinal Timothy Dolan, myself and other religious leaders to come together in prayer and discussion to ask the people of our great City of New York to recognize the plight before us. Some have criticized the Mayor for seeking religious solutions for social problems. In effect, however, every social problem has many aspects. Hopefully, the truth from God, which all true religion seeks, can bring some healing to hurting communities on all sides so that level headedness and respect for individuals will prevail. The meeting, held on Aug. 20 at the Cardinal’s residence in Manhattan, included Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and Protestant representatives. The two-hour discussion was frank and useful and ended with a pledge to work together in the future on a more consistent basis to develop solidarity in our City, which is an amalgamation of communities with many deeply religious roots. The protest march on Staten Island went off with no violence and is a credit to its organizers.

Our Nation and the City of New York have put out into the deep waters of trying to recognize, address and rectify racial inequality. The true issue before us is people equality, because race should not be the primary determining factor in the way in which we think and feel. The sooner we eliminate this from our own actions and policies, the better off we will be as a Nation and a City. We can all hope for the day where tribalism will be no more and the only race we have allegiance to is the human race.

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One thought on “Healing for the Human Race

  1. Thank you Bishop DiMarzio for sharing your thoughts. I look forward when all realize we are indeed, one brotherhood of humankind.