There is a rot at the center of our society, and this week it was laid bare on the street under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer.
Today that officer was charged with murder and is under arrest. It is the first step toward justice, but we have a long road ahead of us.
We still live with the consequences of slavery and racism. It has been institutionalized over generations in our criminal justice system, our economy, our health care system, and our schools.
The killing of George Floyd is an especially painful reminder of how far we have yet to travel as a nation to find peace and equality — because this could be anywhere in America.
In the hours that followed George Floyd’s death, I have spoken to many Pennsylvanians who saw themselves in George. Too many Americans see how our society does not care about them, and see the rule of law applying to different people in different ways.
I have listened to young black Pennsylvanians who feel scared and helpless, and question if we can fix the problems that have plagued our communities for generations. I have spoken to police officers who desperately want to make change so this brutality stops happening in America. I have heard the pain from community leaders as people fall through the cracks during this pandemic.
When George Floyd died in the street, surrounded by officers sworn to protect the peace, millions of Americans felt the pain of being told “you don’t matter.”
Answers aren’t acceptable
And it happened at a time when poor, marginalized, and minority communities are being left behind in a pandemic and an economic free fall that has left nearly 1 in 3 Pennsylvanians out of work. Who are the people being told they are essential and forced to risk their lives to go to work while others can stay at home? Who are the Americans that have been laid off since the pandemic hit? Which communities suffer the most from a lack of access to healthcare? Who are the business owners struggling to access PPP loans? We know the answers, and they are not acceptable.
Our response to this crisis must show the moral clarity that everybody counts, and everybody matters. We must give people the confidence that through hard work we can heal our society, and lift the knee that holds down Black Americans and holds back the potential of our country. Institutionalized racism was put in place over generations by people. It will take time, but as individuals we have the power to end it, and ensure everyone the god-given rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
My faith teaches that no one is required to complete the task, but neither are we free to refrain from it. That lesson holds true today. No one can bring equality alone, and the work may not be completed in our lifetime, but we each must do our part. Real leaders don’t do this by sowing divisions, but rather with hope, with love for everyone, and with the faith that all of our actions will make a difference.
As Pennsylvania’s top law enforcement officer, Joshua David Shapiro is an American politician and lawyer currently serving as the Attorney General of Pennsylvania. He previously served in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and as chairman of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners. He is a member of the Democratic Party.