One of the most inspiring things about Justice Ginsburg was her refusal to accept false choices. Women must conform to social expectations and let their dreams die OR have a professionally rewarding but personally miserable life.
One must accept defeat quietly and go meekly off into the sunset OR contest the legitimacy of every institution that misfires until there’s nothing left even to correct. Nope. No false choices for RBG.
Think about how often it is we accept limited offerings when confronting questions about our government. It’s like going into a grocery store that has a supply of every type of produce you can imagine – but being told that you can only buy ingredients for either an iceberg lettuce sandwich or a canned beet salad. True, there are times (such as in an election) where a choice must be made between discrete options and where a refusal to participate is its own type of support for one of the proffered choices. Still, there are many other situations where we severely limit ourselves when it comes to the things for which we decide we want to advocate in the first place. We can’t get past the lettuce sandwiches.
False choices really take center stage when we’re talking about big, foundational issues, like policing and criminal justice reform.
Like most African-Americans (and most others of every demographic), I believe that we absolutely need an effective law enforcement mechanism that can maintain order when things get out of hand and when bullies decide to bully. There are all sorts of people who believe that they can take whatever they want from whomever they like, and many others subscribe to the idea that because I say so is a sufficient and legitimate basis for forcing their will on you. We need law enforcement for the same reason we need courts – sometimes people don’t play fairly and when they don’t, we want help.
By the same token, those entrusted with maintaining order should accord the Breonna Taylors, George Floyds, and countless other African-Americans the same presumptions Dylan Roof – a mass murderer who wanted to start a race war – enjoyed. (Not only was Dylan Roof taken alive, but he got a sandwich on the way to jail.) Justice means rallying to the defense of all victims, including African-Americans who are accosted by those who have no business being in our business, instead of coddling attackers and looking for opportunities to demonize the dead. Everyone should be able to expect fairness – everyone – regardless of the color our our skin or for whom it is we decide to vote. As ridiculously absurd as this year has proven to be, I’m not settling for the idea that in 2020, we cannot reasonably expect these things.
On this subject and many others, we have a lot of hard questions to ask one another. But isn’t that always the case when you’re trying to do things better?