Liberty and justice for all in action

While the nation is divided, we must all confront the destruction of human lives by systemic racism.

Among other things that happened last week, NASA astronauts lifted off on SpaceX’s first crewed launch, and by Sunday, had docked with the International Space Station, orbiting high above us in the heavens.

Could anyone have been blamed, watching the mission unfold, for fleetingly wishing that they too, could blast off from Planet Earth?

Down here, we’re in trouble. A deadly new virus has locked down nations all over the world. In the United States, things are particularly grim, with our rate of infections and deaths far surpassing any other country on earth.

Politically, socially, spiritually and in terms of our public health, our nation has never seemed so divided, down and in pain.

And those fantasizing about the joyous day when people would come out and gather again received a rude awakening last week. People came out, but not to celebrate. Instead, tens of thousands thronged the streets of cities including Seattle to express terrible and justifiable anger about the death of yet another African-American man, George Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis police officer, watched by three others, knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes.

In a spasm of civil unrest, buildings burned, stores were looted and both law enforcement and protesters alike were injured.

Even on Vashon — a polite place where demonstrations are typically somber and low-key — people gathered at our four cornered intersection to briefly block traffic and shout the names of the African-American men and women who have been subjected to police brutality.

As we go to press, we wonder what fresh horrors will have befallen our country by the time this newspaper is in our readers’ hands on Thursday. There seems to be no bottom to the free fall. On Monday, President Trump threatened to deploy the U.S. military on U.S. soil, against U.S. civilians, so anything seems possible.

Much will be said and written in the coming days and weeks about the violence and destruction of property in Seattle and throughout the country.

But even more should be said and done about the destruction of human lives by systemic racism — the original sin and stain on our nation that stubbornly refuses to stop spreading.

We’d be wise to listen to the words of Minneapolis restaurant owner Ruhel Islam, whose business was severely damaged by fire last weekend during his city’s uprising.

“We can rebuild a building, but we cannot rebuild a human,” said Islam. “The community is still here, and we can work together to rebuild.”

And here on Vashon, we should resist the temptation to think of ourselves as a separate, peaceful and relatively healthy island floating in a separate universe. This island is not a space station. We’re here on earth, right across the water from a shattered city.

We are Americans, who have all, since childhood, recited a pledge to this country, defining it as a place of liberty and justice for all.

We all have a long-overdue responsibility to work to make our country live up to those words, by demanding human rights for all those in our midst who have been oppressed, disenfranchised, and denied justice.

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